I’ve led music at church for almost 30 years and I always include gospel songs for Sunday worship because our congregation loves to sing them. To the committee selecting music for our new collection, I ask that a good number of gospel songs be included. Young and old sing them, we know the words and the tunes are easy to learn.
Decades ago I helped launch a praise band at church to introduce contemporary Christian music. I lead songs in that genre every month, as I did this past Sunday, blending traditional hymns and praise songs.
The congregation sang well on two praise songs, one new, but they lifted the roof with joyful abandon when we got to two familiar gospel songs, one from a more recent hymnal supplement and another from the “blue hymnal.”
A mother told me afterward that her young boys stood up and sang heartily on those two gospel songs because they knew them.
Keep a good selection of gospel songs in the new collection. That’s one way I’ll be evaluating the book when our Worship Commission, which I serve on, examines the new collection. In The Mennonite Hymnal, which I used to learn how to lead congregational singing, I knew the gospel songs were all in the back. In the blue hymnal, they were interspersed with different themes throughout, which is fine. A few favorite gospel songs were dropped from the blue book, but I watched with great interest as some of them came back again in the green and purple supplements.
I was asked to lead singing at a funeral at our church recently and the house was packed with folks from far and wide to pay respects for a distinguished Mennonite leader. Over 250 people raised the rafters in song, because the family had selected a half dozen well-known gospel tunes, which were universally known by folks from several denominations. The attendees were eager to sing songs from the heart in honor of their friend.
Gospel songs give us simple and uncomplicated lyrics about faith, they have tunes that newcomers can easily learn and they connect us to other Christian denominations.
I led a well-known Easter gospel song at church last month, “He Lives: I serve a risen Savior.” That song was not in the red, blue, purple or green books, all of which are in our benches at church, but people sang it anyway, because they knew it and because great gospel songs transcend denominational hymnals.
Our church is pretty traditional with music and we sing a lot of a capella music from the blue hymnal. We also use a steady selection of contemporary songs, but we love the gospel tunes.
Gospel songs help carry faith from one generation to another and will continue to be sung at our church regardless of whether they are included in the new song collection.
If too many well-loved gospel songs are missing from the new song collection, our Worship Commission may have difficulty convincing the congregation to purchase it. I can think of three musicians from our church who will likely submit original songs to the hymnal project, including myself, but we still hope the collection keeps a balance between time-tested gospel songs and new worship music.
I missed the song selection committee when they came to Harrisonburg, Virginia, recently because none of the dates they established to hear from our community suited me.
So I reach out to the committee with the earnest plea that gospel songs be generously included in the new song collection. Blessings on your important work and I eagerly anticipate the product of your choices.
Elwood Yoder teaches history in Harrisonburg, Virginia, at Eastern Mennonite High School. Elwood has written seven books, including congregational histories and historical novels and is editor of Shenandoah Mennonite Historian.
You can also offer feedback to the song collection committee by completing their online survey.