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Singing from the Heart

August 4, 2021

After more than a year of stay-at-home COVID-19 restrictions, members of the Washington, D.C., Christian Reformed Church were recently able and very grateful to gather in person again for worship, said Katie Ritsema-Roelofs, the congregation’s worship leader.

“It was so wonderful to hear so many voices singing during the service,” she said.

Ritsema-Roelofs opened as the first of four speakers for this week’s Inspire “Light” virtual conference.

“There was true singing from the heart in real time,” she added. “It seemed like the people had been waiting to sing together again.”

Beginning on Tuesday with Ritsema-Roelofs, Inspire “Light” features one speaker each day this week through Friday, Aug. 6. Each session begins at 12 noon (EST).

In her talk, titled “Tune Our Hearts to Sing Your Praise: Music as a Spiritual Discipline,” Ritsema-Roelofs focused on the ways in which singing helps to fill our hearts and bring us closer to God.

“When we practice singing as a spiritual discipline and open ourselves inwardly and outwardly, singing can draw us to God and bring us into communion with God,” she said.

Because Inspire 2021 has been postponed till next year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Inspire “Light” hopes— through free plenary talks, worship, and group time together — to spark people’s interest in making the trip next summer to Inspire 2022 in Chicago.

Speaking Wednesday at Inspire “Light” will be Rick Zomer, executive director of ThereforeGo Ministries. On Thursday, Reggie Smith, director of Diversity for the CRC. And he will be followed on Friday by Beth Fellinger, a church planter from St. Thomas, Ont.

“Inspire ‘Light’ aims to whet your appetite for Inspire 2022 next year in Chicago,” said Kristen deRoo VanderBerg, director of communications and marketing for the Christian Reformed Church in North America. “But that doesn’t mean this year’s event, and especially the speakers, won’t be bringing a broad range of challenging ideas and important pieces of information to those who sign up for Inspire ‘Light.’”

There are still spaces available for participants at this week’s Inspire “Light” sessions. Register now and indicate your interest for each session. Video recordings of each day’s session will also be posted for persons who are unable to attend.

Ritsema-Roelofs, a commissioned pastor in the CRC and a worship catalyzer with the office of Worship Ministries, explained on Tuesday that while music may not be the first spiritual discipline that comes to mind, “God delights in our singing. In our songs we offer praise and lament. . . . Singing comes from our soul and is not just a matter of using words.”

On the first Sunday that worshipers gathered again at Washington, D.C., CRC, they were also mourning the loss of a “well-loved and well-known” member, said Ritsema-Roelofs.

“We will be feeling her loss for a long time to come. As we joined our voices that Sunday, it took all of our voices to make it happen” — to make music that mattered, honoring both God and the woman who had died.

Ritsema-Roelofs also pointed out the importance of churches’ singing their “heart songs” —  songs with deep, personal meaning to the congregation, whether they are favorite hymns or contemporary songs — because these are songs that people often know by heart and can sing with full emotion turned to the God they are praising.

“Our singing can be offered as a gift to God,” she said. “After this unprecedented year, some of us might be reluctant to sing. But why not view singing as integral for our own spiritual journey?”

In singing from the heart, she added, “you can find your place in the heavenly choir. Allow yourself to be drawn into holy participation.”

After Ritsema-Roelofs spoke, participants were organized into small online groups, in which many of the participants picked up on the speaker’s comments about being cooped up because of COVID-19 and unable to gather at their local church.

One man said he is pleased to return to church and sing. “Singing over Zoom doesn’t have the same resonance as when we come together and hear all of the voices,” he said.

A pastor commented that he has a friend who just lost his nephew to gun violence. And at such times of loss and grief, he said, he thinks of singing “How Great Thou Art” or a song adapted from the words in Psalm 13, which begins, “How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?”

One woman recalled hearing a sermon on lament, after which the congregation sang a rousing rendition of “When Peace Like a River.” “That was heart music,” she said. “It hit everyone. They know the words by heart.”

Another woman said that she too missed being able to sing with her congregation during the lockdown in her community.

“I think you feel more together when you sing together,” she said. “It’s totally different from singing at home into my computer.”


If you missed this presentation, you can watch the recording here.