From the Archives: Music in Church

By Mary Klein, diocesan archivist

According to Maryland’s second bishop, James Kemp, “Musick is so congenial to the feelings and has such a happy effect upon the hearts of men that it has formed a principle part in the devotions of all nations.” These words, part of an undated manuscript, begin Kemp’s sermon on music in the church based on Psalm 150, verse 6: “Let everything that hath breath praise the Lord.”

Saying that to neglect music in worship would be unnatural, Kemp wrote, “The practice of praising God with vocal and instrumental music has so universally prevailed and is acknowledged to have such influence in raising every devout feeling of the soul, which its neglect in any church or society can only be accounted for upon the supposition of some fundamental defect.” Kemp urged everyone to be part of the singing. “Every member of the congregation is ardently to join in praise. It would seem to be the opinion of some that the choir only are to perform this part of the service. This is altogether wrong. Every member, even if he cannot sing, is to join in his heart in the praises of God.”

This manuscript may have been a collection of notes used by Kemp to write the sermon for the laying of the cornerstone for the new St. Paul’s Church in Baltimore on May 4, 1814. The Rev. Mr. Kemp was rector there, and only a month later was elected suffragan bishop of Maryland. In detailing the occasion, he said, “The congregation attended divine service in the old church, when an elegant anthem appropriated to the occasion was sung with great effect by a large number of singers.”

Clearly, James Kemp thought that music enhanced worship and led people to experience the presence of God, because he concluded that “the congregation devoutly engaged in singing may be considered as heaven in miniature. God is present though invisible. Music is the holy exercise of saints and angels.”