This past Sunday, we sang two hymns by Richard Dirksen who for many years served as Canon Precentor at Washington National Cathedral. Even though the hymns are in The Hymnal 1982 and have been around for nearly 40 years, I suspect most people would still consider them to be “new.” Although, I’m 40 and people long ago stopped referring to me as “new.”

When I first began at Christ Church, there was a sign in the Parish House that contained the words from one of these hymns:

This is the Lord’s house, home of all his people, school for the faithful, refuge for the sinner, rest for the pilgrim, haven for the weary; all find a welcome. (Hymn 51, vs. 3, text by John E. Bowers).

One of my first Sundays I programmed this hymn and was somewhat surprised that it wasn’t well known by the congregation. However, over the past several years, it has become one of our staples. This was evident on Sunday by the strong singing we had on the hymn. I noted that we still need to work on learning the other Dirksen hymn a little more.

This coming Sunday, the Psalm appointed is Psalm 96. Its opening declaration is “Sing to the Lord a new song.” That’s new. Unfortunately, it doesn’t say “Sing to the Lord that old beloved chestnut we’ve been singing for years.” I’m not a fundamentalist, but I do think there might be something to take from this instruction. It occurs not just in this Psalm but in other places of the Bible too. Nevertheless, the purpose of this blog is to commend our parish for being so embracing of new songs. Calvin Hampton’s wonderful hymn tune de Tar (hymns 456 and 659) is one of the hymns we sing best. And I’m thrilled at how the congregation has embraced that wonderful tune as well as several of his others.

There will be no attempt on my part to give up on the hymns that have stood the test of time, and I find it wonderful that our congregation is quite fluent in the vast majority of the hymns in our current hymnal (as well as from the supplements).

I review the hymns with the choirs during our rehearsals. Initially it seemed as if each week I was greeted with “we’ve never sung that one before.” I’m thankful this has become quite rare. Not every hymn in the hymnal is a favorite, and I regularly will put down hymns that I personally don’t enjoy. However, if it supports the lectionary readings of the day, and the liturgy as a whole, I think it’s valid to include it. I try to keep my personal preferences from making the decision for the full congregation.

I’ve been told by guest organists who have played here that we have a really good singing congregation. The vast majority of our people have their hymnals open and are actively singing. I know of many congregations where this is not the case – few people singing despite wonderful organ/acoustics/playing/etc. And I know of many other parishes where they probably only use a small fraction of the hymns found in The Hymnal 1982. Thankfully, that’s not the picture painted of Christ Church these days. So, thank you for singing! Thank you for being open to new music and championing the old just as fervently. This is a wonderful heritage to pass along to a world sorely in need of more beauty.