Scoring Points for Traditional Hymnody


Scoring Points for Traditional   Hymnody
Written by G. Mark Sumpter
Monday, 02 January 2012 00:00
What’s great at Christmastime can   be great 48 other Sundays. At the Christmas season, traditional hymnody—it’s   words and musical genre—scores big. For about 30 calendar days, traditional,   even some really old, hymnody rebounds in worship-life and society. People   show that they actually like the old stuff. Maybe this is one way to be more   strategic in recruiting worshipers from within the contemporary side of   the evangelical and reformed. It’s time to do a little CARPE DIEM. Here are   some good vibes at Advent, musically speaking.Generations Hold Hands: elementary age kids, very young children, 14 year olds,   25 year olds— goateed and lip piercings to-boot—stand next to 69 year olds,   those still sporting wire frame bifocals, and they’ll work their way through   five lines of #221 Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming. If you look close,   they’re holding a hymn book too. They appear dialed in with gratitude. Carols   bring about the pleasant wrapped-up gift of the church being the   church—young, old, wide, narrow, rich, and poor. Knuckles and high fives.

Sweat on the Brow is No Biggie: At Christmas we don’t mind having to work at our   singing. In our worship age, when we’re told about KISS—Keep It Simple   Songwriter, at Advent we’re not afraid of fancy notes, awkward beats, and   funny syllables. “The shepherds at those tidings re-joice-ED much in mind…”   How odd. (I wonder if Chris Tomlin uses re-joice-ED in contemporary   expression?)  At Christmas, that doesn’t scare us, and that’s good. I   still struggle with the line in O Come All Ye Faithful, the one, “very   God, begotten, not created.” I have to work at this line every time we come   to it. The timing with the syllables freaks me. But our willingness to work   at freaky beats and syllables is good. We see that people don’t mind going   over and over a tune to get it right. Maybe once Christmastime is over we can   make use of our willingness to be patient and work on singing skills. If   people are showing that they’re not afraid of elbow grease, let’s go for it.   Whistle while you work—on more difficult traditional worship music.

Use the Principle of Reinforcement: If you go to the malls and over to   the hospital, and turn on the radio, and attend the Christmas   programs…and—even open a Hallmark Card, you’ll get reinforcement of   traditional hymnody-like carols. The principle of reinforcement should cue   us. Pastor, Worship Leader: do you want a shot at seeing your people grow in   their singing? Discipleship centers on familiarity, recognition and   re-play. Once again—here’s hope for traditional worship music. Finding ways   for traditional hymns to be piped into ears and hearts is key. If God’s   people hear it enough, they’ll grow to love it. Christmas proves this.

If only it was Christmastime every   Sunday.


G. Mark Sumpter is a minister in   the Orthodox Presbyterian Church and is serving as pastor of Faith Presbyterian   Church in Grants Pass, Oregon.