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Why I Sing Loud


Over the years some people have said they notice that I sing loud. I enjoy singing. Singing is an act of worship. So I try to sing with joy and gratefulness to the Lord.

I’ll tell you why I sing loud. My first pastorate was in the inner city of Philadelphia. I led four small churches that shared in a cooperative ministry. One of those churches was Twelfth Presbyterian Church.

Twelfth Presbyterian Church was a very small church. My first Sunday there, we had maybe 10 people. As time went on we grew to 30 and maybe 40 on an exceptional Sunday. We were one block off the elevated train that ran into downtown.

Twelfth Church was in a high crime, high drug, high problem area. There were tremendous struggles and challenges that the people of that church faced but we hung in there trying to be the people God wanted us to be in that place.

The building was old and dark and spoke of another time when the church had been alive and well. The paint was peeling on the walls. The walls had cracks. The carpet was frayed.

On Sundays we used an old, small, electric organ, probably just this side of an old pump organ. The large, beautiful pipe organ no longer worked in the sanctuary and we certainly didn’t have the money to fix it.

Our organist was a man named Walter Chapman. Walter was a slim, balding man, just past 60 years old. He had never married, had been an only child, and lived with his mother all his life until her death several years before our meeting.

Walter was not typical for the blue-collar, hard-nosed Kensington neighborhood where we were located. Walter was intellectual, well-read, educated in the classics, and could read several languages. The Chilton Publishing Company had employed him to translate foreign works for them.

He loved to use big words and impress people with his erudite vocabulary. In fact, Walter would have grinned after hearing me use the word “erudite”. Erudite means “intellectual” or “knowledgeable.”

Walter had no interest in sports, cars, fishing or the “common” things. He loved the finer things in life.

Walter had been trained as an operatic singer. He loved opera, classical, ballet, and sacred music. God had given him a beautiful baritone voice which Walter had used in stage productions in Philadelphia for many years. For several years he had been the cantor at the nearby Episcopalian Church. A cantor is an official position, and is someone who sings the prayers and hymns and solos that are part of the Episcopalian, more formal style of worship.

One year, Walter, who was always active and a ravenous walker throughout the city, got an infection in his leg. He refrained from seeing a doctor. The infection got worse. Add this to his diabetes and eventually the leg had to be amputated.

It was during this time that the Episcopalian church closed, as many churches in that area of Philadelphia had to do.

Being alone, learning how to walk with a prosthesis, forced to retire, his church now gone, and because of his lack of mobility, Walter was cut off from so many of the things that had given him stimulation and enjoyment in life. Walter went through an incredibly tough time and experienced deep depression.


Some people in our church who knew Walter began to reach out to him and brought him to Twelfth Church. The church is always fulfilling its mission when it reaches out to the lonely and hurting.

When the previous organist, named Anna, experienced some health problems and had to stop playing, leaving us without an accompanist on Sunday mornings, we asked Walter if he would be able to play. He had limited keyboard skills and only one leg and poor eyesight. But he was all we had.

Walter agreed to give it a go as the organist as long as I got the hymns to him plenty in advance. He needed lots of practice. His diabetes was also attacking his eyesight so he strained to make out the notes.

As I said I was pastor of four small churches. I would preach at two one Sunday and the other two the next Sunday. There was an assistant pastor who helped me cover where I couldn’t be.

On the Sundays I was at Twelfth Church I would then drive up to a nearby neighborhood and do another service at Wilkey Memorial Church.

Walter would go with me. One, because he was lonely and enjoyed opportunities to be with other people, and two, I was his transportation. We would drive under the elevated train, past the hookers and addicts all the way to the house of the Lord. Plus, going to the other church gave him an opportunity to show his vocal prowess.

Here is where I learned to sing loud.


Walter was very proud of his musical and vocal accomplishments. His ego had been badly bruised by the whole experience of losing his leg and not being able to perform in public. Unfortunately, Walter isolated himself. He was too proud to ask for assistance. He protected himself with a naïve egotism.

Walter would not sing with our choirs. He saw it as below him. He would only sing if asked to solo. Afterall he was a trained and accomplished singer. He badly missed the accolades that came with performing.

It was all Walter could do to sing the contemporary songs and choruses. If it wasn’t written by Bach, and didn’t have five verses, it was hardly worth singing.

Wilkey Memorial Church which had a rather cavernous sanctuary. The ceiling of the sanctuary was high and made of wood. The floor was hard tile making it live and full of echo. A sanctuary that at one time had 200-300 people was now only filled with 30 or 40.

Now, it is the unspoken dream of many pastors to have a congregation that sings loud, full, and with enthusiasm. Many a pastor has complained to one another, and to God Almighty, that his or her congregation does not sing. They don’t seem to be into it. They just slog through the hymns kind of half-heartedly.

Of course, not you here in American Fork, but, you know, those other churches. In fact, I think we sing pretty well.

