Last weekend I was at a workshop that was the beginning of the introduction of my denomination’s new hymnal (which will be officially debuted in October 2013 at our annual Peace Colloquy). This was just an introductory glance with opportunities to talk about worship planning, how to be true to the cultural traditions of the songs that come from non-USA (and non-white USA) traditions, how the hymns speak our theology, encouraging congregations toward continued vibrant singing through keyboard and guitar accompaniments…and, of course, to sing!
As we were singing through many of the hymns, I got to thinking about how our singing shapes our faith…perhaps more than anything else we do. One of the workshop presenters reminded us that we teach our children the alphabet by setting it to music, because that makes it easier to remember.
So it is with our faith.
Scripture and tradition are important–but what we sing is what we remember, even when everything else fades.
Our last hymnal came out in 1981. It has been an important part of who we are, but much has changed over the past generation, and some of the theology we sang then no longer meets our needs. As we have (hopefully) grown spiritually, we have changed. We have sensed God calling us in new directions–and our hymnody needs to reflect those changes.
But it’s not going to be easy.
As I sang some of our new hymns, I realized that while I was comfortable with what they were saying, there are many for whom these words will be a struggle…if they truly read them.
That’s the other challenge of a new hymnal. Often we have become so comfortable with the songs that we have sung for a generation (or more) that we don’t really pay any attention to the words. And so the question arises: Do we really mean what we’re singing? Really?
Maybe that’s part of the reason we need new hymns and new hymnals every generation…to get us out of our comfort zone and to shock us into thinking about what we truly believe.
“All to Jesus I surrender…” (Judson Van de Venter) Do I really mean that?
“For everyone born, a place at the table…” (Shirley Erena Murray) Am I willing to sit with everyone at God’s table?
“Christ, you call us all to service, call us all who follow you; plant in us a deep commitment all your work and will to do. Fire a passion for your justice, in us kindle love of peace; help us heal the brokenhearted, to the captive bring release.” (Joy Patterson) “Us” includes me. Do I want that to happen in my life?
There are many old favorite songs that are part of my life that have made me who I am–and I am looking forward to many new favorite songs that will continue to shape me on my spiritual journey.