I continue to receive Letters to the Editor that cover a variety of subjects. Today, though, I’m narrowing it down to two: what we gained and lost when we moved from hymnals to PowerPoint and tributes to godly moms.
Tributes to Moms (based on Will You Write a Mother’s Day Tribute?)
There are at least 3 mothers who have had a positive influence on my life; my biological mom who died when I was 9, my foster mom who died when I was 27, and my mother-in-law, who died last year. All 3 died of cancer. It was in July of 2016, that my mother-in-law, Alma, went home to be with our Lord, as cancer spread through her body.
Her life was not easy as she raised her 4 children with her husband Stanley of 60 years. Life on their small farm in Ohio always presented challenges. Today I can still see the legacy of their work ethic, which was passed on to their daughter, Mary, my wife of 27 years—another mother who impacted my life.
It was Christmas of 2015, when Mary and I, our 2 sons in college, and our nephew, went to Ohio to see Alma. Mary knew her mother was getting worse, and this would probably be the last time her boys would see their grandmother on this side of heaven. During our visit, Mary and her siblings decided that dad could no longer care for his wife of 60 years. He was 90 years old and his body too, was wearing down. Care-givers were brought in the home, and as the cancer worsened, Alma was re-settled in an assisted living home. It was hard for Mary as we left to go back to Florida, not knowing if she would see her mother alive again.
As Mother’s Day 2016 was approaching, Mary knew she needed to see her mother on this special day, probably for the last time. Mary flew to Ohio and did have a wonderful time with her mother, talking about Jesus, and heaven, and salvation, and playing CD’s of Christian artists, especially Fernando Ortega’s “Give Me Jesus.” As I talked with Mary on the phone that Mother’s Day evening, she would tell me how her mom was doing, and how she cared for her all day, giving her hand massages and foot massages, remembering how Alma would care for her whenever she got sick or needed comfort. That day, Mary began to write things down, memories of her mom, that she would read at her funeral. We cried together as Mary would describe how hard Alma worked on the farm, through the cold winters and hot summers. And how Alma never complained. Then we would laugh as Mary would remember the times when her mother would have to deal with some of the farm animals that weren’t cooperating. After talking with Mary that night, I was glad she took the time to be with her mother on that special day. When Mary came home from her visit, we cried again and talked , Mary praised God for the time she was able to have with her mother. And we wondered how long it would be until God called her home.
On July 11, 2016, Alma was ushered into the presence of the Lord. Mary read her beautiful tribute to her mother at the Funeral Mass, bringing tears and smiles to the faces of those in attendance.
Shortly after Alma’s funeral, I wrote a song to honor Alma, remembering the times when we visited them and stayed on the farm. And as I wrote this song for Alma, I thought of my foster mom, and all of the sacrifices she made. And as a young, unruly teenager, I am sure I did not thank her near enough for all she did for me, for us; 3 of my brothers were also fostered by her family. I never heard her complain. And my biological mom, I can remember her whistling, smiling, as she hung the laundry on the line, and I was always nearby, content.
Here are the words to the song I wrote for Alma:
Her day began, long before sun-up.
The cold air leaking through the window pane. She quietly goes into the kitchen. to light the stove, get out some food, she don’t complain.
I’m sorry that I never really noticed, How you loved us everyday. The years flew by first one and then another, now I’ll take this time to say, I love you, I love you, even more.
Her hands are strong and her will is too, the snow’s falling heavy and there’s lots to do. She makes her way across the frozen lane. To milk the goats, feed the cats, she don’t complain.
I’m sorry that I never really noticed, how you loved us everyday. The years flew by first one and then another. Now I’ll take this time to say, I love you, I love you, even more.
Her body’s tired and her eyes grow dim, her Savior’s coming, she’s been waiting for Him. He whispers a word, there’s no more pain. He smiles at her, He takes her hand, she don’t complain.
I’m sorry that I never really told you, that I loved you everyday. The years flew by first one and then another, now I’ll take this time to say, I love you, I miss you, even more.
