Thinking About the Hymns We Sing

Embossed Luther Rose (610x351)This is our pastor’s newsletter article for June.


Hymns are strange.  It’s not that hymns are strange writings put to music but that many of the hymns we like and are used to singing all differ.

I didn’t grow up as a Lutheran.  I converted to Lutheranism in the autumn of 1988. So, most of my Lutheran hymn-singing experience was from the 1982 LC-MS hymnal Lutheran Worship, which, ironically, Shepherd of the Hills never bought and used.  In my formative years as a Lutheran, the strongest influence on me in learning and loving our Lutheran hymns was my first LC-MS pastor, Gerhard Michael.

Gerhard Michael was my pastor when I lived in Georgia.  I love the man.  He was the pastor who married me and Sheri.  His study was a fire hazard, with papers and theological journals heaped here and there.  Yet, in many ways, he was a typical Lutheran pastor, for he picked hymns that I heard some in the congregation say were too hard to sing.  (Did you know that’s one of the leading gripes against Lutheran pastors?)  But, since we loved him as our pastor, that didn’t matter.

For me, the hymns Pastor Michael chose weren’t too hard to sing–because I wanted to learn them!  For me, I liked–and learned to like–the hymns he picked.  They had strong melodies and vibrant imagery in the wording.  They weren’t schmaltzy or sentimental.  They had theological meat in them.  They were even hymns I could sing in the shower.

Since then, I have worshipped in several different LC-MS churches.  But mostly, we sang the hymns of our Lutheran heritage (that is, hymns written by Lutherans).  What I had experienced since the early ‘90s was a core of hymns the different congregations I had attended regularly sang.

Well, here I am as your pastor.  I now pick the hymns.  When I first arrived, after I had written my sermon, I would choose hymns that fit with the theme of the Sunday and supported the sermon.  I often chose hymns that I thought everyone knew.  After all, these were hymns we regularly sang over the years in my different Lutheran congregations.

Was I in for a surprise!  I found out that many Lutherans, not only didn’t know many Lutheran hymns, but didn’t even like them!  How could that be?  Yet, that was what I learned.  Many of you didn’t sing Lutheran hymns in your previous Lutheran congregations. (I still can’t wrap my heard around that one.)

So, here I am five years later.  I’ve adapted, and you’ve adapted.  I still want to sing strong-melodied Lutheran hymns.  But I don’t often pick them because some of you don’t feel like learning new hymns to sing.  Yet, once in a great while, I’ll sneak one in to sing.  After all, we are Lutherans!  And yes, some of you put up with these because, well, in the same way I loved my first pastor, you love me.

So, here’s what I’m planning on doing.  We’re going to have a hymn survey.  But this one will not ask you to list your favorite hymns.  Instead, what we’ll do is sing a stanza of a few hymns before each Divine Service.  We’ll start with many of the Advent hymns and go from there.  This survey will give you the chance to say whether you like a hymn, dislike it, or are indifferent to it.

The survey’s purpose is to help me, as your pastor, pick hymns that you may not know well, but still like singing.  This will give me a better idea of what you like among the many hymns we have in our hymnal.  It’ll also help make hymn selection easier, where I can try to match your hymn likes, the theme of a Sunday, and the sermon.

We’ll start this in early June.  It should last several months.  And who knows?  It might even be fun.