From Preface to:
History Through 26 Hymns and Songs



While a considerable amount of history is presented, the facts included are only a fraction of the details of history. The facts presented were chosen because they seemed more germane to the growth of congregational hymns. That means from a historian’s perspective, considerable amounts of other history is not included. Any incompleteness or inaccuracies of relevant historical information of course remains the author’s responsibility.

Author’s notes are scattered throughout to assist readers in quickly identifying topics where this researcher did not find information on a particular topic. If readers are aware of sources for such information, they are encouraged to provide information about those sources so such incompleteness or inaccuracies can be added in later versions of this book.

Please submit comments for corrections/additions via the comment page of the companion website, at


Like many who grew up singing congregational hymns, the existence of hymns as part of Christian congressional singing was something I took for granted as a normal part of everyday church services. Like most Americans, I had no thoughts about how hymn singing came to be a “normal” part of current protestant services.

A major goal of this book is to place these hymns within the historical perspectives of events around the time each hymn/song was published. The purpose is via these histories to provide insights into how these histories influenced the growth of congregational hymns.

This book of histories is for those with a curiosity to know more about the complicated histories that influenced current Christian church practices, Protestant and otherwise. It provides readers with a broad perspective of how centuries of religious struggles and conflicts shaped the hymns and songs included. Those histories resulted in suppression and killings among Christians about the question, how to properly worship Christ.

These histories clearly document congregational hymn singing was not always an “everyday normal” event in church services!  It evolved from earliest practices in Christ’s time, shaped by many political and religious forces in different countries in different centuries that often sought to suppress any deviation from the “approved” practices.

Those disagreements and fragmentation began almost immediately after Christ’s death. It is illuminating how extensive the disagreements and wars were over how to “properly” worship Christ.

The struggles over being allowed to pursue individual worship practices and doctrines caused the deaths of many on all sides who passionately defended what they, or perhaps in many cases, their ruling monarchs respectively claimed was “truth.” The very existence of congregational hymn singing today as part of Christian church services is a testimony to the determination of many strong individuals whose hymns have survived through those struggles. The histories of violence over what are “allowed” worship practices provide an “eye opener” about how the power to impose worship practices had major impacts. Things absolutely were not always as they are.

The 25 traditional, classic congregational hymns and songs, plus one Contemporary Christian song, included on the companion recording, are the core around which these histories are organized. Those hymns and songs were jointly selected with my mother from my parents’ favorites, representing a very small sample of the legacy of congregational hymns passed on to us. They represent a diverse, proud heritage drawn from the historically relatively recent period of the early 18th to late 20th century.

Recently an explosion of Contemporary Christian songs, and other new hymns, has largely replaced these traditional hymns in many churches’ congregational singing. However, the passions expressed in these traditional hymns and songs still resonate into our century.

These hymns and songs were created within the context of their national and world histories. Thus, they represent a rich history of music in Christian congregational hymns. As such, their histories provide a glimpse into the great historical complexity of how current Christian worship practices were shaped by national and world histories and their interactions, often with officially sanctioned State-Churches.

The beliefs of the creators of these hymns and songs sometimes differed strongly from contemporaries, and from established politics of their monarchs and the State-Church practices in their countries. They felt passionately about their beliefs and values. These histories explore the men and women responsible for creating these traditional hymn texts, and others who significantly influenced their times.

In many cases the turmoil and violence were carried out in the name of Christianity. These histories document examples of repeated violent religiously motivated actions caused by disagreements among Christians over the single principle of how to “properly” worship Christ.

Early Protestant movements like the Lutherans and Methodists embraced congregational hymn singing and made hymn singing an important part of their worship liturgies. More recently it was similarly embraced by many American, especially evangelical, movements. That popularity might have contributed to the Roman Catholic church deciding to revise their liturgy to officially reincorporate congregational hymns.

After Vatican II (The Second Vatican Council), in the mid-1960s the Roman Catholic church officially re-embraced congregational hymn singing as part of its liturgy. That was about 15 centuries after their liturgies largely replaced congregational hymn singing with choirs. (There were priests, e.g., Frederick William Faber, who championed hymn singing, but it was not part of the official Roman Catholic liturgy until after Vatican II. Faber’s “Faith of Our Fathers” in included in this collection.)

