Faith Journey | The hymnal that changed my life

My father, a Baptist pastor, loved to sing. Some of my fondest childhood memories of church involve singing, and watching the joy in which Daddy led the congregation. In his first pastorate, we used the “Worship and Service Hymnal”, published in 1957. When I think of all the hymnals I’ve used in various churches over the years, it’s still my favorite.

Even though I was highly motivated to learn to read, I struggled mightily. This hymnal became one of my tutors. I learned to recognize three digit numbers and find my way to the correct page. And, as I followed along with the familiar hymns, with words helpfully divided into syllables, reading began to make more and more sense to me.

“And Can It Be” became, years later, one of my favorite hymns.

That hymnal, and our long-ago Baptist church services, also introduced me to liturgical worship, although we never would have described it with those words. We had an “order of service”: every Sunday, we sang the Doxology and the Gloria Patri; we recited the Lord’s Prayer; we read Scripture aloud together, in what we called “responsive readings”, which were located towards the back of the hymnal.

When I was 11 years old, I went forward at a Billy Graham crusade and prayed to receive Jesus Christ as my personal Savior. Our home copy of the “Worship and Service Hymnal” became my first prayer book although, if someone had asked me what a “prayer book” was, I would have had no idea what they were talking about. Some of my sweetest memories of all time are those I spent, when alone at home, using the words of my favorite hymns as prayers. They said so much better what my heart longed to say to the God I was learning to worship in spirit and in truth… and especially what I wanted to say to the Jesus that I was learning to love.

In no way am I exaggerating when I say that this hymnal changed my life. It helped teach me to read. It helped teach me to worship. It put words and music to my prayers. And it not only introduced me to beautiful elements of liturgical worship, but sparked a hunger and longing for more.

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