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United Methodists love music, and our musical heritage is rich and diverse. You can celebrate that heritage in ways that are both entertaining and inspiring.

Words and Music

The very best source for a program on our heritage of music is the 1989 United Methodist hymnal, which is filled with many of the most cherished songs in our history. It also includes new or more unfamiliar hymns that can become a beloved part of your church’s musical life.

Spend some time with the hymnal. Notice how the editors have organized the hymns in several categories to reflect the Christian year as well as important theological concepts.

As you page through the hymnal, you will also see how our hymns reflect the history and diversity of our church:

  • From the poetry of Charles Wesley to the cries of African American spirituals
  • From the plaintive melodies of Appalachia to the distinctive rhythms of Mexico
  • From the chants of the early church to the modern voices of Christian pop music

There are several books that are designed to help you use the hymnal effectively. There are also several collections of hymns reflecting our racial and ethnic diversity. See the Resource Directory for those titles.

Design a Program

As you develop a music program, consider the following general suggestions:

  • Be sure to work with your church’s musicians as you plan a special musical program or worship service. Their training, experience, and ideas will be invaluable.
  • Use several styles of presentation: choir anthems, solos and duets, instrumental pieces, and congregational singing. Invite children and youth to be a part of the service.
  • Tell stories about the origins of particular hymns: knowing why and how a hymn was written adds to our appreciation and understanding.
  • Make sure the congregation has plenty of opportunities to sing old favorites as well as to learn a new hymn or two. Have some interludes of quiet meditation, when persons can think and pray about the words and meaning of a particular hymn.
  • Discover what the Bible says about music. Incorporate appropriate biblical passages into the program.

Program Ideas

Have a hymn sing!

Make music a part of heritage celebrations simply by allowing time for people to sing their favorite hymns. Set aside fifteen to thirty minutes before a worship service, a dramatic performance, or a church dinner. Make sure hymnals or songbooks are available to all. A song leader can guide the singing, and the musician(s) should be prepared to play a little bit of everything!

Travel through time with our hymns!

Organize a musical program chronologically, beginning with the Wesleys and continuing through camp meeting hymns, gospel songs, and contemporary Christian music. Work with your church’s musicians to illustrate changing musical styles: a song leader can “line” an early nineteenth century camp meeting hymn for the congregation, and a guitarist can accompany a hymn from the 1960s.

Celebrate our diversity! Use hymns to tell the story of United Methodism’s racial and ethnic diversity. If your church comes from the Evangelical United Brethren tradition, sing a hymn in German. If your church has supported missions to Korea, sing in Korean. If your church wants to celebrate the diversity of your community, sing spirituals, Native American hymns, and contemporary Hispanic choruses. (See the Resource Directory for songbooks from our diverse traditions.)

Tell the stories of our hymn writers!

We can better appreciate the hymns we sing when we learn about their authors. The lives of people like Charles Wesley, Charles Albert Tindley, and Fanny Crosby are interesting and inspirational. Weave together incidents from their lives (either told by a narrator or performed dramatically) with their hymns and poetry. Research biographical information in your public library and through the annual conference Commission on Archives and History.

Bring history to life through music!

Set a musical program in a specific time period. One very effective choice is the early nineteenth century, during the height of the camp meeting movement. Performers can dress in period costumes, hymns can be “lined” for the congregation, and one or more presenters can give descriptions of “what it was really like” at the time.

Sing “the people’s choice”!

Let the congregation plan the program. Several months ahead of time, ask persons to list their five favorite hymns. From those lists, select several that are the most popular, and build your program around them. You may even be able to choose one special hymn that can become your church’s “theme song.”

Write a heritage hymn!

Involve the congregation in writing an original hymn to commemorate your church’s heritage. This can be a churchwide project, with different groups contributing verses (children, youth, UMW, Men’s Fellowship, the choir, etc.); or perhaps one group (like the youth fellowship) can write a whole hymn on its own. The tune can be original or based on a familiar hymn. Sing your new hymn at heritage events; perhaps you can also print copies for new members and pastors, and hang a framed copy in your church library or fellowship room.