As I think back on my childhood, some of my fondest memories of church life were the occasions when the congregation would have a meal together after the Sunday morning worship service, and then reconvene back in the sanctuary for an afternoon “hymn singing.” This usually occurred on Homecoming Sunday, but I am sure it must have happened other times throughout the year as well.
Sadly, this idea of a church hymn singing, or better yet, a community hymn singing, is something you rarely find nowadays. And yet, I believe it is a time-honored tradition worth re-visiting. If this type of event inspires you, I have compiled a few thoughts for you to consider before you begin your planning process.
I believe it is always valuable to bring the local church community together as much as possible. After all, there is nothing wrong with strengthening the ties between folks that make up the collective body of Christ. To that end, ask other churches in your area if they might be interested in co-sponsoring the hymn singing with your church. And, make sure that this event is open to the entire public as well. You will be amazed at the number of folks who will come out just to sing the “old songs.”
If you are able to successfully partner with other churches in creating this event, you will obviously need to find a date that works for all parties involved. Likewise, the hymn singing should not coincide with major community events that might create scheduling conflicts (Friday night football games, etc.).
The venue needs to be discussed as well. If several churches are co-sponsoring the event, perhaps it might be best to find a “neutral” meeting place, such as a community center, or a school lunchroom or auditorium.
If possible, it is nice to use accompanists from each of the churches involved. However, some churches might not have an accompanist who is comfortable improvising in an old-fashioned hymn style. In any event, find the best musicians possible, as nothing can drive congregational hymn singing as successfully as fine accompanists.
I strongly believe it is best if you choose the hymns to be sung well in advance of the event. There are several reasons for this: 1) You can make sure the majority of hymns presented will be selections that are known across denominations. 2) The folks leading the singing will have time to prepare some introductory remarks for a few of the hymns. Folks always love hearing the “backstory” behind their favorites! 3) This will provide a chance for you to practice with your accompanists. Although most keyboardists will know many, if not all, of the selections, this will give everyone an opportunity to make sure there are no “surprises.” 4) You can make sure that the hymnbook chosen for the singing contains every selection.
Finally, if there is a way to get an estimate of how many folks will attend, it would be a pleasant treat to provide some type of refreshment, either before or after the singing. Obviously, the expenses for this will need to be considered in the planning stages. However, it is always nice to give folks an opportunity to visit with one another over a cup of coffee or a doughnut.
I hope your year is off to a great start, and I look forward to sharing many more ideas with you in future editions of WORSHIPSONGS ONLINE.