I grew up with the Baptist Hymnal. The blue Baptist Hymnal. The one that Jesus used!
I knew the songs in that hymnal because, well because it was THE BAPTIST HYMNAL!
Everyone at First Baptist Church, Cherryville, NC knew that “Holy, Holy Holy” was #1. 363 was “I Surender All” and 240 was “Just as I Am.” All 6 verses. (One Sunday night we sang 47 verses of that before the pastor changed the hymn so someone else might respond to the moving of the spirit!)
I grew up with that hymnal, and knew how to sing those songs. It was comfortable, even when our church broke down and bought the New Baptist Hymnal. Though some numbers changed, Holy Holy Holy was still #1. The way God intended. But we all knew the hymns—the words and the tunes.
When I moved to Charleston I had the opportunity to work with a wonderful Minister of Music, Deanna McBroom. Deanna had grown up Lutheran in Wisconsin. As a voice professor at the College of Charleston she had been a part of First Baptist, Charleston, a charter member of Providence, and was an excellent musician! As we sat to plan worship she would suggest hymns and there were times when she would say, “Everyone knows this hymn.” I thought what she meant was that everyone who had been at Providence from the beginning, who had been at First Baptist knew that hymn.
It took me a while to discover that what she meant was, “Everyone who grew up Lutheran in Wisconsin knew that hymn!”
Later when David Woody joined our staff I learned that just because you were raised Baptist didn’t mean you knew the hymn. He had been raised at First Baptist in Asheville, NC, a BIG formal congregation. He didn’t know “Up From the Grave He Arose!”
We didn’t know the same songs!
And then in our new hymnal, Holy Holy Holy fell to #4!
The numbers may have changed, but the words and the tune was the same.
But then we started playing with the words, to make them more inclusive, to remove masculine images of God who is both/neither male/female. It was a shift! There were times when multiple versions of the Doxology were sung from the podium of our church.
But the tune was the same! We knew that “Come, Ye Thankful People, Come” was sung to GEORGE’S WINDSOR. We knew that “Now Thank We All Our God” was sung to NUN DANKET.
So as I planned the worship service last week I chose “There’s a Wideness in God’s Mercy,” after all everyone knows that. I pretty much know the words by heart. And everyone knows that it is sung to WELLESLEY.
So imagine my surprise when the organist began playing the hymn. I thought he was playing the wrong song! Maybe we had printed the wrong number in the hymnal!
It was a different tune!
How am I supposed to sing “There’s a Wideness in God’s Mercy” to GOTT WILL’S MACHEN? Who has ever sung anything to GOTT WILL’S MACHEN?
The title is the same. The first and last verse are the same. But the rest is foreign.
That is what it is like moving from the Lowcounrty of South Carolina to the Annapolis Valley in Nova Scotia. You think you know what it is like. After all, the language is the same (sorta.) Everything looks the same. (Sorta) but then you are surprised to discover that it is all different! The tune is different! You have to learn to sing the old song in a new way.
Maybe that is true in more ways than our closing hymn. That is my challenge. Come along for the ride!