A Historic Tour Through Song, Prayers, and Praise
By Cherie Bell
Fort Worth—Sung together, congregational hymns proclaim a collective faith. Even when the unison melody expands into harmony, the congregation is transformed as many voices become one in mind and spirit.
“All Times and All Places: Praise the Lord!” was the theme of this year’s hymn festival sponsored by the Church Music Institute and Brite Divinity School held at St. Stephen Presbyterian Church. The program concept and oral reflections were developed by Rev. Dr. Paul Westermeyer, emeritus professor of church music, cantor, and M.S.M. Director of Luther Seminary in St. Paul, MN, and renowned church organist David Cherwien, D.M.A., Director of the National Lutheran Choir and Music Director at Mt. Olive Lutheran Church in Minneapolis. Beginning with the mystical "Creator of the Stars at Night," accompanied with cosmic beauty by Dr. Cherwien at the organ, the hymn festival reassured peace on earth is eternal despite countless times of turmoil throughout human history. "We praise God by ourselves, we sing this praise with one another, and we share it with the leaves, the grass, the flowers, musical instruments like organs, all creatures, everything," Rev. Dr. Westermeyer proclaimed as the congregation prepared to sing "O That I Had a Thousand Voices" written in 18th century Germany. The historic sacred music journey of praise in all times featured the hymns "When All Was Formless, Dark and Void," "Light Dawns on a Weary World," "Alleluia! Christ Is Arisen" and "Come Now O Prince of Peace."
"Hymns are the foundation for the Anglican service," Ed Ackermann, of Fort Worth American Guild of Organists and music director at St. Barnabas the Apostle Anglican Church, said. "The hymn festival was a beautiful way to worship."
Ackermann attended both the hymn festival and CMI's sacred music workshop the following day at St. Stephen. "I constantly look for ways to improve my hymn playing and for ways to improve the congregation’s participation," he said, remarking enthusiastically, "I got more information on hymn-playing, technical details, than I expected!"
"I loved the hymn festival," said Hee-Kyung Juhn, Minister of Music at Trinity United Methodist Church in Little Rock, Ark. A former university piano instructor, she was particularly impressed by Dr. Cherwien's unique style to each hymn. "It was great to see the words come to life in a creative way," she said.
"I attended the hymn festival primarily to see how it was organized and to see and hear Dr. Cherwien's approach to playing the organ for singing of hymns by both the congregation and the choir," said Charles Galetar, organist at Christ United Methodist Church in Shreveport, La.
Rev. Tom Tickner, choir director at Waxahachie's Central Presbyterian Church, had a distinct purpose for attending the hymn festival: "I am always seeking ways to make hymn singing come alive in worship. I also am always interested in creative ways hymns can be used in worship."
The program left him feeling renewed. "I received from the hymn festival some new hymns and some creative uses of hymns that I did know," he said. "Paul's reflections were especially important to prepare us for the hymns. Together this made for a wonderful time of worship.”
By the end of the program, the congregation had sung timeless hymns, from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance, the Age of Enlightenment to the industrial revolution and the 21st century: hymns from Europe, the U.S. and Latin America, concluding with a modern Korean prayer:
Come now, O Prince of Peace.
Make us one body.
Come, O Lord Jesus.
Reconcile all people.
"All Times and All Places: Praise the Lord!" ended with the offering "Prayer for Peace," arranged by Dr. Cherwien. "The praise of God is not an ingrown activity to make us feel good behind walls of hatred, greed, and selfishness," Rev. Dr. Westermeyer stated as he encouraged every human being to praise God at all moments in time anywhere on earth. Words, spoken or sung, carry the power of personal devotion and consecration that "leads to flinging open the gates," he said, "embracing God's rule of peace, and living it."