Structure of Book

Initial part of this book

It presents the 26 histories around each of the hymns and songs contained on the companion recording. (The ebook version contains extensive footnotes readers can pursue if a topic interests them.) While you might listen to the entire companion recording of 26 hymns and songs in one session, it is more likely you will divide reading or listening to the audio version of this book into topics that catch your attention.

The goal is to provide some perspective into the sweep of histories, not to provide an academic study. While some may view these histories as somewhat detailed, even these histories represent high-level summarizations of events. The included histories give the reader a fuller understanding of how surrounding world events impacted creation of the hymns, i.e., what were the world events that shaped the content of these hymns and songs.

A few academic discourses are footnoted. An interesting academic probing footnoted in this book as an example, is a paper from a lecture at Gresham College, England, presented by Professor Christopher Page on the topic of Music of the First Christians.(1)

Historical note. Among many other accomplishments by Professor Christopher Page, the referenced lecture was given while he was a Gresham Professor of Music from 2014-2018. Gresham College was founded in 1597, late in Queen Elizabeth I reign, and has been providing free lectures within the City of London for over 400 years.(2)

Sources used for footnotes emphasize online accessibility over library books to facilitate ebook reader’s easy access to such sources. Assembling and footnoting these hymn histories was a labor of love to find and amalgamate the many, fragmented, disparate, sometimes conflicting pieces of information presented.  Particularly interesting was researching germane history for the two plantation hymns, which have no known publication information.

The order of the histories corresponds to the order of the 26 hymns and songs on the companion recording, and that order is modeled after the cycle of life. As a result, the hymns and their accompanying histories, are not in chronological order. To help curious readers with joining the sweep of history discussed in one history with that discussed in another, the ebook provides cross references throughout the histories to relevant historical information found in other histories.

The connection of historic events to the text of some hymns is obvious, because those events directly influenced the authors’ lives, and thus what they expressed in their hymns or songs. In other cases, the influence of history events is more subtle. The primary method used throughout for indicating historical information is the label “Historical Notes.”

Second major section of this book

Following the 26 histories (one for each hymn/song on the companion album) are several appendices. The first, Appendix I, is structured as a very high-level summation of the sweep of history for the past 2 millennia, from Christ’s death to this century, that relates to development of congregational hymn singing.

Just as with selecting information to include in the histories in the first section of this book, structured in the order of and around each hymn or song, selecting information to include in a summary of history of the past 2 millennia impacting development of hymn singing, represented choices from incredibly varied detailed histories. The arch of many histories is interconnected over many centuries. Thus, the information presented in Appendix I documents various historical highpoints that contributed to shaping current religious practices in our societies.

Author’s note. Assembling those historical highpoints was an incredible educational journey.

Reported Lack of Interest in Hymnology

The Institute for the Study of American Evangelicals (ISAE) reported that within the U.S. there is a lack of interest in hymnology. While the general public does not have a large interest in hymnology, numerous academics have produced very through academic books on hymns.(3)

Historical note. ISAE closed at the end of December 2014. It was a program of Wheaton College that served as a center for research.

The general lack of interest in the U.S. regarding histories of hymns may flow from the general lack of interest by the American public in history of our past. That includes events in other parts of the world, even those which substantially shaped what is now America. Many such events shaped the theological and national movements that contributed to the current rich fabric of American life and religion.

Author’s note. From the author’s perspective, the methods widely used for teaching and testing history likely are a major contributor to the public’s lack of interest. In my younger years of history classes, the overemphasis on memorizing dates, instead of focusing on the sweep of the stories of history, made the subject boring and seemingly irrelevant to young minds. Memorization of dates likely were emphasized because they are easier to test, but they represent minutia within the significance of the sweep of powers over time that shaped what is current society. It is the sweep of the stories that is far more important, and far more interesting.

The ISAE sponsored conferences and provided portions of funding for longer-term research projects of several scholars.(4) Their research projects and conferences included a study of American hymn singing.

One of ISAE’s conferences was titled Hymnody in American Protestantism. The papers presented were edited into a Proceedings by Richard J. Mouw and Mark A. Noll. The proceedings is titled Wonderful Words of Life: Hymns in American Protestant History and Theology, dated March 2, 2004. It is available in paperback from Amazon books.(5)

That proceeding makes a strong case hymns are both fascinating and an irreplaceable type of primary source document for both intellectual and social religious history.

