This Sunday we are going to dedicate our new hymnals for our congregation during our Sunday worship service. A very generous family made a gift large enough to buy enough hymnals for our congregation. We appreciate their generosity and are thankful that they gave enough so that we could buy enough hymnals to replace all of our other ones. The last hymnals were bought in 1991 so they have been used for about 21 years and were not in terrible condition. The publication date of that hymnal, though, was 1979 and there have been so many great hymns written since then and many that have been included in hymnals that many denominations have adopted or printed since then.
We decided to buy the "Chalice Hymnal" that is published by the printing house of the Disciples of Christ (Christian Church). It contains most of the hymns with which we are familiar and has many new ones for us to learn. We have been singing out of these hymnals since early December and most of the congregation seems pleased with this choice of hymnals. Last Sunday our service ended with the hymn "Here I Am, Lord" which is a favorite in many church settings. This Sunday we will conclude singing, "Lord, You Have Come to the Lakeshore" which is another meaningful hymn. Both of these are new to our congregation, although we have sung them a couple times each since I have been pastor here, borrowing them from other hymnals that contain them.
Some congregations have decided not to even use hymnals at all, relying solely on words flashed on screens or power point presentations presented by professional companies. That method of presentation is fine for many congregations but this one that is 111 years old and has German Lutheran roots is not ready for looking at a screen or the wall while they are signing. They want to hold a book in their hands and look at the words and some even want to look at the musical score that goes with the words. They are "old school" when it comes to singing. They cannot be something they are not and must be true to their convictions. I respect that and affirm the history and tradition that continues to inform our worship.
Many congregations strive to be "everything for everybody", wanting to see if new members will come if they find the worship appealing and similar to what they may hear in the culture. They think that if people come to church and hear the beat that they hear in places in their community that are nonreligious then maybe they will relate to it better. One of the most recent studies of modern worshipers says that the opposite is actually true. Many people yearn for the tradition that they remember from their childhood because it gives them a feeling of connection with spiritual things that they sensed in the past. When they hold a hymnal and sing familiar words or hear familiar readings or prayers, they are filled with a sense of nostalgia that connects them to the Other because it connects their feelings as well as their intellect. Many people long for their connection because the rest of their lives feels so disconnected.
I often find myself singing songs from the church of my childhood that I left long ago, not because I really like those songs or agree with the theology presented in them but for some reason they connect me to my spiritual roots that I continue to find relevant. I have changed a great deal since finding my new church home and leaving behind the church of my childhood but the music still connects with me in some way. I may begin singing a song that I suddenly find distasteful because of the message it contains but the tune will not stop. Music has great power and it reminds us of the lessons we learned in our youth if we had some grace shown to us through the singing of it. There is meaning to be found in the song if the song connects with our spirits. Perhaps one of the old songs that comes to my mind now and then says it best, "God gave the song."