Advent Worship: Week 1

I am not planning worship for any church(es) this Advent season, but if I were, here is what I would suggest. All Scriptures are the appointed readings for Advent from the Revised Common Lectionary.

This list does not include all of the parts of worship. It assumes that there will be an opening and closing voluntary, a prayer of adoration or invocation, a confession of sin and a declaration of forgiveness, an exchanging of the peace, a sermon, and the celebration of the Eucharist.

First Sunday of Advent (November 29)

Call to Worship – Lighting of the Advent Wreath*

Hymn in Procession – “Savior of the Nations, Come” (NUN KOMM, DER HEIDEN HEILAND)

Prayer of the Day – Eternal God,
you taught us that the night is far spent
and the day is at hand.
Keep us awake and alert, watching for your kingdom,
and make us strong in faith,
so that when Christ comes in glory to judge the earth,
we may joyfully give him praise;
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and forever.

First Reading – Jeremiah 33:14-16

Psalm (Sung) – Psalm 25:1-10 (GENEVAN 25)

Second Reading – I Thessalonians 3:9-13

Sequence Hymn – “Jesus Comes With Clouds Descending” (HELMSLEY)

Gospel Reading – Luke 21:25-36

Hymn – “Lift Up Your Heads, You Mighty Gates” (TRURO)

Offertory Anthem – “Zion, At Thy Shining Gates” K. Lee Scott

Hymn – “O Lord, How Shall I Meet You?” (ST. THEODULPH)

*Ideas for the Lighting of the Advent Wreath can be found in my book, Rekindling Advent.

**Prayer of the Day is from the Book of Common Worship of the Presbyterian Church (USA) and the Cumberland Presbyterian Church, 1993.

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It’s a good thing, I think.

This post is not about Martha Stewart, who is fond of saying “It’s a good thing.”

It’s about the non-stop “Christmas” music on the radio right now (I will explain below why “Christmas” is in scare quotes). And the red “nonspecific winter holiday” cups at Starbucks that some people online seem to be losing their minds over. And everything in advertisements being “holiday” this and “holiday” that.

It’s a good thing, I think. All of it.

What? Have I abandoned Christianity? Have I decided to “take Christ out of Christmas”? Have I developed a liking for endless renditions of “Winter Wonderland”?

No, no, and definitely no. Nevertheless, I still think it’s a good thing.

This came to me as I was in the car this morning. I was driving to Hoover (about a 30 minute drive) and I had the radio on a station that is already playing nonstop “holiday favorites.” I had it on that station because they have been running a contest and I was hoping to catch the “secret word.” But apparently they don’t run the contest on Saturdays. Still, I did not change the station, mainly because I was on the freeway and it was raining and I did not want to have a wreck. So I listened to the “holiday favorites.” And I counted, to the best of my ability. These are the songs I heard (and I’m sure I’m leaving some out):

“Winter Wonderland” (3 different versions in one hour), “Sleigh Ride” (two versions in one hour), “White Christmas,” “All I Want for Christmas is  You,” “Santa Baby,” “Happy Christmas (War is Over),” “Simply Having a Wonderful Christmastime,” “Frosty the Snowman,” “Baby It’s Cold Outside,” “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas,” “Let It Snow,” “Feliz Navidad,” and “Joy to the World.”

Way too much Johnny Mathis. Way too many sibilants (“Chrissssssssssss-misssssssssss”: this is partially because there was way too much Johnny Mathis, but others do it too). Way too much Yoko. OK, it was only the one song, but that is still way too much Yoko. How is “Baby It’s Cold Outside” still getting airplay? They may as well call it “The Date Rape Song.”

“Joy to the World” was the only religious Christmas song played in an hour. “Joy to the World” was also an instrumental. I guess “Feliz Navidad” could count as 1/4 of a religious song since it repeats the word “Navidad” many, many times, and “Navidad” is Spanish for “Nativity.” But that’s a bit of a stretch.

In between the songs, they played taped segments where the radio people had asked listeners to tell their favorite “Christmas” traditions. They included such things as shopping, baking cookies, wrapping presents, listening to “Christmas” music, and “doing absolutely nothing.”  No mention of going to church on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, singing carols at nursing homes or the homes of the elderly, serving or delivering meals to the poor, or any of that. I think this is a good thing.