Current Congregational Singing

While many of the hymns in this collection have largely been replaced in many churches by newer contemporary hymns, these histories and the companion recording, document how powerfully these hymns and songs communicate thoughts through the combination of words and music. They are much more powerful and lasted longer than long forgotten sermons, even sermons by some of the very same clergymen who wrote and composed some of these hymns.

Judging from sales of new hymnals focused on celebration hymns, Americans, and perhaps others, have entered a new period when very large numbers of new hymns are being written and brought into worship services.

Copyright considerations by commercial businesses may be playing a role in driving the proliferation of new hymns transforming hymnals and replacing printed hymnals with multimedia projection. One implication is it has become increasingly rare to hear these older traditional hymns as part of many regular protestant church services, because these hymns are not in either the new hymnals, or the multimedia materials replacing hymnals in many churches.

The evolution of Christian church practices continues; new hymns replace previous favorites. Congregational hymn singing of traditional hymns in many evangelical churches is being replaced with celebration hymns, and performing choral/band groups.

Multimedia projections of words for a hymn generally only provide the words, no tune, which makes it harder for congregations to learn new tunes for new hymns.

Historical note. It is interesting numerous U.S. evangelical Protestant denominations are now engaging in a revision of the musical portion of their liturgies for worship services to one that harkens back to what the Roman Catholic Church did, beginning in the 5th and 6th centuries. Namely, embracing use of choir or other band performance as dominant music in the worship service, rather than congregational hymn singing.

There are voices pointing out that the switch to using constantly changing new celebration hymns, where only their text is projected on screens, has changed the nature of worship services. However, those voices do not seem to be a dominant force. As always, it would be a mistake for Christians to take what currently exists for granted.

Reference Materials in ebook

To assist curious readers pursue more information, the ebook version of this book provides numerous footnote references. Internet links were chosen as the primary source to provide readers with easy access to the reference materials. While website sources such as Wikipedia, can be less academically rigorous, they generally tend to be reasonably reliable. Most importantly, as a reference source Wikipedia has come to provide information on an extremely broad array of topics, and is readily available to readers who may be interested in going a bit further in their initial reading.

Author’s note. In some cases, as part of writing this book, I found obviously inaccurate material on Wikipedia. In such cases I made editorial suggestions for corrections of specific facts.

In addition, for those interested in reading further, the ebook in Appendix IV provides a “Bibliography” of many of the books and articles used with easy access urls.

While a number of “authoritative” book sources were examined, the number of references included for sources only available from libraries were minimized. That is to avoid requiring readers to make interlibrary loans or perhaps purchases to obtain access to the reference books. Valuable sources not readily available to readers that are thus excluded, include:

Some of the histories are much shorter, and others more detailed. That resulted both from substantial differences in the level of historical details found from available sources on different hymns and songs, and where my curiosity led.

How Were the Hymns and Songs Selected?

It Was a Cooperative Endeavor

In May 1998, mother asked me to record a selection of their (her husband and her) favorite hymns and songs. The idea was to dedicate the recording to him. (He had died the previous year, Sept. 28, 1996.) We began this process with a day of discussions reviewing their favorites and from them selected the 26 included. Major resources were the hymnals my parents had accumulated over their lives when churches they attended discarded them for new hymnals. The resulting selection of hymns and songs represents a wide spectrum of types of hymns and songs, including a couple considered service songs, or other religious song, rather than congregational hymns.

Although the significant resources were their hymnals from Protestant denominations, it turns out use of some of the hymns and songs are shared by Roman Catholics and others. Also, 4 of the hymns were originally published as Sunday School songs. (Thus, they could have been grouped earlier in the collection of the 26 representing youth.) The selections provide insights into both considerable shared history and divergences of different denominations and branches of Christianity and their theologies.

The selected 26 hymns and songs are a representative sample from the author’s parents’ favorites, and are included on the companion recording. The histories in this book are organized in order of the companion recording around each of those 26 hymns and songs. Five of the selections are not traditional old favorite classic congregational hymns. Of those five, 2 are considered service songs, 2 are other religious songs, and 1 is a Contemporary Christian song. They all occupied important religious musical spaces in the lives of my parents.

