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Harmonizing Tradition and Innovation: The Quest for New Hymns

I recently had the privilege of attending the North American Composers Forum (NACF), an event that brought together Salvation Army Music Educators, Songwriters, Composers, and enthusiasts alike. It was a gathering filled with creative energy and a deep appreciation for the musical traditions of the Salvation Army. As I sat down for breakfast with Phil Laeger and Gavin Whitehouse on the last day of the event, Phil posed a thought-provoking question: "Why don't we have more new Hymns?" That simple question sparked a spirited conversation, and it got me thinking.

In today's Christian worship landscape, we have witnessed a surge in the production of contemporary worship songs and inventive arrangements of timeless hymns. Congregations across the globe are lifted by these melodies, and there's no denying their powerful impact. However, Phil's query resonated deeply: why is it that we rarely see the emergence of theologically sound new hymns?

Don't get me wrong; there's immense value in contemporary worship songs and the revitalization of classic hymns. The dynamism and emotional resonance they bring to our worship experiences are undeniable. Yet, there's a unique charm when a congregation rises to their feet and joins together to sing a hymn, often referred to as a "Songbook Song" in Salvation Army circles.

These songs, steeped in tradition and rich theological meaning, have been a cornerstone of Christian worship for centuries. Their enduring quality lies not just in their musicality but also in their ability to convey profound theological truths and inspire deep reflection. There's a sense of continuity when we sing hymns, connecting us with generations past who found solace and strength in these melodies.

However, as we navigate the evolving landscape of worship music, we find ourselves yearning for new hymns that can bridge the gap between tradition and innovation. It's not about dismissing contemporary worship songs or modernizing hymn arrangements; it's about striking a harmonious balance.

One reason for the scarcity of new hymns might be the challenge of crafting theologically rich lyrics that resonate with today's worshippers. Writing hymns demands a deep understanding of theology and a gift for poetic expression. It requires not just musical skill but also a profound connection with the Word of God.

Furthermore, the hymn-writing process can be daunting. Crafting lyrics that are both relatable and timeless is no easy feat. New hymn writers face the weight of tradition and the expectation that their compositions should stand shoulder to shoulder with the classics.

In contrast, contemporary worship songs often draw from personal experiences and emotions, making them more accessible to a broader audience. They can address specific life situations and provide immediate comfort and encouragement. While this approach is valid and necessary, it can sometimes overshadow the more profound theological exploration found in traditional hymns.

So, where do we go from here? How can we encourage the creation of new hymns that can be cherished for generations to come?

Firstly, we must continue to appreciate and preserve our rich hymnological heritage. These time-tested treasures should not be forgotten or replaced. Instead, they should serve as a source of inspiration and a foundation upon which new hymns can be built.

Secondly, we should actively support and nurture emerging hymn writers. Providing resources, mentorship, and platforms for aspiring hymnists can help cultivate a new generation of lyricists and composers dedicated to crafting theologically sound hymns.

Lastly, as congregations, we should be open to embracing new hymns and giving them a chance to become part of our worship repertoire. While it's natural to gravitate towards the familiar, we should be willing to explore and adopt fresh expressions of faith.

In conclusion, the question posed by Phil Laeger at the NACF is both timely and thought-provoking. It reminds us of the need to find a balance between tradition and innovation in our worship music. While contemporary worship songs and reimagined hymns have their place, the quest for new theologically rich hymns should not be abandoned. Perhaps, at the next NACF or in the years to come, we will witness the emergence of new hymns that will find a special place in the hearts of worshippers, adding to the tapestry of our musical worship tradition. Who knows what harmonious melodies the future holds?

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The question I would pose is this: what is a hymn? A quick Google search defines a hymn as a religious song or poem of praise to God. Don't the more contemporary songs satisfy that definition? When I think of a hymn, I think of exactly what you described...something timeless and classic. A piece of work has to withstand the test of time to become a classic. I'd venture a bet that the well-known hymn writers had no idea how important their work would be to future generations. They were just writing poems or composing music. But the finished work was embraced by the church and spread around the world, resulting in the classic hymns that we are familiar with.…

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