Amy L. Sullivan
Why Hymns Still Matter
Updated: Apr 15, 2020
I grew up singing hymns from wooden pews.
Boys sporting light blue, polo shirts in one row and girls in plaid skirts and knee socks in the row behind them. Music played, we whispered and passed notes, and despite endless teenage distractions, something happened; the words of the hymns sank deep within.
See, underneath the words of hymns are stories of people being trapped in extraordinary circumstances (on boats, in storms, or through life-altering situations), and they are also stories of people being caught up in the day-to-day activity of ordinary lives. Hymns tell the stories of long ago, and hymns tell the stories of today.
Hymns are the reason when it came time to decide on the third Gutsy Girl, I wanted the girls of today to hear Fanny Crosby’s story. Fanny Crosby wasn’t popular, but Fanny was brave, and she constantly sought-after God’s voice. Pus, Fanny left behind thousands of hymns.
Hymns are what connected me to April Brover. This is April and her adorable brood.
April leads the #hymnofthemonth movement.
When April’s babies were little, April and her husband were desperate for sleep. April read an article about the importance of bedtime routines for children, and she decided to combine her love of hymns with her children’s bedtime routine. Each month, April chose one hymn to sing while tucking her daughter in bed, and by the end of the month, April’s family memorized the hymn. The next month, they chose another hymn, and before they knew it, their two-year-old had memorized over ten hymns.
As time went by, some of April’s friends joined in, and in the spring of 2015, April shared about her family’s new tradition on Instagram. She asked people to join her in learning a hymn a month. To April’s surprise, people joined, and the #hymnofthemonth community grew (and continues to grow!) and encourage families.
Photo Credit: April Brover
Last month I caught up with April, and chatted about hymns, and if you like resources, it’s a good day for you! In this interview, April shares her thoughts on the relevance of hymns today and loads of links.
1. Many people see hymns as dusty old songs. Why should we care about hymns?
April: As Christians we should care about theology. We should know our Bible and know the character of our God. We should also care about excellence, especially when it comes to theological expression. Hymns are theological poetry in song form. The words are rich and intelligently woven together.
Simply put, much of the worship songs written these days are not very good. While the music may make us feel emotional, much of the time they are void of good theology and terribly repetitive. Compare the God centered words of Watts, Cowper, Havergal, or Wesley to modern songs that are me-centered, repetitious, with tunes that are nice for listening but sometimes awkward and more meant for bands and soloists rather than congregations to sing. I do think we can still write good songs today, and modern hymn writers are doing just that (i.e. The Gettys, Sovereign Grace, Indelible Grace, etc). There’s always room for more theologically-meaty hymns. And while some write new ones, others breathe new life into old hymns by giving them a chorus or a new tune.
I also think the Church should also care about our history and heritage. Many of these songs come soaked in a rich history that tells what our brothers and sisters in Christ have been through. And when we look into the author’s lives we can identify with their struggles and their longings. It is said that God Moves in a Mysterious Way was William Cowper’s last hymn during a struggle with terrible depression. “It is Well With my Soul” was written by a father, mourning the tragic loss of his wife and daughters. Hymns have been written from authors reacting to slavery, struggling with illness and loss, being out in nature, experiencing the glory of saving faith in the gospel and undergoing terrible persecution. These writers, are our kin, our eternal family! We can benefit from their stories and their songs are just as applicable to our lives today as they were hundreds of years ago.
Photo Credit: April Brover
2. Do you have any favorite behind the scenes stories of famous hymns?
3. What are your future plans for the #hymnofthemonth community?
April: I’ve been feeling a gentle push lately to go farther with our hymns journey. I’m not exactly sure how or what this means but my sister and I are working on a little something. She has made several gorgeous #hymnofthemonth videos filled with breathtaking photography and the beautiful voices of her children singing those ancient words. There maybe a website or Hymns CD on the horizon and we are praying that God would guide us and use our plans for His glory.
4. Do you have any favorite hymns, which have been remade by current artists?
April: One of our recent hymns was “He Will Hold Me Fast,” originally written by by Ada R. Habershon in 1906, and was originally set to music by Robert Harkness. I had never heard the hymn before but came across it a few months back when Norton Hall Band recorded it in a new musical setting by Matthew Merker. I love that it focuses on the perseverance of the saints – not a subject I see in many hymns! I pretty much love everything I hear coming from Norton Hall Band these days!
Audrey Assad has recorded several hymns like Abide with Me; Holy, Holy, Holy; Be Thou My Vision, It is Well With My Soul along with a few others. Her voice combined with the amazing videos (via YouTube) are absolutely soul melting.
I also love Sovereign Grace’s version of Cowper’s “God Moves in a Mysterious Way.” Such amazing words but in my opinion the original tune fell flat and didn’t capture the emotion of the words. This newer tune and chorus does a great job of that.
Kari Jobe’s “Be Still My Soul” is also a favorite.
5. What are your top three favorite hymns?
April: This is very hard, but if I have to choose:
“There is a Fountain Filled with Blood” by William Cowper
“And Can it Be That I Should Gain” by Charles Wesley
“Man of Sorrows,” What a Name!” By Philip P. Bliss
And because I can’t leave it at three…
“Hark the Herald Angel’s Sing” by Charles Wesley – Seriously a theological mic drop and should be sung year round.
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Thanks, April! If you’d like to learn more about #hymnofthemonth. Feel free to jump in via Instagram.
Your turn! What are your thoughts on hymns? Does your church still use hymnals? Do you have a favorite hymn? What is it? What do the kiddos in your life think of hymns?
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Our #GutsyGirlsRead book of the month is Anne of Green Gables. You knew it was only a matter of time before the beloved Anne Shirley made her way to book club! Join 170+ of us as we discuss on May 31st. Click here to join this low-pressure, high-fun book club for moms, teachers, and anyone looking for quality books for girls ages toddler to teen.
The idea behind the Gutsy Girls picture book series in case you missed it!
#HymnOfTheMonth #FannyCrosby #GutsyGirlsStrongChristianWomenWhoImpactedtheWorld