At our Songs of Praise Services, members of the congregation are asked to choose their favourite hymn and to tell us why they had chosen it. Here is what they each said – and if you want the words of the songs there’s a hyperlink to some of them:
Keith Thornborough wrote:
Have you heard the canned Christmas music in the shops since the beginning of October or have you managed to block it out? Does it get you in the Christmas mood, or does it make you think of the long list of things to do and the gifts you will need to buy!
For many, this is the music of Christmas… Jolly Old St Nicholas…. Sleigh bells ring…. Frosty the Snowman… I wish it could be Christmas every day! De dah-de-dah-de-dah!
I can’t wait to sing Hark! the herald angels sing. To me this is a wonderful set of words by Charles Wesley…. Read On….
‘All Things Bright and Beautiful’ – ‘
“This hymn is so special to me because it takes ne back to my childhood days when together with my sister, Lesley,, we used to sing it at sunday School“
Claire Jones chose: ‘Amazing Grace’ – “I cannot tell you or pin point the first time I heard or sang the hymn ‘Amazing Grace’. All I know is that the words John Newton chose to use have stayed with me and have impacted on my life more than any other hymn I know and I question how a collection of words put to music can bring me to my knees and fill my eyes with tears.
John Newton wrote amazing Grace in 1778. Previously to writing the hymn, John had always worked away at sea following his father at the age of 11. He was headstrong, disobedient and was frequently in trouble. He worked on slave ships and it was during a passage in the Atlantic sea crossing that his ship was wrecked during a violent storm that lasted for weeks. It was during this storm that he prayed and pleaded with God to save him from death and that he would turn away from his sin. Indeed he later became a minister and dedicated his whole life to serving God.
But what is Grace? What does it feel like?2 What does it look like? Grace is a gift from God. It is offered to every one of us freely from God, even a “wretch like me” as is described in the hymn. Grace is God’s love; Grace is God’s forgiveness because he loves us infinitely and he forgives all sinners. In Phillip Yancey’s book, “What’s so Amazing about Grace,” he describes it as; “Grace means that there is nothing we can do to make God love us more, and there is nothing we can do to make God love us less.”
I do not always fulfil the definition of what a Christian should be. I argue with people, I am not always honest, I find it difficult to forgive even though I want to be forgiven and I do not always love my neighbour as much as I love myself.
Nevertheless, Amazing Grace speaks to me and tells me that the “Lord has promised good to me,” he loves me no matter what. The hymn also tells me that God’s Grace will bring me home and keep me safe. Throughout life we all face difficult times, sad times, challenging times and times where we really can’t see any light at all. I have often turned the pages of a hymn book so I can read the words that John Newton wrote because it fills me with warmth, optimism and love.
Amazing Grace gives us hope, it is emotionally charged with words of love and redemption and it reinforces God’s message that no matter how many times we may stumble and fall, God’s Grace always lifts us back up. And that in itself is Amazing”.
Stephen Green chose: ‘As the Dear Pants for Water’ – “A Hymn based on Psalm 42: Book 1 written in 1981 by Martin. J. Nystrom a native of Seattle, Washington is my favourite hymn.
“As the deer pants” is upbeat, catchy and inspirational. It is one of the most popular modern praise and worship hymns ever written. As soon as I heard it, it left a mark on me. It left me wanting more, both verses and choruses. There is a saying in show business, ‘Always leave the audience wanting more’. The words are simple yet cut right to the chase. Jesus is always our friend and brother even though he is our king. You won’t find the words “apple of my eye” anywhere in The Bible but its modern context exemplifies that although he was born 2000 years ago, he is alive now and is always at our side.
“As the deer pants for the water” is a moving, positive and consuming hymn with both music and lyrics populated with energy. The chorus, like every successful chorus has a hook. It is memorable, direct and controlled and finishes with a swagger, a statement and a pledge. I hope you will enjoy singing it with me and that it is sung as Martin. J. Nystrom intended, with passion and a smile.
Tim Johnston chose: ‘Christ is Made the Sure Foundation’ – “Sometimes hymns evoke a special memory and for me this hymn became embedded in my memory because of a special event in 1978 – 37 years ago when I was 25. In 1978 the Liverpool Cathedral (the Anglican) was to be formally opened. You may know that the Cathedral was designed by Giles Gilbert Scott, who was selected at the age of 22 in 1901. Interrupted by two world wars, it was only completed in the mid 1970s; Giles Gilbert Scott had died in 1960 and the work was then overseen by Frederick Thomas who had worked for Scott for many years.
So the formal opening of the Cathedral was planned for 1978 and all the churches in the Diocese were asked to send choristers first to rehearse in a number of local churches – in my case at St Faith’s – and then come together on the appointed Saturday in June 1978 to a rehearsal and then the opening ceremony, led by the organist at that time, Noel Rawsthorne. At the time I served as a baritone in the choir of St. Paul’s in Litherland. When I arrived on the day I was one of 2,000 choristers. Can you imagine being in a choir of that size!!
