Never mind all the times I’d heard the hymn sung by a congregation, or by a children’s choir, or as a solo during communion—this time it was as if I was hearing “They’ll Know We Are Christians” for the first time. The singer stood absolutely still, her eyes closed, her head tilted back. With open-hearted simplicity she crafted each phrase as if she were proclaiming an essential, God-given message. She did not perform the song but gave it as an offering, a gift, as if the song were an extension of her innermost thoughts. I noticed several worshipers nodding their heads yes with their eyes closed. Some worshipers were bent over in prayer, and a few were rocking to the music. There was no sound other than the singer’s voice, yet on a sticky summer night an eclectic, diverse bunch of people were one in the Spirit.
Lisa Lynne Mathis sings at Riverside Church in New York City and is the music director of Presence, a contemporary worship service in White Plains, New York. Her latest CD is Hancock Place (Garagista Music).