Following our collaboration to select which hymns and songs to include, we worked together developing a plan for what to achieve. Mother wanted a quality album for general distribution. Weekly we previewed initial draft recordings as I preliminarily made them, to which Mother expressed great happiness at the progress being made toward creation of a quality album for general distribution. All too quickly after beginning the project, in the early hours of Saturday, Aug. 22, 1998, she too left this world to join her husband.

What Are the Included non-Congregational Religious Songs?

The 5 religious songs selected that are not strictly considered congregational hymns are:

Influences that Led to and Shaped Creation of the Companion Recording

The reason mother asked me to make this recording likely flows from various events throughout my life. Examples include: beginning in elementary school I began singing in school choirs for elementary, junior high and high school; plus performed in a junior high amateur show. Subsequently I both sang with choirs in college and studied voice as a music minor throughout college, and privately after college.

Prior to mother asking me to record the accompanying album, I had begun recording songs at a commercial recording studio. I had completed and provided limited copies to friends and family of the first album of solos from the WWII era.

For this album of hymns and songs from their favorites, mother wanted it to be a quality album, not just a nice thrown together feel-good excursion. Various things had influenced my perception of a quality album of hymns.

One of those was a wonderful recording of organ and brass hymn arrangements titled For God and Country: Forty Great Hymns of Joy and Celebration. It was recorded by the New England group Chestnut Brass Company (with Timpani) and Anthony Newman, organist, and arranger, presumably in 1991 at the Church of the Holy Trinity located at 316 East 88th Street in New York City using that church’s magnificent, then very recently installed in 1987, 55 rank Rieger Pipe Organ.

The striking tonal design of the pipe organ on the recording was by Anthony Newman, who at the time was organist at the Church of the Holy Trinity. The three-manual and pedal Rieger organ is a moderately large pipe organ for a church having 55 ranks of pipes installed around a large stained-glass window in the church without covering the window. More information about the organ and its specifications are available online.(8)

A related influence that contributed to my undertaking of the importance of the stories associated with the hymns and songs was the book of brief stories that accompanied the New England Chestnut Brass Company’s CD recording of their hymns. That book was prepared by Jackson Braider. The book with CD was published in 1992.

Another musical influence on my perception of a quality recording of pipe organ accompaniments to hymns came from my recollections of other magnificent pipe organs from various churches, including the magnificent Æolian-Skinner Organ at National Presbyterian Church and Center. (I had sung with their chancel choir for a time.)

Those memories of beautiful pipe organs led in 2019 to selection of the 35 rank Scribner-Keeble Memorial pipe organ in Ashland Virginia in the Duncan Memorial United Methodist Church as the means for replacing electronic keyboard synthesizer organ accompaniments with real pipe organ accompaniments for a number of the hymns in this collection.

Credits for Artists on Companion Recording

The Scribner-Keeble Memorial pipe organ in Ashland Virginia in the Duncan Memorial United Methodist Church is but one of many credits contained on the companion website for this book and recording. Greater insights into creation of the companion recording of Hymns and Songs for Living, materials on each of the artists, and information about several of the more unusual instruments are found at


(1) Professor Christopher Page, The Music of the First Christians, October 6, 2016, Gresham College, Holborn, London,, accessed 9-2-2021.

(2) About Us, Gresham College,, accessed 10-18-2021.

(3-a) Dr. Paul Westermeyer, Let the People Sing: Hymn Tunes in Perspective (Chicago, IL: GIA Publications, 2005);

(b) Dr. Paul Westermeyer, Te Deum: The Church and Music (Minneapolis, MN 55440: Augsburg Fortress Press, June 3, 1998, 1st edition hardcover.

(c) Dr. Eric Routley, A Panorama of Christian Hymnody (Chicago, IL: GIA Publications,1979 and 2005);

(d) Dr. Tim Dowley, Christian Music: A Global History (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2011).

(4) “Institute for the Study of American Evangelicals,” Wheaton College,, accessed 4-28-2019.

(5) Richard J. Mouw and Mark A. Noll, Wonderful Words of Life: Hymns in American Protestant History and Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Books, March 2, 2004),, accessed 3-12-2019.

(6) “A Dictionary of Hymnology,” Wikipedia,, accessed 3-31-2019.

(7) “The Canterbury Dictionary of Hymnology,”, accessed 3-31-2019.

(8) “Church of the Holy Trinity,” The New York City Chapter of the American Guild of Organists,, accessed 2018.

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