How your hymns are chosen.
Perhaps another title for this item could be ‘How to please some of the congregation some of the time!’ Inevitably the choice of hymns is bound to upset or disappoint someone at some time, but choosing them is just one of the tasks which is undertaken ‘behind the scenes’ to enable the church services to run smoothly.
So, picture the scene: every two/three months, four people meet around a table which is groaning with the weight of several hymn books, bibles, listings from the ‘Royal School of Church Music’, service and liturgy guides.
The choice of suitable hymns for each service throughout the year is listed in a booklet received quarterly from the R.S.C.M. So that makes the task easy doesn’t it?
We therefore have to limit ourselves to those to which we have easy access. These are usually Mission Praise, Hymns Ancient and Modern, and the New English Hymnal.
Sometimes the choice is wide and sometimes very limited.
The next task is to think about the purpose of the four hymns, each of which has a particular place in the service and should be related to the readings and liturgy for that day within the church year i.e. the gathering hymn, the gradual hymn which precedes the gospel and sermon, the offertory hymn precedes the taking of communion and should be reflective and preparatory (but also long enough to enable the elements to be presented!) and the final, post communion hymn.
Bearing in mind all of the above we will each have looked through the lists prior to meeting and will have our own preferences which we then discuss; sometimes we agree without much difficulty especially if the choice for that day is wide. Where we have difficulty is when the choice is narrow and basically ends up the best of a very meagre selection, but based on pooled knowledge of what we have heard and like.
That’s it then, done!! But no – what about the tunes? It is not unusual to have the same hymns listed but with different tunes according to the book in which each is listed.
We therefore have to check these on the piano and specify the one most likely to be familiar to the congregation. Also at this point we have to decide which tune is musically best as many modern songs are not suitable for the organ. Also the words and the number of verses can differ. A final check is made on when the chosen hymn was last used, to try to eliminate frequent repetition.
Once the list is finalised it is sent to the organist and to the people who prepare the services for PowerPoint. Here again there can be complications if the words are not already on the church laptop and so have to be downloaded from various approved web sites and these don’t always tally with the words in the books.
This then is how the hymns are chosen and how complications and yes, errors, can occur. We take the job quite seriously and try our best to choose material which we hope will have wide appeal, and helpful comments will be gratefully received.
Sue Bell on behalf of the Hymn committee.