No, I don’t think that not helping the poor, or not visiting the elderly, or not worshiping God, or not mentioning Christ in connection with Christmas are good things. But I DO think the separation of what one friend of mine has called “retail Christmas” from religious Christmas is definitely a good thing.  We just need a good name for “retail Christmas.”  I have put “Christmas” in scare quotes many times already in this article to describe “retail Christmas” as contrasted with religious Christmas. I guess we could call it “Yule” (as I have done in the past), but the actual Yule is celebrated on December 21 or 22 (the Winter Solstice), so calling it “Yule” is as problematic as calling it “Christmas.”

There used to be a lot more overlap between retail Christmas and religious Christmas. There were a lot more Christmas songs about Jesus on the radio (granted, stations also were not playing non-stop Christmas music for weeks and weeks leading up to Christmas), more Christmas displays in stores had religious themes, etc. Today, public expressions of “Christmas” are pretty decisively displays of retail Christmas instead of religious Christmas. There is also no longer much overlap on the timing of the two holidays, either. Religious Christmas does not begin until sundown on Christmas Eve (and lasts through January 6), while retail Christmas is pretty much over by 6 p.m. on Christmas Eve, when the stores close. (A few stores may still stay open until midnight on Christmas Eve, but that is not nearly as common as it once was.)

All of that is a good thing, I think. It seems to me that this stronger distinction between retail Christmas and religious Christmas makes it actually easier for Christians to celebrate the religious season of Christmas without any interference from retail Christmas. They are still free, of course, to celebrate retail Christmas too if they choose, but they don’t have to. I think the mingling of retail Christmas with religious Christmas creates some real problems by injecting a lot of materialism into a religious observance which is supposed to be about the most selfless act in the universe: God’s humbling himself to become human, to live a life of poverty and suffering.

There are, of course, those who decry the separation of retail Christmas from religious Christmas. They claim there is a “war on Christmas,” when actually there is no war on religious Christmas: there is just a removal of religious symbols and expressions from retail Christmas. But how compatible are those two ideas from a Christian perspective anyway? Jesus said “You cannot serve God and mammon.” Jesus does not fit very well into retail Christmas, and I’m not so sure we should try to make him fit into it.

It’s better, I think, instead of trying to “keep Christ in Christmas” by demanding that retailers, coffee shops, radio stations, and other businesses cater to our religious preferences and inject Jesus-y-ness into the “holiday shopping season,” to let retail Christmas be retail Christmas, with all its tinsel-y trappings, and let religious Christmas, centered around the Christ Mass, around charity and helping others, be religious Christmas. Sure, bake cookies, go to parties, go shopping (if you can afford to, but don’t feel you aren’t “keeping Christmas” if you can’t afford to), and enjoy the bright lights and the excitement of retail Christmas. Listen to as much (or as little) Johnny Mathis as you want to. It is a fun time, and that’s fine. But if we truly believe in the words and works of Jesus, we will go a lot farther in convincing others to listen to his words and learn of his works by showing his love rather than acting like spoiled brats who demand that the world celebrate “OUR” religious Christmas rather than “THEIR” retail Christmas. And once retail Christmas is over, go to the Christ Mass and celebrate religious Christmas for all of the Twelve Days of that holy season. And maybe along the way, by showing Christ’s love, you will have encouraged others who have never celebrated religious Christmas to come along with you and experience it for the first time.

It’s not a Christmas song, but the words are fitting: “They’ll know we are Christians by our love.”

My question is, what should “retail Christmas” be called? We can’t call it “the winter holidays” because very, VERY little of it occurs in the winter: it’s mostly in the fall.


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Liturgical Calendar: About those colors …

This is a sort of follow-up to my recent post that included a Liturgical Calendar for 2015-16.

Some of you are not familiar with the use of color in liturgical worship, and others have grown up with these colors but don’t know why we use certain colors on certain days.

First: color shapes our perception. Decorators can attest to how significant a color change in a room can be, or how the “right” color can transform an otherwise drab living space. It’s the same with our worship space: when we change the colors of the paraments (more on these in a moment) and the banners, we change the “mood” of the room. The colors we choose can help carry the message of the Scripture lessons for that Sunday (and the lectionary readings are the basis for liturgical worship, as I have written about before), or they can detract from it. When we change the colors in the worship space, we are trying to “say” the same thing visually that the Scriptures, when they are read and proclaimed, are saying to our ears.

