This past Saturday, I was privileged and honored to be asked to present a program to the Daughters of the King (DOK) of Church of the Holy Communion, which actually included DOK members from parishes throughout the Diocese of West Tennessee.
By request, I was asked to speak on the topic "Hymns As Spiritual Devotion." A subtitle for my talk was "Those who sing pray twice," a verbal nod to the phrase traditionally attributed to St. Augustine.
One of my undergraduate professors always said, "Hymns are carriers of the faith," a commentary upon the fact that the theology of any Christian tradition can be outlined by the hymns its community sings.
Hymns are very personal to any person of faith. We tend to identify favorite hymns by some occasion in life, be it a childhood memory, a wedding, a funeral, or some other significant moment in our Christian experience.
Add up all of these beloved hymns and you have a parish's repertoire of favorites. They vary from church to church, a direct result of the the faith traditions in which the people were raised.
In my eighteenth year, I suppose I have a pretty good idea of what the parish favorites are at Church of the Holy Communion, and at the 10:30 service this Sunday, (February 24), we happen to have a couple of them scheduled.
Our opening hymn, "Praise to the Lord, the Almighty" (Hymn 390) is a definite parish favorite. This hymn tune Lobe den Herren comes from its original German text, Lobe den Herren, den mächtigen König der Ehren ("Praise to the Lord, the Almighty, the King of Creation").
The hymn was written by Joachim Neander (1650-1680), a German Reformed Church theologian, teacher and writer. The tune was probably based upon a German folk song, and the words paraphrase Psalm 103 and Psalm 150. It was first published in 1863 in Catherine Winkworth's (1827-1878) volume of English translations of German hymns.
We will close the 10:30 service with another Holy Communion favorite, "Love divine, all loves excelling" (Hymn 657), one of the some 6,000 hymns Charles Wesley (1707-1788) wrote in his lifetime.
Yes, that was 6,000, with a "six."
If older brother John Wesley (1703-1791) was the preacher of the family, an Anglican priest and leader of the revival movement in the Church of England known as the Methodists, then younger brother Charles was the prolific hymnist.
The hymn tune to which we sing "Love divine" is a Welsh tune Hyfrydol, which means "joy" or "gladness." In the Episcopal tradition, we also sing the text "Alleluia, sing to Jesus" to this tune. Some Christian traditions also sing the Advent text "Come, thou long-expected Jesus" to Hyfrydol.
An interesting tidbit: The title of our hymnal supplement, Wonder, Love, and Praise, is taken from the last phrase of this hymn text, "Lost in wonder, love, and praise."
Also on Sunday morning, we are singing a favorite of our 5:30 Sunday evening Celtic congregation, "Forgive our sins as we forgive" (Hymn 674), sung to the early American folk tune Detroit. This tune was first published in 1820 in the Supplement to the Kentucky Harmony, a collection of mountain folk hymns.
And finally, we will also sing a favorite of St. Mary's Episcopal School and one that I believe is becoming a parish favorite for us, "Lord, make us servants of your peace" (Hymn 593). This text is known as the Prayer Attributed to St. Francis, a text beloved by many, found on page 833 in The Book of Common Prayer:
Lord, make us instruments of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let us sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is discord, union;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy.
Grant that we may not so much
seek to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning
that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying
hat we are born to eternal life. Amen.