History of Hymns Column Now Available on GBOD Website

June 25, 2013

A popular weekly feature on hymn history that has appeared for decades in The United Methodist Reporter is now being hosted on the General Board of Discipleship (GBOD) website.

The History of Hymns column, written by Dr. C. Michael Hawn, Director of the Sacred Music Program at Perkins School of Theology in Dallas, is being made available in a collaborative effort between Perkins and GBOD.

“It is an honor and a delight that GBOD can support the work of Dr. Hawn and his students and partner with them in enriching the worship life and spiritual formation of all who sing in worship by continuing to bring the History of Hymns column each week,” said Dean McIntyre, Director of Music Resources at GBOD.

Hawn, sometimes with the help of his students at Perkins, began writing the weekly column in 2004 for The United Methodist Reporter, which ceased print publication after 166 years in May 2013 but is still available digitally. The column was a continuation of the work started by the late hymnologist William J. Reynolds, who Hawn said had written the column during the previous decade.

““I'm really grateful for GBOD picking this up,” Hawn said.

History of Hymns, available online from GBOD at http://bit.ly/14suATx, provides a level of knowledge and understanding of a particular hymn, including why and how it was written, McIntyre said.

“The column contributes to both an intellectual integrity and a heartfelt emotional expression as the people – individual and congregation – sing the hymn,” he said.

History of Hymns features a wide variety of songs from not only The United Methodist Hymnal, but also from other songbooks like The Faith We Sing and Worship & Song.
Hawn says he considers a hymn is “anything that comes from the congregation's mouth. It could be a praise chorus. It could be a gospel song. It could be a global song. It could be a classic hymn.”

Hymns are the primary way congregations participate in worship, McIntyre said.

“For some aspects of worship, like a pastoral prayer, the sermon, a choir anthem or solo or the announcements, the congregation is more of a witness or even a passive participant. Even in the liturgy for Holy Communion or the Prayer for Illumination, the people have to be led or prompted – they are responsive to the leadership of someone else,” McIntyre said. “But with the singing of hymns, individual voices are joined together in the corporate worship of God in words and music that allow them to express thoughts and emotions that they may not be able to express on their own.”

Hawn, who is Distinguished Professor of Church Music at Perkins, said he feels the column represents “kind of a DNA of United Methodists.”

“The Wesleys didn't leave us anything like (John) Calvin's (The) Institutes (of the Christian Religion), or that kind of thing. They left us a body of what's often called lyrical theology,” he said.

That lyrical theology was organized in John Wesley’s A Collection of Hymns for the Use of the People called Methodists, published in 1780, which in the preface Wesley called “a little body of experimental and practical divinity.”

“One of the striking points of the Methodist movement was these people were singing,” Hawn said of the Wesley era. “They weren't necessarily singing in the Anglican Church – and they weren't singing of that fervor, probably. Methodists were part of a real revitalization of hymn singing.

“So this was really radical stuff. You can imagine these people gathered out in the fields, or in various types of meeting places, singing at the top of their lungs. That raised some attention,” he said. “I think they believed – and this is just not their idea alone – that congregational singing helped shape the faith we have. It gives us words and ways of expressing things that we may feel, but we don't know how to articulate.”