Paraments: Isn’t that a kind of wax?

No, you’re thinking of paraffin. “Paraments” is the generic term for the colored items used to decorate the church, including the antependia (hangings for the pulpit and lectern, sometimes called a “pulpit scarf”), frontals or prefrontals for the Communion table (I would explain the difference between a frontal and a prefrontal, but I’m afraid this post has already bored you enough), and Bible markers. Changing the paraments is the main way we change the colors for worship. The other ways we change colors is by changing the color of the stoles worn by the clergy and the choir, and changing out the banners (if the church has a set of banners).

So, what do the colors mean?

There are four “standard” liturgical colors: green, purple, white, and red. There are also some “secondary” colors which are either used occasionally or may be substituted for some of the above. These include scarlet, gold, blue, rose, and “Lenten array” (see below). Each color helps set the tone for worship:


whiteWHITE reminds us of glory and celebration. It is used for all Dominical feasts (feasts “of the Lord” or “of our Lord,” such as “The Nativity of the Lord,” “The Resurrection of the Lord,” “The Baptism of the Lord,” etc.) and for weddings and other celebratory occasions. Since white is used for Easter, a.k.a. The Resurrection of the Lord, it is also used for funerals, since every funeral is a service of witness to the Resurrection. For the same reason, white is the color for All Saints’ Day (or All Saints’ Sunday). White is also used for Trinity Sunday.


purplePURPLE is a rather somber color. It reminds us of preparation and penitence. When the worship space is decorated in purple, it means “something is going to happen soon!” Purple is the color for the seasons of Advent and Lent. Both are seasons of preparation rather than of celebration. Advent looks ahead to Christmas just as Lent looks ahead to Easter. Variations: In some churches, a royal blue is used for Advent instead of purple in order Royal_Blue_429677_i0to distinguish Advent from Lent. I used purple on my color coded calendar since, while blue is permitted in some churches, it is not authorized in others, so purple was the more ecumenical choice of the two. In some traditions, especially among some Anglicans, the Lenten array (a natural, unbleached linen or other off-white or ash, rough cloth, which may be accented with purple and/or earth tones) is used instead of purple during Lent.



Lenten Array at All Souls Memorial Episcopal Church in Washington, DC



RED reminds us of fire and is therefore the color for Pentecost. Red also reminds us of blood and so is the color for martyrs’ days and also for Reformation Day or Reformation Sunday (in those churches that celebrate that day) as well as the color for Holy Week.  Holy Week may be a crimson color (Oxblood or “Passiontide” Red), however, instead of the fiery red of Pentecost. Although Holy Week is still a part of Lent, the color changes from purple to crimson 1600x1200-ou-crimson-red-solid-color-backgroundfrom Palm Sunday through Maundy Thursday to remind us of the Passion of Christ. On Maundy Thursday, the worship space is stripped of all decorations, including all paraments, banners, and stoles, so Good Friday and Holy Saturday have no color: the worship space is bare for those days.


EXTREME GREENGREEN is the color of growth and of new life. For this reason, it is used for the Sundays after Epiphany to remind us that “Jesus grew in wisdom and in stature, and in favor with God and man.” Green is also used on the Sundays after Pentecost, as we focus on the growth of the church during those weeks.



Gold_Metallic_1395343Other variations: On especially celebratory occasions, such as Christmas Day, Epiphany, and Easter Sunday, gold may be used in combination with white (or instead of white). In some congregations, white is used instead of crimson (or red) on Maundy Thursday, since the institution of the Eucharist is indeed a celebratory occasion. (The paraments and other decorations would still be removed at the end of the Maundy Thursday service, leaving the worship space bare for Good Friday and Holy Saturday.)


