“When will we ever get the chance to sing (insert favorite hymn title here) in worship?”
It’s a great question that comes up every now and then. We all have our favorites hymns and songs that we like to sing. Sometimes that’s because the hymn text really gives meaning to our faith. Sometimes that’s because the hymn tune catches our ear and is inspiring. Sometimes, it’s just because we grew up singing them and we humans tend to like what’s familiar. A typical congregation has about 40–50 hymns that the people “like to sing” or “are familiar with singing” or “will tolerate singing” or something to that effect. Of course, that translates into one hymn per week that’s “familiar” or, on the flip side, singing the same set of hymns four or five times each year.
Our worship is thematic – the sermons have to do with the scriptures which have to do with the songs which have to do with the prayers which have to do with the liturgical seasons which have to do with what’s going on in the world which … you get the idea. While we could just sing whatever we want whenever we want, that makes it difficult to get an idea across, as it usually takes seven or eight times hearing something before we human beings start to catch on. (Your mileage may vary.) Our worship is thematic and so, too, is the music for worship. It’s not random. It’s all very intentional. Otherwise, our use of sacred music in worship becomes just an exercise in self-reflection rather than divine-reflection.
That being said, it is also important to affirm those favorite hymns that have shaped our faith through the years and sing again those songs that resonate within us down to our bones. Such hymns are part of our spiritual DNA and it just feels good and right to sing them. So the question remains: when will we ever get the chance to sing “my personal favorite hymn” in worship? Well, if you are lucky, you’ll get to sing twelve of them very soon!
We are going to try something new this summer that has been done before at other churches and to great success: we are going to do a Top 40 Countdown of our congregation’s favorite hymns and songs of faith and sing each and every last one of them in order.
Yes, you read that correctly: beginning this June, we will start a Top 40 Countdown of our own congregation’s favorite hymns ranked in order of popularity, starting with #40 and singing four each week until we get to #1. Ballots will be available at the church, choices will be made, votes will be tabulated, and best of all: neither the Florida Election Commission nor Russian hackers will be involved!
So how do we go about all this? Well, first we need to get in the right frame of mind for what we are doing: intentionally (and not reflexively) picking favorites. Here’s how to think about it:
If you were going to be stranded on a desert island with only twelve hymns by which to sing your faith, which ones would you choose and why? Which ones speak to your heart and soul and mind? Which ones really inform and inspire your faith? Which ones are life-giving? Which ones bring you closer to God and challenge you to grow as a Christian?
After you carefully consider these questions, pick the 12 hymns that are most important to you, write them down on an authorized ballot, bring it to the church, and place it in the ballot box in the lobby. Ballots will be available in the church office or as you come into worship on Sunday mornings. You only get to vote if you actually show up in person. (Sorry, but we aren’t able to accommodate absentee hymn singing at this time.)
A word of warning: picking just 12 hymns is really, really hard! Do take a hymnal home with you, if you need, and go through it – just be sure to bring it back on Sunday. Also, since these need to be songs for congregational singing, please limit your selection to songs either from the Chalice Hymnal or from other hymnals or songbooks which can be photo-reproduced for worship. And yes, you can certainly vote for Christmas carols, but remember that you only get to pick twelve of your favorite hymns to represent your entire sung faith, so don’t overdo it on one particular liturgical season unless you really want to. (If you only picked your favorite Christmas carols, Jesus would never get out of the manger, much less the tomb!)
When it comes time for our countdown, remember that there won’t be any intentional connection between what we sing and the scripture, theme, or sermon of the day. We may be starting morning worship with “Silent Night” one day – who knows! It will be “tyranny of the majority” and there may well be songs that you don’t like that the majority of us do – that’s just what happens when you practice your faith in community. But then again, maybe you’ll learn to appreciate something new!
We will start our Top 40 Hymn Countdown in June, so all ballots must be turned in by May 27. Let the voting begin!