I love to sing–both old hymns as well as new ones. Usually finding a group to sing the old ones isn’t too hard…but singing new ones can be challenging. Many people aren’t comfortable with new tunes unless they’ve heard them many times–and sometimes putting new words with an old tune gets people confused as well.
I think that’s partially why I so much enjoyed the Hymn Society Conference! While not everyone who comes is a musician, there are enough musicians that we can sightread new hymns and sing them well!
And, boy, did we sing!!
We started out Sunday night with a hymn festival celebrating California hymn writers…some old and some new. Some were easy to sing, while some called on the Hispanic tradition and were a bit more challenging. We sang with organ, piano, bass, drums, flute, and dancers… One of our hymns came from the 1893 Parliament of Religions, still a challenge today…
O prophet souls of all the years,
speak yet to us in love;
your far-off vision, toil, and tears
to their fulfillment move.
There’s more to that one, but it was a lovely call to work together to bring God’s kingdom to fruition.
Monday morning there was a plenary session with Thomas Troeger at which I found myself in tears. We sang many of his hymns–but the one that touched me so much that I couldn’t sing was titled “God Weeps with Us Who Weep and Mourn”…acknowledging the pain of watching someone die, and yet ending with a promise of God’s grace.
Tuesday night we shared in a hymnfest focused on the “gift of African American song.” Song…and worship… It acknowledged pain but through it all yet a sense of hope. The notes on the page were there for guidance–but our ears were more important to sense where we were being called. And one thing that intrigued me was the challenge to sing whatever part we wanted to–if it wasn’t on the page, make up your own(!) because the song is not complete until all voices are a part of it.
My tongue got thoroughly twisted Wednesday night! We sang from the Hispanic tradition–going way back! Chant…mariachi…spirituals… Tiring, but also energizing!!
We also shared in morning prayers–focused on worship from the Asian community…and night prayers–from yet other Christian traditions.
318 people–from 38 states and two Canadian provinces, Brazil, and New Zealand…and 27 denominations represented. I know that there are significant theological differences between us–and yet, when we lifted our voices together in praise and prayer to God, I can’t help but think that God was pleased with the joyful noise we made!