Songs from old hymnal get better with time


By Karl Terry

CMI Columnist

I have a ragged songbook in the bookshelf next to my computer at home that has a first copyright three years before I was born.

Anything between my birth date and the days Christ walked the Earth is pretty old, and we’ll just leave it at “this is a pretty old hymnal.” It wasn’t the first one I ever sang out of and it may not even be the oldest one I ever held in church but it is the one with which I became the most familiar. It was the first one I used as a song leader — the “old red book” or properly titled, “Sacred Selections for the Church.”

For those who don’t know, I grew up going to a Church of Christ and for anyone who doesn’t grasp the significance of that, a Baptist would quickly tell you we’re the church that doesn’t have instrumental music. Some of my best friends are Baptists and rather than lose their readership I’ll just steer clear of my thoughts on instrumental music in church here.

But you need to know when the congregation is a cappella and the song leader strays off course the whole flock can quickly become lost. Leading singing was a daunting task for a young man with no formal training but the lack of good singers in our congregation of about a dozen souls eventually led me forward with song book in hand.

Since I really didn’t read music I found the best way to pull off a good song service was to choose old hymns that everyone knew well — me included.

In the very front of that book was my favorite song, “How Great Thou Art” and I led it a lot. It was easy to find and the flock was rarely lost while singing it. Every time I led a song I would mark it with a little piece of paper. If it went well I left the marker in the book; if it didn’t I lost that song. I bet the book has 30 tiny pieces of paper torn from my notebook 30 years ago. I can find all my favorite songs though.

Don’t get me wrong, I like learning a new song and some of the songs that the youth group likes have been added to my favorites. But the older hymns are pretty timeless and I think they’ll probably still sound great when we all get to heaven.

The songs become connected to memories of loved ones, song leaders from long ago and congregations where we were loved. They can make us feel happy or even a little sad.

My dad’s funeral included “No Tears in Heaven” and that song really comforts me.  The funeral of my wife’s father included “The Old Rugged Cross” and for years she had to get up and leave when the song was led in a service because she became so emotional.

At my mother-in-law’s graveside service earlier this year I led “Rock of Ages” with the few souls left from that congregation long ago and it sounded really good.

Some things do get sweeter with age.


Karl Terry, a former publisher of the Quay County Sun,  writes for Clovis Media Inc. Contact him at:

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