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Music in Worship is Selah's occasional newsletter for church musicians, with interviews and helpful articles for choir directors, organists, and leaders of congregational song.

Pastoral Viewpoint
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.


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