“Hal, do you pick the hymns? Does Ed? How does it work? Do you just flip through the hymnal and pick?” I have been asked this several times during our year of virtual services, and I am happy to pull back the curtain on hymn selection.

It’s a process. It begins with Ed’s planned scripture and sermon and my intention to make the hymns enhance the worship service. Sometimes the pieces of this process all fall together rather quickly, other times it takes several hours for it all to come together!

Ed’s Quarterly Worship Plan is so helpful! Given this, I start to research what hymns would be compatible with the scripture and the sermon. One site I use often is hymnary.org from which I search and list relevant hymns.

Next, I go my collection of Congregational, Catholic, Baptist, Nazarene, Presbyterian, Methodist, Menonnite, Episcopalian, Lutheran, Unitarian and 7th Day Adventist hymnals for inspiration and add to the list, creating many options.

The next step in the process is to start to consider possibilities for the first hymn known as the “Gathering” hymn, the second hymn known as the “Reflective” hymn and finally the third hymn known as the “Proclaiming” hymn. You may have noticed that the first hymn is usually familiar, solid and bold; the second hymn is soft, slow and reflective; and the third hymn is uptempo, upbeat, inspirational and full volume.  

Before I get too far, I consider: Is it singable? Can I play it? Is the text liturgically relevant to the sermon topic and scripture? Does it enhance the worship experience? If these criteria are met, I go to the Pilgrim Hymnal and see if my choices are listed, and if so, I head to the piano for a run-through.

That’s what happens behind the scenes.

I have been singing hymns since the age of 4, when a hymnal was at the place setting of every family member at the Sunday dinner. Grace was sung in 4-part harmony! Hymns are the bedrock of Serving God Through Music and if you have a favorite one, I would be delighted to include it in a worship service and make it part of my music ministry.