Prepare, Celebrate, Reflect

As I wrote in the book Rekindling Advent, the Church Year is based on the rhythm of Prepare, Celebrate, Reflect. There are two main celebrations in the Christian Year: the Twelve Days of Christmas and Epiphany (December 25 – January 6), and the Great Fifty Days of Easter (from Easter Sunday through Pentecost). Each of these seasons of celebration uses the color white. Each one is preceded by a season of preparation: Advent before Christmas and Lent before Easter. Both seasons of preparation use the color purple. Each of these celebratory seasons is also followed by a season of reflection: The Sundays after Epiphany (sometimes called “Kingdomtide”) and the Sundays after Pentecost. Each of these seasons of reflection uses the color green. Here’s another nice parallel between the spring cycle (Easter) and the winter cycle (Christmas). In each case, the season of preparation (Advent or Lent) is preceded by a Sunday whose color is white (Christ the King one week before Advent starts, and Transfiguration Sunday on the Sunday before Lent begins).

Red is thrown in there here and there: Pentecost Sunday, Holy Week, Reformation Day (or Reformation Sunday) if celebrated, martyrs’ days if observed, and Thanksgiving Day if there is a worship service on that day. Why is Thanksgiving Day red? Probably because red is the most under-used of all the liturgical colors, so churches wanted to try to get a little more use out of those red paraments. (This seriously seems to be the only reason: many congregations, if they have a Thanksgiving Day service, just keep the green paraments up. Then again, Thanksgiving Day is an American-only observance and as such is not really a part of the Christian Year.)

roseThere is one other color: ROSE. It is only used on two Sundays in the year, and for this reason many churches do not have rose-colored paraments and many clergy do not have rose-colored stoles or chasubles. Rose marks the mid-point of both Advent (the Third Sunday of Advent) and Lent (the Fourth Sunday in Lent). On both occasions, the tone is a bit lighter than the rest of the season. The Third Sunday of Advent is called Gaudete Sunday (for “rejoice”), and the Fourth Sunday in Lent is called Laetare Sunday (another word for “rejoice”). The only time many worshipers will have seen rose used is for the rose-colored candle that is sometimes used in the Advent Wreath and lit on the Third Sunday of Advent. It’s a lot less expensive just to buy one rose-colored candle than a whole set of rose-colored paraments.

Have you experienced the use of these colors in worship? Have you seen them introduced in worship in a congregation that had been unfamiliar with the use of liturgical color previously? What are your thoughts on the use of color and how it affects worship?

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Liturgical Calendar 2015-2016

This is a little “labor of love” I have been working on. Every year, my denomination, the Presbyterian Church (USA), posts a liturgical calendar on its website, but I have never been happy with it for a couple of reasons:

First, Holy Week should be RED, not purple. Preferably a crimson color instead of the fiery red used for Pentecost, but if you only have one red, then go with it. Red is the most under-used liturgical color, anyway. Get your money’s worth out of those red paraments!

Second, they do not allow for the fact that many Reformed churches will want to celebrate Reformation Day, either on October 31 or on the Sunday immediately preceding that date. Likewise, churches may not celebrate All Saints’ Day on November 1 (unless that date happens to fall on a Sunday), so many celebrate it on the Sunday immediately thereafter. Both of these practices are reflected in my calendar.

I did not type the Scripture readings from each Sunday into the calendar, but the readings can be found at the Revised Common Lectionary site, as well as some lectionary-based prayers and other resources for worship.

I hope you enjoy this calendar, and I welcome your feedback! It is in pdf format so you may easily print it. You can find it right here.

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Walmart vs. ALDI, Part II

walmart                        aldi-logo

I got some good feedback (via Facebook–no one seems to want to comment directly on blogs these days!) about my previous post on Walmart vs. ALDI. One of the comments I received was that I did not take into account “Buy One, Get One Free” specials or Walmart’s ad-match policy. That’s right: I didn’t. I was trying to get as much of a fair comparison as possible, and comparing one store’s everyday price with another store’s on-sale price would not be a fair comparison.

But what about Walmart’s ad match policy? Could you not just go to Walmart and get all the items there, but at the lower price they sell them for at ALDI?

In almost every case, no. Allow me to explain.

Below is Walmart’s ad match policy, copied directly from their corporate website. I have added parenthetical annotations, so if you want to read the original version to make sure I have not changed anything, you may do so here.

Walmart’s Ad Match Guarantee

“We’re committed to providing low prices every day. On everything. So if you find a lower advertised price on an identical product, tell us and we’ll match it. Right at the register.”

