Today’s post is from Tim Getz, Director of Music Ministry at Grace Lutheran Church in Palo Alto California.
Last week, in honor of the 10th anniversary of the publication of Evangelical Lutheran Worship, and as the first of a series of Reformation 500-related events in our congregation, I led a “Hymnathon”: a sing-through of one stanza of every hymn in the book! We began (with the first actual hymn, #239) at 9 am on a Saturday, and proceeded through the hymnal in order. We took a 10-minute break every hour, and 40-minute breaks at mealtimes. Saturday evening ended, very serendipitously, at 9 pm with #753, Dona nobis pacem. We picked up where we left off on Sunday afternoon at 1 pm and finished the book at 3:45.
“Hymnathon”: a sing-through of one stanza of every hymn in the book!
About 60 people attended over the course of the event, usually about 8-10 people at a time. Some people stayed only 20-30 minutes, several stayed for several hours, and many others came and went repeatedly as their schedules allowed. I had braced myself for the possibility of being alone at times, and that never happened!
I provided coffee and bagels in the narthex at the beginning of the day, and invited my choir members to bring something to replenish the treat table whenever they happened to attend. There was never a shortage of break-time goodies!
The event wasn’t billed as a fundraiser, but the offering plates were out and I encouraged people to make games out of deciding what their offering would be. Some contributed whenever we sang a hymn beginning with the same letter as their name. Some looked for key words, such as “love” or “peace.” Some tried to guess what number we’d be on at the end of the hour. We ended up collecting about $1200 in offerings!
I encouraged people to make games out of deciding what their offering would be. Some contributed whenever we sang a hymn beginning with the same letter as their name. Some looked for key words, such as “love” or “peace.”
I did very little practicing for the event, although I quipped at one time during the weekend that I’ve been practicing for it for 25 years, since I consider leading assembly song to be the most important aspect of my ministry. I did make a list a week or so ahead of time of about 45 hymns that I had never played before, and looked through those a couple of times in advance. I did most of my playing from the organ, although I had an electric keyboard set up right behind me, and when a song came up that required piano instead of organ, I simply swiveled the opposite direction on the bench to play. I decided ahead of time to make very few verbal announcements, other than just the next number. So many hymns cry out for commentary, but I thought I could not afford the extra time in this context, and I also really wished not to play my hand as to which hymns I like or dislike. Several people commented that they wished we could have sung more stanzas: in some cases because doing one stanza only doesn’t make textual sense, in other cases because they loved the song and wanted to sing more, and in still other cases because they weren’t familiar with the song and wanted to practice. Again, time was the limiter!
People are still saying things a week later like “I felt like I was at a retreat,” and “It was so fun to discover all the different things that are in there.”
There was a lot of curiosity leading up to this event, and a lot of excited conversation during and afterward. People are still saying things a week later like “I felt like I was at a retreat,” and “It was so fun to discover all the different things that are in there.” I’m fortunate that my congregation is pretty adventurous about trying new things, and more than one person told me she enjoyed the sight-reading practice of the hymns she didn’t know!
I believe Evangelical Lutheran Worship is a wonderful resource and a great gift to the whole Church. The variety and diverse content between its covers is a thrill to explore. It was an honor to engage it in this way and more fun than I ever imagined! I’d definitely consider doing such an event again. Having done it all myself as a personal challenge, I know it’s not an impossible task… although I’d be happy to share the job with another keyboardist or two next time. If you think this is something your congregation might like to try, I’d be happy to answer questions; email me anytime: email@example.com. I’ll look forward to hearing from you!