Embracing Tradition: A Love Letter to Hymns in a Hillsong World

The present organ at Oxford was built by Rieger of Austria in 1978–9.
Only the case remains from the original Father Smith instrument dating from 1680.


The golden light streamed through the stained-glass windows of St. Peters church in Southport, casting a kaleidoscope of colors across the worn pews. As a child, I'd fidget during the sermon, but hymns were different. The moment the first notes of "Amazing Grace" rose on the breathy voices of the choir, a hush would fall over the congregation. It wasn't just the melody, though that was undeniably beautiful. It was the feeling – a sense of peace washing over me, a connection to something bigger than myself.


Today, amidst the hustle and bustle of modern life, hymns remain a constant source of solace. While contemporary worship music has its place, the depth and richness of traditional hymns hold a special place in my heart. Unlike fleeting trends, hymns have withstood the test of time, their messages echoing through generations.  For me, that tradition lies in the hallowed halls of churches, resonating with the timeless melodies of hymns sung by choirs and accompanied by the majestic tones of a pipe organ. While the allure of contemporary worship music, epitomized by the likes of Hillsong, is undeniable, there's a special place in my heart for the richness and depth found in the classics.


My love affair with Jesus, His church, and music has been a lifelong journey, one that has led me to cherish the profound connection between spirituality and song. Yet, amidst the cacophony of modern trends, I find solace in the familiarity of hymns that have stood the test of time.


Is it not time, dear friends, to breathe new life into our cherished traditions? Let us, church leaders and worshippers alike, embark on a journey to rediscover the resplendent beauty woven within them. Just this week, a serendipitous encounter graced my bookshelf, a message perhaps destined to be found: "If Jesus was gay, the words of this song are meant for LGBT+ people." Oh, how the message of inclusivity and boundless love within those lyrics resonates deeply within my soul.


"Tell my people I love them;
tell my people that I care.
When they feel far away from me,
tell my people I am there.


Tell my people I came and died
to give them liberty;
as they abide in me
they will be really free!


Tell my people where'er they go,
my comfort they can know.
My peace and joy and love I freely bestow."


These words, though adapted from the original by Leonard Bartlotti, carry a resonance of God's grace. It's a message that warrants sharing, regardless of identity or background. Additionally, it's noteworthy that the hymn complements my colleague Dr. Peter Lewis' article on the Suffering Servant, titled "Opinion: Was Jesus the Suffering Servant of Isaiah 53?". Both the hymn and Lewis' article explore the theme of love and sacrifice, echoing Jesus' selfless service and compassion for humanity. Together, they provide insights that underscore the enduring significance of love in comprehending Jesus' role as the Suffering Servant.


Another hymn that holds a special significance for me is "Lord of the Dance." Its rhythmic cadence and joyful message echo the timeless tale of Jesus' life and mission, inviting us to join in the dance of faith and redemption. This hymn, founded in the English carol tradition, serves as a reminder of the enduring power of storytelling through music.


Another favourite that stirs my soul is "What a Friend We Have in Jesus." This ode to friendship and faith, often performed with heartfelt sincerity, transports me back to cherished memories of my father's renditions during my church services. It's a testament to the enduring impact of music passed down through generations.


But perhaps what resonates with me most deeply is the call to embrace tradition in an ever-changing world. As I reflect on the hymns that have shaped my spiritual journey, I'm reminded of the beauty found in the quiet moments of reverence and reflection. Whether it's the ethereal voices of the Oxford Christ Church Cathedral Choir soaring above the majestic tones of a pipe organ, or the solemn strains of the English Concert under Simon Preston's direction, there's a timeless elegance to be found in the classics.


In particular, "Thou Knowest, Lord, the Secrets of Our Hearts" stands out as a touching expression of humility and supplication. Its haunting melody and evocative lyrics serve as a profound reminder of the depth of human emotion and the enduring grace of God.


Last year, amidst the hallowed halls of Oxford's campus, I had the divine opportunity to hear the choir's celestial melodies. My soul often yearns for the day when I shall oversee a humble parish, maybe somewhere like the diocese of Bath and Wells, journeying into the sacred heart of Oxford to bask in the heavenly resonance of the choir's performance.

In a world that often seeks the latest trend or the flashiest spectacle, may we never forget the timeless truths found in the hymns of old. For in their melodies, we find a sacred connection to the past, a source of solace in the present, and a beacon of hope for the future.


So, as I share some of my favorite hymns and choral performances, I invite you to join me in embracing the beauty of tradition. Let us revel in the awe-inspiring majesty of cathedrals, the haunting strains of pipe organs, and the angelic voices of choirs lifting their praises to the heavens. For in these timeless treasures, we find the heart of worship, echoing through the ages.


Here's to the hymns that have carried us through thick and thin, each sacred note and reverent chord a testament to the enduring power of faith. May their melodies continue to inspire and uplift us, forever.

I'm grateful to be part of a congregation that is intentionally and completely inclusive. Aren't you? If you're seeking one, here's our list.

With love and reverence,

Shane St Reynolds.
Embracing Tradition: A Love Letter to Hymns in a Hillsong World Embracing Tradition: A Love Letter to Hymns in a Hillsong World Reviewed by Shane St Reynolds on May 06, 2024 Rating: 5

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