(Note that the ad match guarantee is only on the identical product. That means you are not allowed to ad match Great Value (Walmart brand) cereal for the same size box of Millville (ALDI brand) cereal. Also note that the policy only applied to advertised prices, i.e., specials at other stores. It does not apply to another store’s everyday prices.)

We gladly match the price in the following types of ads:*

  • Buy one, get one free ads with a specified price
    • Example: Buy one for $2.49, get one free (BOGO)
  • Competitors’ ads that feature a specific item for a specified price
  • Preferred shopping card prices for specific items that are in a printed ad
  • For fresh produce and meat items when the price is offered in the same unit type (lb. for lb.; each for each)

(The ad match on produce is the only exception to the brand-for-brand requirement. For example, if one store has Chiquita bananas on sale and Walmart has Dole bananas, Walmart will allow you to ad match the bananas. But again, this only applies to advertised, i.e. sale, prices, not to another store’s everyday prices.)

*The following are guidelines and limitations:

  • We will match any local competitor’s advertised price.
  • We do not require customers to have the ad with them to honor a competitor’s ad, but we reserve the right to verify an ad at any time; we also require the store to verify the ad if there is a difference in price greater than 25% from the competitor.
  • The system will prompt for supervisor verification at a 50% reduction in price or greater.
  • Items purchased must be identical to the ad (size, quantity, brand, flavor, color, etc.). No substitutions
  • In all situations Walmart reserves the right to limit BOGO quantities to one per customer or household

(You don’t have to have the ad with you, but the item has to be advertised in a current ad by the store whose prices you are trying to ad-match. If a store just always has a particular item for a lower price than Walmart, but it is not an advertised on-sale price, Walmart will not match it.)

We do not match the price in the following types of competitor ads:

  • Items that require a separate purchase to get the ad price
    • example: “Buy [item A] to get [item B] for $C”
  • Items with no actual price that require a purchase to get free product
    • example: “Buy both [items A & B] to get [item C] for free”
  • Items that require a purchase to get a competitors’ gift card
    • example: “Buy [item A] to get a $B gift card
  • Buy one, get one free (BOGO) ads with no actual price given
  • Going out of business or closeout prices
  • Percentage off
    • example: “All mascara, 40% off”
  • Competitors’ private label price promotions
  • A specific price that omits a specific characteristic of an item (Example: $9.50 on “all sizes or quantities” of an assortment)

We do not honor:

  • Ads when the actual price for items cannot be determined
  • Competitor pricing on One Hour Guarantee Items
  • Misprinted ad prices of other retailers
  • “Going out of business” sales or “closeout” prices
  • Walmart reserves the right to verify an ad at any time, update or modify the terms of the Ad Match (Competition) Policy and its associated pricing strategies at any time.

Since ALDI is a mostly store-brand business, you will not be able to ad-match the vast majority of ALDI’s items at Walmart. You will only be able to ad-match items that are the very same–same brand, variety, and size–and that are in a current ALDI ad.

So, what’s the deal with store brands?

The economy is still not great. Wages for the middle class, when adjusted for inflation, have not gone up for decades. Many people need to do everything they can to save all the money they can. Not all store brands will work for everyone in every situation. Whether or not you like a store brand of a product depends on only on the manufacturer of that store brand (which is usually a closely-guarded secret) and also on your personal preferences. We’ll talk more about store brands, also known as private label brands, in a future post.

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Walmart vs. ALDI: Who wins?

walmart                 aldi-logo

UPDATE: Please submit your own price lists! I would especially love to see what the prices are like on these items at Save-a-Lot, since it operates on a very similar business model to ALDI. I would also like to see how Kroger compares since they usually have good prices and are the second-largest grocer in America after Walmart in terms of sales. Please take note of the sizes given for all items and remember to compare store brand, not name brands, so this will be a true apples-to-apples comparison. If you are friends with me on Facebook, you can send your list to me by private message. Otherwise, email it to me at jatbankson-at-gmail-dot-com. Thanks!

