How Shall We Sing?

  • December 29, 2019

A brief reflection from December 29th.

It has become a tradition on this Sunday after Christmas Day to sing carols by request. Those of you who were here on Christmas Eve will have noticed that we sang from the black (New Century) hymnal this year for the first time – at least, the first time since I’ve been here. There are a lot of reasons why we tried this, and why we tried it this year. These beloved carols from our red (Pilgrim) hymnal have, embedded in them, language for both people and God that we avoid during the rest of the year in worship.  We had another option available to us, right in our seats, in our black hymnal, which, though it may seem radical, is already 25 years old.

This was hard for some folks, and begs more conversation. As we struggle with the question of what we feel called to sing in this season, I’d like to lift up for your prayers this interesting conundrum, which I am wrestling with myself.

On one hand, we love to know the words of hymns: to know them by heart; especially on holidays.  There is a lovely sense of homecoming in returning to what we know. It can be disconcerting and distracting to have our memories interrupted by word changes; I experience that myself.

At the same time, I wonder if worship is only about our own comfort, our own preferences, even at Christmas. The more I learn about hymns, the more I learn how much they have changed over time – all in search of a song that better fits the beliefs of those who sing them. Hymns both reflect and form our faith.  What words would be best for our faith today? What version of these hymns do we hope our children and grandchildren will have memorized?

I’m not sure how to resolve this conundrum, and we don’t need to accomplish it today.  I invite you to pray and reflect on it. The Worship & Welcome Ministry and I are happy to hear your feedback, and we’ll talk more in that ministry about what to do in the future. As we sing today, feel free to request hymns from either hymnal. If we sing a hymn from the Black Hymnal that you know in a different version, feel free to sing the version that speaks most to your heart.