Hymns! Glorious Hymns! (or Bridges Over Troubled Waters)

I love hymns. I LOVE hymns. Fast, slow, old, new, long, short, Unitarian Universalist, Baptist, Anglican, Isaac Watts, Frances Havergal. John Ireland, Charles Wesley, Virgil Stamps, Margaret Douroux, Jeanie Gagne, all.

First Unitarian Church of Portland has a wonderful connection to contemporary Unitarian Universalist hymnody. Our Senior Minister, Rev. Bill Sinkford, commissioned both of the denomination’s current supplemental hymnals, Singing the Journey and Las Voces del Camino during his time in the Unitarian Universalist Association Presidency. And, our Minister Emeritus of Music, Mark Slegers, worked on the committee that compiled Singing the Living Tradition. Yes, those who have shaped worship for our church these past 8 to 40 years had a heavy hand in shaping the way the entire denomination sings! It is a pretty incredible reality to consider.

Still, I think we are recently discovering that there are entire worlds of hymns yet unknown to us. I have the luxury of being rather new to this congregation, so I have very little idea which hymns you all know and do not know. I can say, however and with no exaggeration, that I hear almost weekly from ministers and worshippers alike that one of the hymns we sang from our hymnals was new to this church. On top of that, there is this beautiful coincidental confluence of my arrival, toting diverse experiences working in many types of churches (Unitarian Universalist, Methodist, Presbyterian, Catholic, Church of Christ, Episcopal, non-denominational mega-churches, and Adventist, to name a few), with the installation of screens in our sanctuary. This has made it possible for us to step outside of what is available in our hymnals and use music from other traditions! I assure you there is no greater fun for a church music nerd such as myself. You will remember recent occurrences of “Bind Us Together”, “Higher Ground”, “Standin’ In the Need of Prayer”, “America, the Beautiful”, the tune from “What a Friend We Have in Jesus”, and others. I would not be surprised if “On Eagles’ Wings” made an appearance in the coming months… I have so appreciated the weeks that you have come down to the chancel to tell me stories of how the hymns have sparked memories for you. I see this as one of the simplest ways we can build bridges across both the moats that often separate us from other denominations and the gorges in our own denominational history.

Whether the hymns have been new to you or whether they are hymns you have sung for most of your life, you have proven to be a people unafraid of making a joyful noise! For that, and for your willingness to journey with me in song, I feel extremely blessed and deeply grateful.

DeReau Farrar, Director of Music