Not long ago, a friend on Facebook asked for her friends’ opinions of ALDI. Most of the comments, including mine, mentioned how much people liked ALDI’s low prices, gave recommendations on certain items, and offered other tips. One commenter, however, could not find enough bad things to say about ALDI. He said that he always saved at least twelve dollars per cart of groceries (or something like that, I can’t find the particular post now!) at Walmart over ALDI. I was a bit incredulous, since a Walmart Neighborhood Market had recently opened nearby, and I was underwhelmed by their prices. The ALDI-hater in the discussion turned out to be a Walmart manager, which only added to my incredulity.

I decided to check things out for myself.


I put together a shopping list of common grocery items. I did not include things such as meat and eggs since those prices are so volatile. And, since ALDI by nature is virtually store-brand-only in what they offer (with a few exceptions, such as Coke products), I decided to price only store-brand items at each store I would visit. I compared items of identical size. In some instances, the weights were not exactly the same (such as with some of the coffees). In those cases I divided the total price by the weight of the item to get a unit price.


I visited ALDI, Walmart Neighborhood Market, Walmart SuperCenter, and Publix. All four locations are in the same ZIP code: I know from experience that Walmart’s prices can vary even within the same city, so I wanted the stores to be as close together as possible. I was going to add Trader Joe’s to the mix, but the sizes of items did not match up well enough to get a fair comparison.


I went to ALDI first, then to Publix. I knew that Publix would cost more, but there were a few items that were very similar in price to ALDI (such as the cookies and the animal crackers). Next on my list was Walmart Neighborhood Market. As I started recording the prices at Neighborhood Market, I saw that almost all of them were higher than the prices at ALDI. “Well, maybe that’s because it is Neighborhood Market,” I thought. “Maybe Walmart Super Center will have lower prices than Neighborhood Market. After all, they promise that if we shop at Walmart, we will save money and live better, right?”

Wrong. Walmart SuperCenter’s prices were exactly the same as Walmart Neighborhood Market’s prices, with one exception. For some reason, the lowest-priced store-brand coffee was four cents less at Neighborhood Market than at SuperCenter. One item, the chocolate sandwich cookies (similar to Oreos), cost fifty cents more at Neighborhood Market than at ALDI, plus it weighed an ounce less, making it the worst buy at all four stores. Furthermore, both Walmart SuperCenter and Walmart Neigborhood Market had much higher prices on milk than either Publix or ALDI.


Of the 21 items priced, ALDI had the lowest price on 18 of them and had the lowest price overall. Walmart SuperCenter and Walmart Neighborhood market tied for the lowest price on only 3 of the 21 items and tied for the highest price on one item (milk). Additionally, Walmart Neighborhood Market had the highest price on one other item (the chocolate sandwich cookies). Publix had the highest price on all the items except for the chocolate sandwich cookies and the milk. ALDI did not have the highest price on any item and was the clear “low price leader” overall.

A representative cart of groceries at ALDI would cost $37.53. The equivalent cart of groceries would be $43.18 at Walmart Neighborhood Market ($5.65 more than ALDI), $43.22 at Walmart SuperCenter ($5.69 more than ALDI), and $50.08 at Publix ($12.55 more than ALDI). If this were a week’s groceries, annual savings from shopping at ALDI would be $293.80 vs. Walmart Neighborhood Market, $295.88 vs. Walmart SuperCenter, and $652.60 vs. Pulbix! After seeing these figures, it is highly unlikely that anyone could save any money at all on groceries by shopping at Walmart instead of ALDI, and certainly not $12 on a cart of groceries!

The details are included in the following table:



WM Super Center

WM Neighborhood Mkt.


Toasted Oat Cereal, 14 oz





Coffee, premium*

3.99 (12

(11.3 oz)

(11.3 oz)

(11.5 oz)

Coffee, bargain*

(11.3 oz)

(11.3 oz)

(11.3 oz)

(11.5 oz)

Peanut butter, 18 oz





Grape jelly, 32 oz





Animal Crackers

1.49 (13
oz box)

1.48 (16
oz bag)***

1.48 (16
oz bag)***

1.50 (12
oz box)

Chocolate sandwich cookies, 15.35 oz



(only 14.3 oz)