—Joe B, Wellington, FL
It has been 4 months now since we lost Dad, your best friend, your husband of 66 years. Our grief has been great; yours has been profound in a way we are not fully able to grasp. Were it not for his and your Blessed Hope, your grief would likely be inconsolable.
From my infancy and into my old age, you have been a wonderful mother to me. You indulged my childishness but not my sin. You taught me to love good books and poetry and to exercise discernment. You taught me what ultimately matters and what doesn’t. But perhaps your greatest gift to me as a mother was the kind of wife you were to my father.
You grew up in a prosperous family in an aristocratic neighborhood. Dad grew up in a family that was beset by numerous hardships, including the Depression and the death of his father and brother during the war. The highest aspiration of your life was to be a godly wife and mother. For Dad it was to serve God, his country, and his family, by providing for us so that you could be what Richard Weaver calls “the priestess of the home, radiating the power of proper sentiment.”
It meant for Dad many hours of hard work and for all of us a simple, peaceful rhythm of work, play, and worship. You were not only content with life in the 800 sq ft house the five of us called “home”, you positively exulted in it. You supported Dad’s dreams and praised his accomplishments. You welcomed into our home pastors, missionaries, neighbors, strangers, the displaced. Because our kitchen was too small for guests you set up tables and chairs in the living room or even – if the group was large enough – the ping-pong table in the basement. It never would have occurred to you to have an excuse for not investing the home Dad provided for the Kingdom.
You served quietly, faithfully, behind the scenes. We children were always around – at home or running free in the neighborhood– before the days of lessons and specialty camps and playdates and programs. You were always “with us”; we enjoyed a gently watched-over freedom. You began preparing us for worship every Saturday evening, including making sure we did our Sunday School homework (yes – the church we attended took seriously the task of Bible literacy).
As I look back, I am awed by the eternal fruit that was produced by your contented, mundane obedience. Your three children and eleven grandchildren, as well as their spouses, are followers of Jesus Christ. Your ten great-grandchildren are being taught the Scriptures. Your impact in the world for God’s glory is impossible to estimate. Yet I don’t believe you ever reckoned on that – you were just trying to be faithful. You and Dad loved us best by not loving us most…your “rightly ordered loves” provided the richest soil possible for our discipleship. We love you and are unspeakably grateful.
—Brenda S, Chagrin Falls, OH
Letters on and What We Lost When We Lost Our Hymnals and What We Gained When We Lost Our Hymnals
Thanks for putting both sides of the case. I am cautious about letting technology overcome the simplicity of worship, but we are capable of using it in support of worship, if we do it wisely. In our congregation (Presbyterian in Australia) we distinguish between “performance” songs and “congregationally singable” hymns/songs to guide our choices.
I have been a long time involved in tech commercially, and eschew the theory that modern technology is the answer to every problem. For Powerpoint I refer occasionally to the video which puts Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address (76 words) into a Powerpoint presentation. It’s a salutary reminder that there are plenty of times when it is best to speak without any aids at all.
—John A, Melbourne, AU
Those interested in the best of both worlds should check out PaperlessHymnal.com. It gives you projectable songs with music notes. It allows you to sing the songs you don’t know without just mumbling or humming, and you can add all the songs you want.
—Lance R, Fairbanks, AK
I was surprised to read in the article that “He Will Hold Me Fast” and “Before the Throne of God Above” can only be easily sung by churches that are not reliant on hymnals. After all, Ada Habershon and Charitie Bancroft wrote these hymns over a century ago. While hymnals aren’t perfect, they often contain names and dates. Those details connect us to many people and stories of faith that might otherwise be forgotten or unknown.
—Steve B, MB
Tim: Fair enough, but most people had ceased to sing them and today wish to sing them to their updated melodies. Still, I appreciate the reminder that these are classic hymns that have been rediscovered and retuned.