The opening hymn for this opening service was ‘Christ is Made the Sure Foundation’. The conductor in rehearsals told us that because of the poor acoustic in the cathedral, we should closely watch his baton and when this touched the rail in front of him in the pulpit, we should sing the word “Christ”. The sound created by 2,000 choristers singing the word “Christ” in four parts at the same time was incredible and it is a moment I will never forget”.
Alan Brooks chose ‘Will you come and follow me’ – “Actually, I’m not too sure why I chose this hymn. I have so many favourites. This is but one of the many hymns written by John Bell and reflects the strong emphasis on social justice that one associates with the Iona Community of which John is a leading member.
Some might criticise John’s style for being rather repetitive, and so it is; indeed every verse contains, ‘ … if I but call your name’ – and ‘… never be the same’. If ‘History repeats itself because no one listens’ I often find the Lord has to repeat his words to me – perhaps for the same reason! Just as he called his disciples by name to follow him so he calls us by name. He knows us and loves us and so calls each one of us by name to love, serve and follow him. Note, we are to follow him, not dash ahead. He goes ahead of us and simply asks us to do the things he is doing and to do it with him. There is one phrase that I find particularly challenging, ‘Will you lick the leper clean’ .. oh no! Yet Jesus touched lepers … and the ‘unclean’. He touches you .. and me! To follow Jesus in touching and serving others can be a great challenge. I like a challenge, I think most of us do.
Perhaps that is why I chose this as my favourite hymn”!
Josie Kilshaw chose ‘O Lord my God’ – “Throughout the hymn we are reminded of God’s wonderful creation, for which, we honour and glorify him. The words are all that we can relate to, and depending on our individual experiences, do fill us with wonder, amazement, well-being and peace. God’s sacrifice of Jesus Christ, his greatest gift on our behalf for the redemption of sinners, surely is worthy of eager praise, worship and thanksgiving. Finally, it allows us to hope, that all goodness will come our way, filling our hearts with heavenly joy”.
Sam Rooney chose ‘In Christ Alone’ (Keith Getty & Stuart Townend) – “For me, singing is the most wonderful way to praise and worship the Lord. The wording of many hymns and songs has the ability to fill me with utter joy or reduce me to tears. When I was asked to choose a hymn I was thrilled, and many favourites came to mind. However, it was a hymn that was new to me which had made such an impression that I simply had to choose it. I first heard the hymn at Janet’s Licensing service here at St Nicholas where the power and passion of its wording hit me to the very core and evoked such emotion. These powerful and passionate words so strongly tell of Christ’s life, death and resurrection. They perfectly express just what was sacrificed for my salvation and how I feel about Christ as my Lord and my Saviour. In Christ Alone…I Stand”.
Shirley Fairclough chose ‘Blessed Assurance’ – “Like the other people who have chosen a hymn…I have many favourites…but when Jennifer contacted me I had no hesitation, immediately saying ‘Blessed Assurance’. This hymn was one of my mother’s favourites too. When I was a small child she used to potter about the house singing to us as she went about doing the housework, and over the years I grew to love it as well. When I was 12 years old I joined the church choir, my mum used to sit on my right side and sang Soprano the same as me…My sister sat behind us on my left side…She sang Alto…Whenever we sing Blessed Assurance now…I hear their voices in my ears raised in joyful praise to God. During our lives many things influence us….I would say that my mum was the greatest influence in mine…She was a very loving caring…and joyful Christian lady…She set me firmly on my Christian journey…and I would like to think that despite stumbles along the way…I am still Praising my Saviour all the day long, Watching and waiting..looking above, Filled with his goodness……and certainly…Lost in His overwhelming Love”
Gladys Trevelyan chose ‘Be still, for the Presence of the Lord’ – “We all lead such busy lives, rushing from one task to another during each day that we forget to think about our world and what’s going on in it. The words are focussing on a moment of peace. They invite you to take time and to be still for the presence of the Lord and look around at our world”.
Peter Batey chose ‘Great is thy faithfulness’ – “Unlike some of those who have been asked to pick a hymn, I found my choice was clear-cut. ‘Great is thy faithfulness’ is, and has been for more than 30 years, by far my favourite hymn. But until I chose it, I knew very little about it. I was very surprised to find that it is an American hymn, written in 1923 by two people, in two stages. Thomas Chisholm, a poet, wrote the words and William Runyan later added the tune. And how well tune and words fit together: a remarkable achievement!
Why do I like it? This is a powerful, rousing hymn that is sure to stir both those who sing it and those who hear it. It is the sort of hymn that is sung at the end of a service to send us away on a high. It works best when there is a large congregation who like to sing: an ideal choice, for example, as the closing hymn for an Archdeacon’s Visitation. As we come to the end of this Songs of Praise service, I do hope that you will all join me in singing this hymn with the gusto it most certainly demands and deserves”.