Black beans, 15.5 oz,  x 2

1.18 (.59

1.44 (.72

1.44 (.72

1.90 (.95

Green beans, 14.5 oz,  x 2

0.98 (.49

1.36 (.68

1.36 (.68

1.60 (.80

Whole-kernel corn, 15.25 oz,  x 2

0.98 (.49

1.36 (.68

1.36 (.68

1.60 (.80

Pineapple chunks in juice, 20 oz





Taco seasoning, 1 oz, x 2

0.70 (.35

1.10 (.55

1.10 (.55

1.58 (.79

Chili seasoning, 1.25 oz,  x 2

0.98 (.49

1.48 (.74

1.48 (.74

1.98 (.99

Yogurt, blended, 6 oz, x 6

2.34 (.39

1.82 for
a 6-pack

1.82 for
a 6-pack

3.00 (.50

Whole milk, 1 gal





White bread, 20 oz





Cheddar cheese, 8 oz





Spaghetti, 2 lb





Dish liquid, 24 oz





Laundry detergent, 50 oz (32 loads)





Soft drinks, 12-pack










All products are store brand. Compared equivalent sizes. All three stores in the same ZIP code. Tax not included.

*Each store has a “value priced” store-brand coffee as well as a “premium” store-brand coffee.

**Did not have a store-brand detergent. Price shown is the lowest-priced national brand at that store (Arm & Hammer).

***Did not have a store-brand animal cracker. Price shown is for Stauffer’s in a 16-oz bag.

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All I ever needed to know I learned in the church choir.

(Or: Why your church needs to have choirs if it doesn’t already.)

Republishing this older article due to several requests:

Throughout the church in recent years, the two biggest casualties of the “worship wars” have been the church choir and the organ (and thus the organist as well). When worship committees decide to jettison “traditional” worship, that’s the death knell for the choir and organ. To be sure, sometimes they still hang around, but there’s an awkwardness to the presence of either a choir or an organ in the context of pop-music-oriented worship. The organ just isn’t as cool as the guitar, the drums, or even the synthesizers, and the choir is usually relegated to the role of an also-ran. If the “praise team” are the varsity cheerleaders, then the church choir becomes the pep club: the kids who weren’t popular enough to be picked for the squad.

What’s truly sad about all of this is that, if we are concerned with our spiritual health, we are much better off with choirs and organ than with a “praise team” or “worship team” of singers and a “praise band.” We’ll discuss the organ in the next article, but for now I’d like to focus on choirs: adult choirs, youth choirs, children’s choirs, handbell choirs, brass choirs, etc. A church choir isn’t just there to sing an anthem in the service or to lead the hymns. A church choir, under the direction of a competent, spiritual, thinking director, can teach us about much more than choral music. It can teach us about what it is to be the church, about what it is to be a Christian.

I’ve been in church choirs most of my life, and I’ve directed a few as well. Here’s what I’ve learned about the church and about life from being in the church choir:

1.   It’s not about me. There’s a reason choirs are usually robed, and it’s not because they enjoy wearing those things (they’re usually really, really hot). When everyone in the choir is in matching robes, everyone is, in effect, disguised. They are not up there as an assortment of random individuals. They are there as a unified whole. When the choir looks like a choir and behaves like a choir, they teach us how to behave like the Church: how to work together as one and to check our individual egos at the door when we come to worship. Contrast this with the typical worship team, in which each member, holding his or her personal microphone, tries his best to emote and work the room, thus drawing attention to himself. If I’m on the worship team, the spotlight is on me. If I’m in the choir, it’s not about me. It’s about the One on the throne and the Lamb, to whom all our worship is directed (Rev. 4-5).

2.    Keep your eyes on the Director. While the worship team seeks to make eye contact with the members of the “audience” (because, after all, that’s how most congregations think of themselves), a good choir director teaches his choir never to look out into the congregation, but to keep their eyes on the director at all times. This allows the choir to follow his every cue. He may take a section faster than usual, or change the dynamics in an unexpected way. From observing a well-trained choir, a congregation can learn what Hebrews 12:1-2 means: “Let us keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, the Author and Finisher of our faith.” We need to keep our eyes on our Director at all times: otherwise, we will surely lose our way.

