It was early evening on a beautiful, sunny Friday when we pulled into Tim and April Starr’s driveway in New Cumberland, Pennsylvania. Their girls Layla and Eva jumped for joy when we immediately invited them in for a tour of the Airstream. When we had settled inside, they returned the favor by giving us a little show and tell of their creative little homeschool projects and introduced us to the lovely foreign sounds of a steel tongue drum. For several days April gave us fabulous travel tips and Tim entertained us with interesting and entertaining stories. The hospitality was warm and the laughter exceptionally hearty. Then on a crisp Sunday, we hopped in their car to join them for our first (and most likely only) worship in a 50ish degree parking garage they were gathering in, in order to comply with Pennsylvania’s criteria for worship during the COVID19 pandemic. We found the Christians there not even a little bit grumpy, but a quite happy little family of both young and old who worked together each Sunday to both set up and break down this temporary solution. There had been several baptisms lately, in fact one couple who had recently come to Christ hosted a gathering at their home for an autumn themed potluck so that everyone had plenty of time to get to know these wonderful brothers and sisters in Christ.
If there’s a congregation that has taken to heart the following scripture, it is the Capital City church of Christ in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. “Sing unto the Lord a new song”. One of their preachers, Steven Rouse, had even attended a “Hymninar” called Sumphonia (See https://www.sumphonia.com, participates in a Facebook hymn writing group at https://www.facebook.com/groups/hymnwriters, and has created a website with some of his finished hymn writing work at https://www.thesacrificeofpraise.com We sang one of Stephen Rouse’s hymns called “Let Us Go To The Mount”. It felt so special to sing a worship song to our holy God alongside the one whose heart had produced it.
When we got home, we were talking to Tim and April about that, Tim mentioned a song he can barely sing without his voice giving way to the emotion in his heart, and April mentioned some of the other ways the congregation uses God’s gift of song to pour their grateful hearts out to him. She shares in the paragraphs that follow, three fresh ways to use praise songs to enrich the life of a Christian or a congregation. Thank you, April!
"One approach that Stephen and Chase have used in their teaching is to choose a song that corresponds to a book of the Bible we are studying, and having us sing that song each time we are studying the book. For instance, when studying Micah, we often sang "Let Us Go to the Mount", which is a beautiful and encouraging hymn that Stephen wrote, based on Micah 4 and 6. Or as Chase has been teaching Hebrews, he's been having us sing "Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus" each time - a very short hymn which ties in well to Hebrews. I've really enjoyed this way of "teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs". The study and learning of the book become embedded in and enrich the song, and the singing of the song is a participation in the themes of the book.
We ladies have also chosen theme hymns for things we have studied together. For instance, when we have had a weekend of women's lessons, we have usually chosen a theme hymn to sing a couple times during the event. It's neat, because then when we sing that song, it can bring back the memories of what we studied.
Several of the women here also worked on a project during quarantine, where we made a private Facebook page to share the mothers and kids singing children's Bible songs they know. As different people know different songs, or may not have grown up singing Bible songs, it was a neat way to learn from each other and also to be able to know the songs that different kids request in class! Jen Murphy made a wonderful set of laminated cards for each family, with songs from the different categories we were working on compiling, such as songs for very young children, timeline review songs, songs which are quotes from scripture, and hymns for kids. Some of the most requested songs from the children are hymns. We use some of the illustrated song flip charts which my Dad (Scott Smelser) has illustrated for Our Spiritual Heritage, and it really helps the kids understand the songs. The kids also sometimes illustrate their own hymn flip charts. We discuss the meaning of a particular line of the song, and they illustrate it on an index card. By the end, they have their own little flip chart to use as they sing along.
Hymns also can serve as powerful anthems that resonate with certain people, or correspond with certain phases of life. "Jesus, Draw Me Ever Nearer" is one which one of the ladies here mentioned as being her "Harrisburg song". Or I have certain songs which have been my anthem through hard times, or which remind me of certain periods of growth or change. Also, we are often learning new songs written by brethren and which are rich in spiritual meaning. As you sing a song repeatedly to learn it, and meditate on the words, those songs can start to flavor that time of life. Whether connecting the songs to things we are studying, or connecting a song to a period of life, there is a reciprocal depth which that connection can give, where the song enriches the growth, and the growth enriches the song. God certainly knew what he was doing when he told us to build each other up in song! "
He certainly does, April! And what a shining example your congregation offers in joyful hearts collectively pouring praise to our Creator!
701 N Front St