in Worship is Selah's occasional
newsletter for church musicians, with interviews and helpful
articles for choir directors, organists, and leaders of congregational
Some Thoughts About Choosing Hymns for Worship
Carl P. Daw, Jr.
Perhaps one reason that the choice of hymns
for Sunday worship often looms as a daunting chore is the lack
of appreciation for how much hymns can contribute to the overall
shape of the service. Too often hymns seem to be relegated to
utilitarian ends such as getting everyone quiet, supplying "traveling
music" for the movement of clergy, choir, or other participants
in worship, providing an interlude between scripture readings
and prayers or sermons, occupying the congregation during the
collection of the offering, furnishing a participatory conclusion,
and-most of all-engaging people on the feeling level as a relief
from the ideas of readings and sermons.
Obviously, there is some caricature in these
categories, but they are all surely recognizable, and it would
be hypocritical to pretend that we do not need to keep some of
these considerations in mind. But what a difference it makes
if these necessary tasks can be accomplished at the same time
that a more coherent and cohesive purpose is being pursued: to
make the hymns an integral part of the total experience of worship.
For churches that follow a published lectionary,
the challenge is to choose hymns that support and illuminate
the readings appointed for the day. In other situations, it should
be possible to work with the clergyperson or others in charge
of planning worship to know what scriptures or themes are to
be emphasized. Even if the three to six hymns needed for most
services cannot all be closely related, at least the one preceding
or following the readings or sermon can be. Gradually it will
become expected that the hymns offer an extension of or reflection
on the other parts of the service. Such a unified pattern of
worship, after all, is a means of reflecting the root meaning
of religion-that which ties things together. If we truly believe
that our faith provides meaning and purpose for our lives, then
our worship should also bear witness to that unity-even in the
way we choose our hymns.
Carl P. Daw, Jr.
Carl P. Daw, Jr., is Executive Director of
The Hymn Society in the United States and Canada. He is the author
of many fine hymn texts, and Selah has published a number of
them in Songs of Rejoicing, New Songs of Rejoicing,
in the Fedak, Hopp and White hymnaries, and in many anthems.