Pastors fret about this. They think, “Well, maybe they are anticipating the sermon so eagerly that they just can’t sing.” But more likely the congregation is thinking about the chores they have to do in the afternoon, the groceries they need to buy, why the person in their pew is wearing such strong perfume.


When the small congregation at Wilkey would sing a hymn Walter would open up his dwindling but still powerful, operatically trained baritone voice and bellow over everyone else. The first time it happened people just looked around to see where that voice was coming from. All you could hear was Walter, his voice bouncing off the ceiling, the walls, the ears of every person.

One Christmas Eve I brought Walter with me to a midnight Candlelight service across the river in Cherry Hill, New Jersey where Nancy was an associate pastor at a large church. This was a strong church, with a big music program, and people who were much more upper crust. This was a large sanctuary and there were probably 1000 people there that night. Big sanctuary.

We were singing carols and even over the singing of such a large congregation and a loud pipe organ you could hear Walter. In fact, the senior pastor, who was way up in the front of the sanctuary, heard this loud, bellowing voice, and turned to Nancy who was next to him, and asked who that was singing.

When Walter sang everyone heard him. And he made sure everyone heard him. And I was uncomfortable with this and was worried about what others were thinking. Was he dominating the worship? Was he making a spectacle of himself. How could I confront him and not hurt his feelings?


But one Sunday as I was again listening to Walter belt out a hymn the Lord convicted my heart. It was as if he was saying to me, “You know Phil, you always want people to sing boldly and to their fullest. Finally someone is doing this and you’re thinking about telling him to tone it down. What’s your problem?”

A little spiritual advice folks: Whenever the Lord asks you, “What’s your problem?” listen up. The Lord had a point.

Here was someone singing, partially from ego but still to the glory of God, and I was complaining. Afterall, we are singing to God. How can we not sing our loudest, best, and most glorious.

And you know what else? I had it all wrong. People in the congregation began to share with me how much they appreciated Walter. He inspired them and made them want to sing better. They loved him. God had used this eccentric. but very lovable saint, to teach me about worshipping Him.

Walter didn’t care what others were thinking about his singing. He didn’t wait to see if they were even singing at all. It was time to sing to the Lord so he sang.

If Walter was, why wasn’t I? So I began to sing loud, too.


Psalm 98 says to sing to the Lord a new song. It says to sing because he has done marvelous thing. Sing because of his salvation. Sing because of his love and faithfulness. It says to burst into jubilant song and do it with joy.

Psalm 98 tells even the mountains to sing for joy before the Lord.

The Psalms, were the songs that ancient Israel – and Jesus! – sang in worship. The word “sing” appears 166 times in the Bible. The word “singing” is used 35 other times. Theirs is a lot of singing in the Bible.

Singing has been a part of the worship of God for thousands of years. In the book of Revelation it says the saints of heaven surround the throne of the Lamb of God and sing without ceasing.

It doesn’t matter what type of voice you have. Yes, some of you couldn’t carry a tune if your salvation depended on it. Who cares if you aren’t Pavarotti? Truth be told most of us can sing well enough that what we sing is recognizable.

We are thankful that Bill and Rhonda faithfully stand up here every Sunday and sing. But, take this in the right way, it’s not like they have professional voices. Maybe you should be up here, too.

God gives different gifts to everyone and maybe your gift is not music or your voice. That’s fair. But really, whether someone is up here or not, we are all the choir. We are all the praise team

And we don’t always have to sing loud. Some songs are a little mellower, shall we say. But we should sing and be heard because singing is to and about the Lord.

God loves to hear the Walters sing but he loves to hear all his children lift a joyful noise to him. Now where in the Bible does it say we have to sing well. It only says sing joyfully.

When you sing to the Lord, sing to the Lord because there is a huge difference between singing to the Lord and merely singing in church. It isn’t about you anyway. It is an offering to God. It is a way to express our thanksgiving, our hope, sometimes our sadness, and often our joy to the Lord.

Eugene Peterson said, “When persons of faith become aware of who God is and what he does, they sing.”[1]

I think how a congregation sings says something about how we feel about Jesus. One time someone visited one of the churches where I was a pastor and said he was so impressed, moved, and touched by the music, that as soon as we began singing he had tears in his eyes the whole service. (And I took him to mean that in the positive sense.)

In Colossians Paul writes that the message of Christ dwells in us when we sing psalms, hymns, and what he calls “songs of the Spirit” to one another. He was speaking of church singing. And he said to sing to God with gratitude in your hearts.

It isn’t how well we sing. It’s the conviction with which we sing.


I sing loud because of Walter. But really I sing loud because of God and who he is and what he has done. Singing gives me a way of expressing what is in my heart that other forms of devotion don’t allow. Sometimes I come here and I don’t feel like worshipping and I sing to get my heart in tune with God.

He is worthy of our song. We sing to and with one another but foremost we sing to the Lord. Not to the person sitting next to you. To God

Sing with praise, with passion, from your heart. Sing your faith.

Sing, now and always, to the glory and honor of God.

[1] Reversed Thunder, p. 66

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