Recently one of my friends asked me why we don’t have hymnals in the chapel. This question saddened me greatly because the fact is–we do. But this begs the question,why didn’t she know that? Clearly we haven’t picked up the hymnals that line the backs of our chairs in years if we have come to a place where we aren’t even sure if they exist. Sure, we sing hymns occasionally in chapel but we always have the slides to project the words for us. So why do we, Covenant College, have hymnals if we have a projector? And why even sing the hymns at all when we have so many other types of worship songs?
I am in a minority at Covenant who love hymns. I want to sing hymns with organ, all verses in four part harmony. I know that not all students enjoy hymns as much as I do, and that’s fine because I don’t enjoy singing contemporary praise songs, but that is altogether a different topic.
Hymns were originally created to be accessible. They were for corporate worship. Even if you aren’t a mountain affair winner, you can sing one of the four parts in a hymn. I am sure many of us have had the awkward experience of a worship leader having a completely different voice than we do, just barely too high or too low, so after stumbling and squeaking high notes under our breath we give up and just listen. Or when a worship leader is singing a slightly embellished version of a song so you’re never quite sure what to sing.
So how do hymns avoid these problems? Well, they were specifically designed so that you can sing them. There are four different parts for four different ranges. If the melody doesn’t fit your voice you have three other parts from which to choose. And with the hymnal in your hand, all of the notes are there in front of you so you see what’s coming.
More important than any of this though is the value of the text in hymns. I know you may get bored by singing five or six verses of the same melody, but this is done for a reason. By the second or third verse you should basically have the notes down and you can focus on the text. Hymns are packed full of doctrine. Holding that hymnal gives us the ability to see all of those verses and that’s not something that we should give up because a book is simply too heavy to hold. While most contemporary praise songs have one particular aspect of our beliefs that you sing about (which isn’t necessarily a bad thing), hymns take you through multiple aspects of God’s characteristics. I firmly believe in singing all verses because hymns can speak important truths into many different lives and situations at one time because they cover such a wide range of theological truths. And in the trinity hymnal alone there are over 700 hymns full of beautiful text and musical variety.
Something that has come to my attention both at our chapels and in churches is that hymns that are sung without the hymnal almost always skip certain verses and it is generally the verse about God’s wrath and might. Why is this? Are we afraid of the fact that our God is full of righteous anger? We should rejoice in all aspects of our savior’s complex and beautiful character and proclaim doctrine boldly through song without editing out the pieces that might not be the most comfortable.
So maybe next time we sing a hymn in chapel or next time your bulletin for church says you’ll be singing verses 1, 3, and 5, you should take the time to look at the hymnal in the back of the chair in front of you and see what those other verses say. I think it’s safe to say at least one line from that hymn contains something you really needed to hear about your faith and your God.