Music and Hymns

I don’t do Twitter, but #LessAmbitiousHymns exploded recently and reached even me.

Some of my favourites here – I’d love to credit them all. Suffice to say none of them are mine.


I vow to thee, my county

Thin be the Glory

Most of my hope on God is founded (and I wish it would make me stronger, I really do)

What a Facebook friend we have in Jesus

Our God is an Okay God

Lord, you have my left ventricle

Hail thee, regular day

O Little Town of Basildon

Go tell it on the mole hill

Blessed Insurance

Send me general directions, O Great Redeemer

We Three Kings, Disoriented Are

Come, now is the time to workshop

Crown him with half a crown

How satisfactory Thou Art

They’ll Know We Are Christians By the Fish on Our Cars

Be Thou My Vision Express

I Lib-Dem-Vow to thee, my country

I suspect that my Redeemer lives

Actually, a rather noisy night. Have you never given birth in a stable? Jesus Christ!

Mundane Things of Thee are Spoken

The Nuneaton Carol

I have decided to follow Jesus on Sunday mornings

Our dog is a great big dog.

If I were a low-fat-spread-fly

People have recommended you as a holiday destination, Zion city of our God

My diocese has asked me to provide some helpful stuff for planning for Christmas. I include it here as well.

How important is your Carol Service? What should determine what is included, read, sung, or preached or prayed?

When at York Minster I was approached by a theological student researching a PhD. It was about Carol Services. Two things had ignited her thinking: her own experience as a church organist of realising for the first time what ‘Lo he abhors not the Virgin’s womb’ was all about in O come all ye faithful (after playing it for years and years; and a statistic that said the majority of people worship once a year only, and the majority of them come to a carol service.

In other words, for a large number of people we get one chance only a year to say something coherent, challenging and doctrinally satisfying. And it’s entirely possible that the vast majority of regular worshippers are themselves baffled by, or numb to, some of the language and concepts used in our carols. Rachel researched by giving a questionnaire to the Minster’s congregations, and it was amazing to see how many classified themselves as non-Christian and even atheist, but felt it was important to worship this once.

So: how will you plan your Carol Service, and what will you include? There are some fine resources on offer.

Common Worship: Times and Seasons (Church House Publishing, 2006) is the first port of call. You might be shackled to the Kings College pattern of Nine Lessons and Carols. It’s here, of course, but there are at least six other ways through offerd as well. Patterns are provided in the Advent and Christmas resource sections.

All the CW material is on the web. Bookmark this page – it will save vast amounts of time, and bad typing.

Irritatingly Times and Seasons is only available in PDF form – here

For the thinking behind Times and Seasons, and for useful ideas about making services live, see Using Common Worship: Times and Seasons by David Kennedy (Church House Publishing 2006).

There’s some fantastic stuff for the whole season in the Together for a Season series. The Advent and Christmas one is, by Peter Craig-Wild and others (Church House Publishing 2006). This is more than an ‘All Age’ resource, but that gives the idea.

I’m a great fan of the stories behind hymns and carols. So The Daily Telegraph Book of Carols, by Ian Bradley (Continuum 2006) is a real find (and I found it in a cut price book shop).  The ‘core repertoire’ of carols is surprisingly small, so if you’re introducing a new one it can help to tell its story. Ian Bradley is a respected church historian and hymnologist. The book also debunks some myths: forget the mice chewing through the organ pipes for Silent Night – the actual story is much better.

One of the ways in which we can demystify carol services is to make the words of the carols sung by the choir available in the order of service. It’s good to be accurate though, and Kings College Chapel do us all a service by making their orders of service available: I shamelessly cut and pasted from here. And if it’s in Latin, do the English translation as well.

And finally: when producing orders of service it’s always good to find a shortcut. I found the Hymns and Carols of Christmas site to be pretty accurate and informative too. Cut and paste – but always worth checking the spellings.

And finally finally: there’s a host of more general liturgical stuff on Oremus The site is put together by liturgists I trust – the hymnal and Bible browser are great.

One of the joys of weddings and funerals these days is the ‘home produced’ order of service. I used to spend my days in York Minster ensuring I saw this kind of thing before publication. It’s very difficult to do that for a funeral in parish life.

I took a funeral today, and the Order of Service (which I’d not seen) was beautifully produced – the son was a graphic designer. He’d included the hymns – and the hazard here is that they get grabbed from the internet. Thus it was that we had 8, not 5, verses for Abide with me.

I like hymns, and research them when I can. I’d not come across these ‘middle’ verse before though. I love them!  Verse 3 begs Jesus not to walk by, and rather to be ‘condescending’ – being with us at our level rather than being superior. Verse 4 looks for mercy, not judgement, and verse 5 is all about teenage rebellion. Brilliant.

It’s all the more poignant when the story of the hymn reveals that Lyte died three weeks later. And it was poignant for me because my funeral today was of a man who had had mental illness for nearly 50 years, and whose family had stuck with him through all that time.

So here are the verses. Enjoy.

3. Not a brief glance I beg, a passing word;
But as Thou dwell’st with Thy disciples, Lord,
Familiar, condescending, patient, free.
Come not to sojourn, but abide with me.

4. Come not in terrors, as the King of kings,
But kind and good, with healing in Thy wings,
Tears for all woes, a heart for every plea—
Come, Friend of sinners, and thus bide with me.

5. Thou on my head in early youth didst smile;
And, though rebellious and perverse meanwhile,
Thou hast not left me, oft as I left Thee,
On to the close, O Lord, abide with me.

Allowed myself a wry smile when I read in today’s Church Times that Stuart Townend’s In Christ Alone is in the top 5 most popular hymns.

Two reasons: last week’s Songs of Praise saw me singing it meaningfully in full close up (and cope); and…we weren’t allowed to sing it in York Minster because the Archbishop was conscious of the difficult line “on the cross where Jesus died/the wrath of God was satisfied”.

Various people would request it though, and I emailed Stuart Townend to ask whether he would allow any of the changes people make – eg “the love of God was magnified”. An excellent conversation ensued – the short version being “no dice. The satisfaction of the wrath of God is not outside Scripture.”  Indeed, it’s also right there in one of the “historic formularies” of the Church of England, the Communion Service in the Book of Common Prayer. I pray every week about Jesus Christ making “satisfaction…for the sins of the whole world.”

It’s vital to get our theology right. A great tune can mask some appalling doctrine. Some denominations spend ages on their hymnals to ensure that we don’t sing stuff which will lead us astray. It’s always interested me that the C of E, which spends ages on its liturgy for the same reason, doesn’t do so with its hymnody. I’m not going to go into the whole penal substitution thing, except to say that I agree with Stuart Townend that it’s not outside Scripture, and is one of the images of atonement which have susatained the Church through the ages.

But it’s only one of them, and, if you like, it’s at the extreme edge of the spectrum. So let’s hope someone can write something as catchy and profound as In Christ Alone which can encapsulate some of the other images of salvation: of the lost being found, the price paid, the debtor redeemed, the slave set free, the broken healed, creation restored. There’s lots of that already, and there is room for more as long as there are worshippers in earth and heaven.