By Dean McIntyre
The choir in my church had just finished singing the offertory anthem, and the ushers were standing at the rear of the center sanctuary aisle before coming forward to present the offering. The organist began the transition music between choral offertory and congregational doxology, slowly and quietly at first to match the quiet conclusion of the choir's singing.
The organist gradually added organ stops, volume, a more vigorous tempo, modulating harmonies, louder and lower pitched pedal tones, louder and higher pitched mixtures and mutations in the manuals, fuller chords, the Swell shutters opened. Just as the ushers reached the first chancel step and the pastor gestured for the people to stand, the organist brought in the melody on the loud, distinctive trumpet sound. It was the first recognizable music of what was to follow: the congregational singing of number 94 in The United Methodist Hymnal, Praise God, from Whom All Blessings Flow to the tune of Lasst Uns Erfreuen, as the offerings were placed and dedicated with a prayer of thanksgiving.
The organist had skillfully roused us from the calm and peace of the choir's ending notes, prepared and brought us to the point where we were ready to burst into song…"Praise God from whom all blessings flow…Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost." The last phrase ended in a magnificent crescendo, with the full rumbling of the 32-foot pedal and full-throated congregational singing. As the reverberation of the organ and our last "Holy Ghost" subsided, I felt frustrated. It was incomplete. I wasn't yet ready for the music to end. It needed more. I needed more. It needed an “amen”; but like virtually all United Methodist churches using our hymnal, we have dispensed with singing "Amens."
Only one song in our hymnal has a concluding "Amen." Even with a concluding hymn line that says, "Let the Amen sound from his people again!" (UMH 139), the singing ends without an "amen." The 1989 hymnal committee's desire to dispense with the practice of singing concluding "amens" has been fully achieved.
I propose that we have gone too far in eliminating the “amen” from our song. I believe it is time to reintroduce it — not with all hymns, and certainly not indiscriminately. But there are occasions and circumstances that call for the singing of a concluding amen. Here are some:
At the conclusion of a Doxology (94, 95).
At the conclusion of a final stanza doxology to a hymn.
Following a Gloria Patri.
At the conclusion of final stanzas of hymns that make reference to “amen” or to singing an “amen”.
Following hymns that have ended on an emotionally high or intense level.
As a conclusion to prayer hymns — hymns that actually speak a prayer to God. Judge each hymn individually for including an "amen." Sometimes it may detract from the hymn ending.
Following a hymn whose text might call for a final word of assent or agreement, a "So be it" or "Let it be so". Judge each hymn individually.
I further propose for congregations that have completely banished the “amen” from their singing that the reintroduction be accomplished gradually and with careful thought for whether it actually enriches the singing. The musicians (director, accompanist, song leader, praise team) should come to agreement as to who will actually decide when to sing the “amen” and communicate that to the other musicians.
You may need to offer a brief explanation to the congregation, write a newsletter article, or teach a Sunday school class, explaining the history of singing "amens" with our hymns.
I do not propose a return to the pre-1989 hymnal practice of indiscriminately singing "amens" after all our hymns. Rather, I suggest we reclaim the practice for those hymns and on those occasions and situations when it makes theological, liturgical, devotional, emotional, and musical sense.
McIntyre (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the Director of Music Resources for The United Methodist General Board of Discipleship. Copyright © 2006 The General Board of Discipleship of The