For many, a Sunday morning worship service or Sunday School class is one of our first exposures to song outside of our parent’s comforting arms as they rock us to sleep. As small children in the church, we learn simple songs like “Jesus Loves Me” and “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands”. We are exposed to new hymns every Sunday in worship, maybe even learning some by memory as they are repeated. As a hospital chaplain, I remember standing by a bedside and singing “In the Garden” with a family as their loved one drew their last breath; I remember sitting with a 98-year old woman who could no longer speak or read, but she could still sing two or three hymns from her childhood.
Music is a unique, but universal language. I don’t know about you, but I rarely left my high school French or Latin class with a phrase, much less an entire poem, stuck in my head for the rest of the day. I do, however, leave church most Sunday mornings with a hymn stuck in my head and continue to sing and praise God through that song for the rest of the day (and sometimes into the week!).
Sunday morning worship gives us many opportunities to utilize this incredible love and praise language as we express what it is that we believe through black dots and lines turned into beautiful music. Congregations lift their voices to the heavens, choirs praise God with anthems, and instrumental musicians pull at heart strings as they share their own interpretation of classic hymns. Young children have the opportunity to share their developing talents publicly for the first time, many times as they sit beside a retired member who is dusting off almost-forgotten talents.
Calypso Presbyterian Church in Calypso, NC sees the importance of music in worship and has changed things up for the summer to broaden their musical reach. In lieu of an anthem this past Sunday, Rev. Nick Nielsen invited members of the congregation to call out their favorite hymn numbers. The first hymn, #339 in what is now lovingly referred to as “The Blue Hymnal” was first and the congregation sang the very familiar “Be Thou My Vision.” The second hymn reached a little further back, only vaguely familiar to a 27-year old like myself- #459 in “The Red Hymnal” is one that older generations than my own may remember singing, “Tell Me the Stories of Jesus”.
Many of our “go to” hymns may not be ones that are regularly sung today, just like “Tell Me the Stories of Jesus,” but they are still alive within us and for that reason, they are still available to us today even if they are not in whatever hymnal your congregation currently uses. As we sing these hymns throughout the remainder of our Sunday and with our children and grandchildren, we share something almost as old as many of our confessions of faith; one could even say that they are confessions set to music.
I honestly don’t remember singing “Tell Me the Stories of Jesus” in worship, but I do remember my great-grandmother singing it to me when I was only 3 years old and curled up with her in her bed. Hymns are gifts that keep giving. The hymns that my great-grandmother sang to me will be sung to my own children one day, just as the hymns that are important to one individual in a congregation can be shared with others when we provide time and space to “call out any number.”
Many congregations find themselves in a situation with half of the choir during the summer, if the whole choir isn’t on vacation. Calypso Presbyterian, only a few hours from Topsail Island which is very appealing on a beautiful weekend, decided to give the choir a break during the summer and they will open the time set aside for the anthem every week. Some weeks the congregation will call out hymn numbers, other weeks members might share their own musical talents. Whatever Calypso Presbyterian’s anthem is, whatever your congregation does for summer music, I pray that praising God will be at the center of it and that every person walks out into the sun singing for the remainder of the day!
Calypso Presbyterian Church, located in Eastern North Carolina, has welcomed many Union educated pastors to their pulpit throughout their history (usually as a first call!) Learn more about their ministry at www.calypsopresbyterian.org.