by John D. Witvliet
1. Hymnals bridge the centuries. There is no more poignant and accessible way of engaging church history than by singing the songs that saints have sung for generations. Hymnals give people access to a “cultural memory bank” they desperately need. Many spiritual nomads are longing for a sense of history. It is hard to think of a more poignant and accessible way of engaging in our spiritual lineage than by singing the songs used by Christians across the centuries. Hymnals can also be appealing to Seekers. For them a hymnal can serve as proof that the community takes its faith seriously, invests in enduring art forms, and is willing to encounter difficult texts and themes.
2. Hymnals get the whole congregation involved. Using hymnals draws in the entire church and helps catechize both new and lifelong Christians. Hymnals encourage family participation and intergenerational worship and put historic texts and melodies in front of our children in an accessible way. As the family of believers lifts their voices together to God, sharing a hymnal between parent and child is a powerful way to join young and old together in worship.
3. Hymnals involve tactile action. Just as liturgy is the work of the people, hymnals also involve people in the work of worship. Picking up the hymnal, finding the right page, and holding it up to sing grounds the worshiper in time and space. Feeling the weight of it in the hand engages the body in the corporate activity of singing—the primary instrument in corporate worship.
4. Hymnals support and sustain the life of faith. A printed hymnal provides selections of both songs of praise and lament to address a broad range of human emotions and events while also addressing key themes of the Church Year.
5. Hymnals are portable. Using hymnals allows people to sing anywhere. Hymnals can travel easily into Sunday school rooms, summer camps, meetings, and small groups—environments where projection may not be feasible.
6. Hymnals are tools of consistency. Hymnals give life and breath to the great songs of the Church and demonstrate through their careful planning and preparation that what we sing is worth preserving.
7. Hymnals teach music. To be sure, there is a lot of music going on around us, but very few people are actually making it. We’re just consuming it, or at best, singing along with music someone else made first. But even an untrained musician can look at the words and music in the hymnal and learn to follow melodic direction and rhythmic value.
8. Hymnals set a performance standard. Unlike printed text alone, a hymnal provides everyone with the same notation, which gives the musicians, leaders and the people a shared knowledge of how a song should be sung.
9. Hymnals are informative. Hymnals give musical and historical information together with the text, and are ideal for texts that are linear, that unfold an argument or tell a story in several stanzas. They allow a congregation to focus on the complete meaning of the words by being able to see the entire text at once.
10. Hymnals facilitate preparation. Hymnals help song leaders, choir members, and worship leaders to look ahead and prepare music for worship. They also allow worshipers to look up previously-sung or upcoming songs and refresh their memories, helping them to feel more comfortable in their participation.
Excerpts from “Ten Reasons Why Hymnals Have a Future”
John D. Witvliet
June 2013. Used by permission.