I just want to mention that those who are differently abled are often forgotten by those who plan worship. My mother had Parkinson’s and had attended church all her life, teaching and working with all age groups. When she began to have trouble with her condition, she had to stop going to worship services because the music was always too loud for her. For a long time before she stopped she’d say, I can either hold the hymnal or stand and sing. I can’t do both. Then I took my father to church in his wheelchair as long as I was able to. This church even had wheelchair cut-outs throughout the sanctuary. However, the practice of standing to sing left him unable to see anything but the bottoms of people in front of him. Wheelchair users do not always want to travel to the very front of the church in order to sit in a place where they can see the projection screen. Wheelchairs are often lower than the surrounding pews seats as well, so we had difficulty seeing the minister or music director’s face. There used to be amplifiers people who were hard of hearing could hook up to in the pews. I don’t see those any more.
There are ways to wire the sanctuary for enhanced hearing that works with certain kinds of hearing aids. Maybe there is a simple way to mute the volume as well for those who are sensitive. With my father there were other obstacles for using a wheelchair to get into the sanctuary But we did find one place higher in the back of the sanctuary where his vision would not be blocked. One place. Eventually the obstacles became too great for attendance. But my mother’s issue is more common than you’d think I’ll bet. She just stopped going. Also, there are a great number of children who are on the autism spectrum who have trouble with the noise level of music in church. A little thought to those who are different would be appreciated greatly.
—Peggy S, Flower Mound, TX
I grew up in a church that only used hymnals until I was a teenager (early 90’s) when an innovative musician introduced us to the projector. In college, the church I attended did not have hymnals as far as I can recall (they did have a rocking “worship” band, though beyond “River of God” I cannot at the moment recall anything else we sang) and as an adult who has made multiple career moves in the last 17 years I have attended different churches in various stages of the shift you describe from hymnals to overheads.
While I agree with you that we have gained freedom of posture, I’m not sure I agree that we are overall better off. I think the loss of the ability to sing complex melodies is saddening, as it also reflects a more intellectually passive interaction with all aspects of the worship service in many churches.
For the posture question, I have no solution beyond becoming familiar enough with the hymnody such that one does not need to use the hymnal in most circumstances. This of course takes time and effort, but is very rewarding not only for the freedom one gains during the service to express worship physically but also in being able to recall and recite or sing exhortative and encouraging hymns in daily life.
To the immediacy question, my current church home (pastored by a Ph.D in history) has a good approach. In addition to the Trinity Hymnal, we have a Psalter/Songbook in a loose leaf binder in which we attempt to collect the best of all ages. We have “By Faith” and “In Christ Alone,” for example, alongside “Cassia’s Hymn” and “The Trisagion,” as well as many Scriptures set to music by a member of our congregation who is an English professor at the University in Notre Dame (who writes the most beautiful harmonies!). In this way, we bridge the gap until contemporary hymns become traditional.
Few things give me more joy than hearing my children sing and harmonize these songs both in our family worship times (which is aided by the hymnals and songbooks we have in our house) and as they go about their daily work. I am, as I say, saddened that so many miss out on the richness of Holy Spirit’s musical gifts to the church through the ages. And I hope that technology will soon enable a third way – wherein we can accommodate posture without losing the richness of the hymnody – before it is too late. Digital hymnals with heads up displays, perhaps? We can only hope!
—Jacob S, Granger, IN
Tim: Thanks especially for the reminder of the value of memorizing songs. I make an attempt to memorize all the songs we sing at Grace Fellowship Church. If I keep my head up, it allows me to see and enjoy the rest of the congregation as they fulfill Colossians 3:16 and sing for me!
Our church uses hymnals and PowerPoint, both. One topic I’d like to see addressed deals with the music itself. It seems like the older hymns lend themselves well to congregational singing due to four part arrangement and predictable melodies, while a lot of the newer ones force the bass and tenors (usually) to forge their own part. These songs seem best “performed” by folks who know what they’re doing and have practiced them, rather than sung as a group.
—Lewis G, Jefferson City, MO