Monday, July 20, 2009

Where Have All The Hymnals Gone

I grew up in a Baptist Church. There, I have said it. Of course, I don't mean that I actually lived there, I mean that is where we went to church every Sunday. And when we were there we sang hymns. And when we sang hymns we always sang the 1st, 2nd and 4th stanzas of those hymn. I am not sure what was wrong with the 3rd stanza. are the 3rd stanzas always poorly written? Did the hymn writer lose steam about then and only got his "hymn mojo" back when he sat down to write the 4th stanza? It is a mystery.

Well whatever on the stanza business. I digressed which seems to be normal. The thing about hymns is that they are "singable" - for the most part that is. Hymns and hymnals serve a purpose. You can see the music, you know where you are going and how you are going to get there. Sort of like a GPS only with notes, words and no cute British lady's voice to help you along the way.

So, I grew up singing those hymns, learning to sing in parts, learning to read music with those hymns. OK, OK the extensive piano lessons and mandatory church choir helped with the whole reading notes thing but you know what I mean. I love hymns. I love the music, I love the words, even those words that you scratch your head and go, "Huh? What's an Ebeneezer anyways?"

But then, sometime in the 70's a change started happening. People started writing and singing "Praise and Worship" songs. We sang them all the time in youth group and we loved them. But no way would you sing them in the service. NO.WAY. Not in my home church, not in the Southern Baptist church that I went to in college. We sang hymns and we used the hymnal thank you very much.

I don't need to review the different churches that I have attended in my life (now wouldn't THAT be an interesting post!) but know that I now go to a church with a very contemporary music style. Um, really contemporary. And I have to admit here that it isn't to my liking, not at all. I am having a difficult time with it. The church is actually a "satellite" campus of the main church that we used to go to. It is closer to our house and we felt that we needed to be at this campus for a time to help things to get going.

I first have to say that "modern hymns" like those currently being written by Keith and Kristyn Getty and Stuart Towend are wonderful and I could listen to them and sing them all Sunday long. Heck, I am listening to one right now. But it struck me recently that we have lost something precious with this general turn towards more contemporary music and projecting the words up on screens without benefit of music. I am not saying that it isn't worshipful. It just isn't my particular cup of tea. But what really makes me sad is that, at least in my current church home, there are no hymnals anywhere in sight. Not one. Not at the ends of the pews, not under the pews. No where. Nor, as a general rule, do we sing anything resembling a hymn that might be found in a hymnal. If we do, it has been "modernized" and at times the words have been changed to make it more appealing and understandable. We are losing our hymnal heritage at a great cost and that makes me sad.


  1. Couldn’t agree more . . . during yesterday’s morning worship service at College Church in Wheaton we sang three hymns . . . several of which were especially poignant in light of Jane B's serious illness. (1) “I Know That My Redeemer Lives” (Job 19:25) (2) “Christ Is Made the Sure Foundation” (3) “Jesus Lives and So Shall I” (I Cor. 15:55) In the afternoon we returned to Church to attend a funeral, during which we sang "My Song is Love Unknown" words by Samuel Crossman (1664) set to music in 1999 by our good friend Dr. Edwin T. Childs - Professor of Sacred Music and Composition at the Moody Bible Institute. It was hard to read the music because of the moisture in my eyes.

  2. I love praise and worship music. I think it's what God had in mind with the phrase "Joyful Noise." I was raised Lutheran. I know all about hymns! But there is something about worshiping at the top of your lungs and your hands in the air! Granted, some of these new songs have lyrics that a 3 year old could have written... but some are actually really great. You should check out the Hymns CD by Passion. It's excellent.

    I would say that it's a generational thing. I'm 24. But it's not entirely generational. My 75 year old grandpa loves praise and worship. To each his own, I guess! At least we know that God doesn't care!

  3. Oh Roots and Rings, believe me I LOVE praise and worship songs and I couldn't agree with you more. It is just perhaps the style in which they are presented. At our "main" campus we have a moderately contemporary service that I love. It often combines hymns, praise and worship, orchestra, band and a praise choir. It is awesome and you can find me singing at the top of my lungs, much to the consternation of the people in front of me. Pity them!

  4. We left the church of my birth after the new pastor decided the youth were his target and changed everything about our worship. Even though the old crew was the one to financially support the church AND the ones who came out to pitch in when things needed done. But now we were the geriatric service and we needed to be modernized. I am only 48, nothing geriatric about me. But our wishes were ignored and everything old was thrown out.

    So we now attend a Baptist church and we sing EACH and EVERY stanza!!! I love it. Hymns all the way. Full choir. At the old church the piano, organ and choir were no longer needed by the pastor. Drums, guitars, and electric keyboards were all to be allowed.

    My new church is full of people who actually do service to the Lord. My old one was getting further away from service to others and only worried about service to themselves. It's sad.

  5. I also grew up Baptist and couldn't really you the third verse to any song. It makes me wonder what they would do about the songs with only three verses.

    I love the praise and worship music and our church is one of those with no hymnals. I also love the old hymns, which we do occasionally. It seems that because we don't sing them as often, I treasure them more. The tears come to my eyes with "In the Garden" or "Old Rugged Cross."

    In short, the contemporary is a better fit for me, but the old hymns are like going home.


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