I had no idea what to expect at the casual Christmas song fest at my church, but I soon found out. A song fest is the opportunity to sing a few verses from any song found in the hymn book. Members of the congregation share their favorite hymnal number by raising their hand.
Christmas carols dominated the first half of the hour long service, but soon we were singing other favorites like How Great Thou Art, Amazing Grace, In the Garden, Blessed Assurance, and It Is Well with my Soul. They were songs that rekindled memories of my childhood years when Sunday school, Sunday evening and Wednesday night services were mandatory.
I was surprised at how well I remembered the words of these long forgotten hymns. The last time I picked up a hymn book was over 40 years ago, yet each stanza flowed from my mouth like it was yesterday. There was a sense of pride in knowing the hymn book was optional; it gave claim to my P.K (preacher’s kid) heritage.
And then comes the dusty years.
With the advent of the Charismatic movement in the early 70s, traditional hymns were soon replaced with more upbeat worship songs with words that struck a chord with the younger generation. The Vietnam War had brought about revolution and change and church services were not exempt from those changes.
Christian coffee houses were birthed with the purpose to seek out a diverse group of individuals like the church had never seen. Long hair, short hair, drug addicts, alcoholics, the homeless and displaced were welcomed by these coffee houses where the gospel of Christ was shared over coffee.
There were no pews, only a few folding chairs and the floor; but no one seemed to mind. The Friday night services consisted of acoustic guitars, simple choruses of praise and God’s plan of salvation. There were no hymnals; no overhead projector to display the words to a song. When I look back, those coffee house years cemented some of the best friendships and memories of my life.
Sadly the church hymnal gathered dust during those coffee house and Jesus movement years. It wasn’t until this recent Christmas song fest that I was reminded how much I love the classic hymns I sang as a child. The Christian community is gifted with many outstanding Contemporary Christian artists, but on occasion I like to revisit the hymns to which I know ALL the words.