3.    Blend. Choir directors often ask their choir members to “blend” their voices, but few know what this means or how to achieve it. We all know what it sounds like when a member of the choir “sticks out”: it’s not pretty. Blending is the opposite of sticking out. But trying to blend in doesn’t mean each member of the choir tries to sound exactly like everyone else in the choir. The secret of blend sounds impossibly simple: blend occurs when all the members of a choir pronounce their vowels the same way. That’s pretty much it. They don’t try to disguise their voices or become someone they’re not: they just pronounce their vowels the same way. In the church, we’ve each been given different gifts. For the church to be the church, we don’t all become exactly the same: we celebrate the diversity that God has built into the church by his own design (I Cor. 12, 14; Eph. 4:10-12), and we simply tell the same story, the Gospel story. We maintain our uniqueness, but we blend, because we’re all part of that story, like tiles in a mosaic. Some churches have a staff position entitled “Minister of Assimilation.” How horrifying. We shouldn’t want to assimilate anyone or to be assimilated ourselves. God would not have created each of us unique and gifted us uniquely if he wanted us to be assimilated. Instead, God wants us to blend while retaining our God-given distinctives.

4.    The whole is more than the sum of its parts. Put several people on a stage to perform for the crowd, and you have several people on a stage. Put together a 16-voice choir (or 32, or 40) and you don’t just have a bunch of people singing together. Sixteen people singing the same song is one thing, but a choir singing a song is something more. Something happens when a collection of people learns to sing together, to breathe together, to think together, as a choir. A new entity comes into being, with its own personality and its own unique sound: the choir. Together, a choir can do things that none of the individual singers could ever do on his own. Call it the science of acoustics. Call it the “magic” of choral music. Call it unity. That’s what can happen in a church too, when we truly have the mind of Christ (Philippians 2:3-11). Scripture calls it “the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”

5.    Biblical worship is all about choirs. I Chronicles 25 tells of David assembling the choirs of musicians (both vocal choirs and instrumental choirs), under God’s direct orders, for service in the Temple. In Nehemiah 12, we read of two great choirs that were assembled to give thanks to God for the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem, one choir at the South Gate of the city and one at the North Gate (quite possibly the first double-choir motet in history). The Psalms are replete with dedications to “the choir director” of the Temple. Whether we are talking about choirs of singers or choirs of instrumentalists, biblical worship is characterized by choirs. The musicians who have rehearsed and who are robed and in the choir loft to sing anthems to God and to lead congregational singing are one choir, but the congregation is a choir too (one at the North Gate and one at the South Gate?). Even the organ is composed of choirs: families or ranks of pipes that sound good together (more on the organ next time). Biblical worship is all about choirs. Understanding what a choir is and does, it is not too much of a stretch to say that biblical worship is choral worship. Why would you not have choirs as the foundation of your church’s music ministry? How can one not have choirs as the foundation of a music ministry?

In worship, we are never to say, either with our words or with our actions, “Look at me!” As the angels in the Bible do, we who lead in worship are to deflect the attention away from ourselves and toward the only One who is worthy of that attention. When worship is led primarily by soloists or by small groups such as worship teams, praise teams, or praise bands, the “Look at me!” effect is almost inevitable. To be sure, a choir can be guilty of seeking the limelight too, but when a choir behaves like a choir, this does not happen. Having a biblically-literate, theologically-conversant, liturgically-sensitive choir director will ensure that this does not happen. A good choir director makes for a good choir, and a good choir makes for worship that is appropriately directed toward God rather than toward self.

I once had a fellow pastor tell me, proudly, “Our church has never had a choir or an organ, and it never will.” He went on to explain that they were designing their new sanctuary in such a way that there could never be any possibility in the future for a choir or an organ. It is almost as if that pastor were saying, “We want to do everything we can to encourage an entertainment model of worship, one in which the musical performers seek, and receive, the applause of men.” David saw fit to appoint choirs. (I certainly hope he “saw fit” to do so: God ordered him to do so.) The Hebrews of Nehemiah’s day saw fit to celebrate the greatness of God with antiphonal choirs. God saw fit to announce the birth of his Son with a mass choir of angels (Luke 2:13-14). He sees fit even now to have choirs of elders, cherubim, and saints adoring him eternally through the use of a responsorial and antiphonal liturgy (Rev. 4-5).

Start a choir. If you already have one, start more. No matter what the “conventional wisdom” says these days, choirs are not outmoded. Choirs can never be outmoded. Choirs in worship are there by God’s design, not man’s. Do we really think we can improve on his idea?

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