At the end of my time at the Best Practices conference in Phoenix, I experienced something unusual and unexpected: I wept.
It happened during the closing worship service when all participants were gathered in the traditional worship space and we sang with the organ from the hymnal (or from memory) the beloved hymns: “Lift High the Cross,“ “Thy Strong Word,“ “Hark the Voice of Jesus Crying“ and “Praise God from Whom All Blessings Flow” (in harmony and a cappella). That’s when I lost it.
“So why the tears?” I pondered.
Hearing the participants sing with such gusto and experiencing the sounds of the 2000 voices echo through the vaulted space of the church brought out an emotional response in me in a way that the wonderful contemporary music I had been listening to and singing with over the previous days of the conference had not elicited.
To me the experience of a community of believers singing these well-known hymns with such energy revealed to me a glimpse of heaven and the singing I will experience there as all the faithful voice praises at the throne of the Lamb of God and glory in his presence.
I could sense a richness of history, that these were songs that had been sung for decades in similar places and had been passed on from generation to generation.
The hymns brought out a reconnection to my own personal history as a pastor’s kid, who had sung these hymns many times over the years in in congregation where my dad served, and they called to mind worship I had been a part of at the Chapel of the Resurrection at Valparaiso University when I was a student there.
I must admit, too, that the tears represented, as well, a feeling of loss. I had not sung these hymns in a long time. They seemed from a bygone era, a time that is no longer with us as worship music shifts as it must to adjust to changing needs and preferences, and a time I can’t go back to.
What that moment in time taught me was that in all the forward-thinking I am required to do for my work as a worship service provider, I need to take the time to return to the basics from time to time and incorporate the familiar and draw from the power of nostalgia.
When it comes to church music, we do not need to put all our eggs in one “praise band” basket and throw out all our traditional hymnody. There is still great impact that can come from singing hymns “like we used to.” And there is still value in closing songs with an Amen.
It is my humble prayer that the worship services I help develop put people in touch with the presence of God in their lives in a way that only music like this can—as it did for me on that day.
Blog question of the day:
How have you incorporated traditional hymnody into your more modern worship services in innovative and creative ways?