by Ronald R Johnson (www.ronaldrjohnson.com)
Lloyd Douglas was not only a minister and writer but also a musician. While he was in college and divinity school, he earned money through a number of part-time jobs, one of them being church organist. And when he was a student pastor in Des Moines, Iowa, during his last year of seminary, this notice was printed in the local paper:
“A pleasant surprise was experienced by many of the members of St. John’s Lutheran church yesterday morning, when on entering the sanctuary they found themselves confronted by a large chorus choir, whose organization has been quietly under way for some time. When Rev. L. C. Douglass, [sic] assistant pastor of the church, came to the city this spring it was hinted that inasmuch as he was a trained musician the musical end of the religious services would in the future be greatly strengthened. Those who expected this have not been disappointed. The new choir as organized by Mr. Douglass has fifteen voices and more are being added.”
During his first year of his first pastorate, in North Manchester, Indiana, the church newsletter ran this piece:
“We need a dozen good singers to lead the music in Sunday-school. We also need some violins, cornets, and clarinets, to give strength and vigor to our songs. Speak to your musical friend about it.”
Note that this was just for the Sunday School; not for the service. He was even more serious about the music for the service. A few weeks later, this was included in the church newsletter:
“You may have noticed that no announcements have been made from the pulpit for several weeks. We are happy that our conditions are such now that permit us to worship through the whole service without a single issue proposing itself to distract our minds from our devotion. On the first page of this paper may be found the announcement of every service for the week. By looking over this ‘Calendar’ occasionally, you will be able to note all the coming meetings of the church auxiliaries, and remember them more distinctly than if they had been read on Sunday from the pulpit.”
This was a practice that Douglas would insist upon throughout his ministerial career: no announcements during the worship service. The reason for this was his belief that, once people stepped inside the sanctuary, the architecture, the music, and everything that was said from the pulpit should draw their spirits upward. Nothing should be allowed to bring them crashing down abruptly – certainly nothing as trifling as an announcement about the upcoming Bake Sale.
Of all the places he ministered, the First Congregational Church of Ann Arbor was the one in which he most nearly achieved his ideal.
He was able to secure the services of Earl V Moore, the University of Michigan’s Organist-in-Residence, as the Music Director of First Congregational Church, and together they created a service of worship that people called “symphonic.” He tried to describe it in the book version of Wanted: A Congregation (Chicago: Christian Century Press, 1920). Here is just a brief passage in which he talks about the opening of the service (pp. 206-207):
“That organ prelude… should be one of the most significant events of the service. People come in from the racket of traffic on the streets. They have been shouted at, and assaulted with all manner of raucous and discordant noises, all the week. They should be given a chance to relax and consult their own souls. Not only should they be given this opportunity, but they should be furnished with an incentive! They ought not be overpowered with a great noise – a thunderous blare of metallic clamor. This organ selection should begin with an impassioned tug at the heart-strings. By easy stages, it should woo the spirit up on higher ground, growing in volume, almost imperceptibly, until, near its close, it seems to be building up toward some definite action. The people must be filled with a desire to express themselves.
“Without a pause… the organist will modulate into the score of the opening hymn. Just think of the effect of it… the organ piling harmony upon harmony, higher, richer, fuller, until in one great, triumphant chord, it peals out the majestic measures of ‘O God, the Rock of Ages’ or ‘Holy, Holy, Holy’ or ‘Our God Our Help in Ages Past.’ And the choir comes to its feet, and the congregation rises as one man – and then they sing!”
He had much more to say on this subject, but this is enough for tonight. No wonder the faculty and staff – and even the students – filled his Ann Arbor church to capacity. I know I’d wait in line to get into a service like that.
For a free PDF copy of the booklet, The Secret Investment of Lloyd C Douglas, fill out the form below: