“I didn’t want to be here….Now we need to sing….Sing because you’re upset. Sing because you’re angry. Sing because you’re here and worshiping God. Sing because you’re happy. Sing because you’re here. Sing.”
The exhortations given by the man about to guide us through our singing at the church in Auckland started unexpectedly, continued in empathy for others who felt the same, then ended with encouragement to sing anyway. It was an inspiring way to begin the first church service I attended in New Zealand. I was keen to observe the similarities and differences between here and the States.
This also was the first time when I felt I was truly experiencing New Zealand life and voices.
I had expected the service to begin with an announcer saying, “Good morning, everyone,” in an attempt to break through chatter, and as I talked to the people behind me, I half-listened for that greeting. Instead…
“Oh, how I love Jesus….because He first loved me.”
It was singing.
Earlier, I’d seen a man with a black leather vest, t-shirt, leather pants and tattoos all up and down his left arm at the front of the auditorium, setting something up.
When I turned from my conversation, I saw he was the one carrying the melody in a beautiful tenor voice. The congregation slowly ceased chatting and began to sing. Everybody knew the words, including the American. He transitioned smoothly into “Jesus, Let Us Come to Know You,” and by that time, we all had joined him. When the song was over, he sat, and the welcome and opening prayer were given.
The announcer was the same New Zealander who led the Bible study prior to the song leader’s speech. During that study, an Englishman commented on Scripture in a thick Cockney accent. In one conversation between the study and the worship portion, I spoke with a couple with a Filipino or Samoan accent (I couldn’t quite place it) to whom I had to listen carefully to understand. The person who led communion sounded like a Scot.
But when we sang, I could no longer hear accents. Samoan, Maori, Pakeha (a white New Zealander, pronounced “Puh-KEY-uh”), American Midwesterner, they all disappeared as we lifted up our voices and sang in strength as one person.
It seemed fitting after the Bible study about peace: peace with God, peace with ourselves, peace with others and peace with the world. The speaker said, “It doesn’t matter what Britain decides. It doesn’t matter what [an American politician] does….We can still be at peace.”
We can still sing.
And in this time of watching and reading about the violence that occurred over the last week in my home country from half a world away, it gives hope to remember that the accents disappear when you sing.
Song List in the Order We Sang Them
(Note: YouTube videos of the songs are below. On the Keith Lancaster recordings, there are several solo parts. We didn’t sing the solo parts, only the harmonies and melodies together. We also left out the extra vocals in “King of Kings.”)
- “Oh, How I Love Jesus”
- “Jesus, Let Us Come to Know You”
- “My Life’s in You”
- “Reign in Me”
- “King of Kings”
- “Agnus Dei”
- “Great Are You, Lord”
- “I Worship You, Almighty God”
- “The Battle Belongs to the Lord”