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The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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Favorite hymns

Readers say sacred songs made the difference

Even the most popular had no more than five mentions each: “Abide With Me”; “Children of the Heavenly Father”; “Amazing Grace”; “A Mighty Fortress”; “Beautiful Savior”; “I Was There to Hear Your Borning Cry”;  “Lord, Thee I Love with All My Heart”; and “My Life Flows On In Endless Song.”

And as people shared the hymns that made a difference in their lives, they often attached sheet music, lyrics, historical background or ranked lists of favorites. One, Gayle Moyer of St. Paul Lutheran Church, Telford, Pa., sent a photo of her license plate: “HYMN-LVR.”

Per Harling, a Church of Sweden pastor who wrote “You Are Holy” (Evangelical Lutheran Worship, 525), said hymns shape our theology; bring generations together; give voice to prayer, praise and lament; and bring us into “worship with those who have been, with those who are and with those who will be members of the Christian church.

“[There may be] no more burglary-safe possession [than a hymn and song] we know by heart. Hymn texts are usually the kind of texts to live and die on. Very few people have died with a sermon on their lips, but many have a memorized hymn text in their very last life moment.”

Light in darkness
Many readers told of the hope that hymns brought to ill or dying loved ones or their family and friends.

“It’s been a rough stretch for our congregation, with sickness and tragedy falling on many beloved members,” wrote Charles Strietelmeier, pastor of Augustana Lutheran, Hobart, Ind. “We’ve [needed] nourishing hymns to sustain our spirits [like] the ardent simple joy of ‘Lord Jesus, You Shall Be My Song’ (ELW, 808).”

Karen Taylor, music director of St. Timothy Lutheran Church, Lakewood, Calif., wrote about a trip home in 2006 to help her parents: “Mom was exhausted. Dad had suffered from Parkinson’s and congestive heart failure for 10 years; walking, talking and swallowing had become nearly impossible.”

Taylor’s mother apologized for not being able to sing hymns together due to her father’s illness. “I suggested we try anyway, and Mom chose ‘Abide with Me’ (ELW, 629). To our surprise, Dad perked up and sang along. Mom and I were moved to tears by the sound of his long-disabled but still beautiful voice,” she said.

Music and grief have been Elizabeth Damico’s companions from an early age after her mother’s death. The church musician at Holden Village, Chelan, Wash., said in seasons of doubt, “my mouth cannot say the words; my heart aches too much to hope; and my mind is overcrowded with questions and cynicism. Yet somehow, my hands believe.”

After his “strong and brave” brother-in-law committed suicide, Kyle Debertin, Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Watertown, S.D., drew strength at the funeral from contemporary Christian musician Chris Rice’s “Come to Jesus.”

“In the midst of the numbness, surrounded by his fellow firefighters and National Guard soldiers, every word of ‘Come to Jesus’ ... reminded me of Christ’s presence with Dan as he was alone in his garage that final day,” Debertin wrote. “Post-traumatic stress disorder is real and strong, but so is the loving grace of Jesus.”


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