By Rev. Duane Steele
June 28, 2016

Duane sits at the piano in the sanctuary.

  Do you have a favorite hymn? I have so many "fave" hymns that it would be very difficult to single out just one. Hymns are essential nutrients for my very being! Some strengthen or inspire. Some are played or hummed just so I can experience a shot of happiness, and/or some renewing energy. I believe that music's like a photo album of the soul, activated when we sing, hear, or play tunes we treasure most.
  My favorite spot in St. Paul Church's sanctuary is my reserved seat at the beautiful grand piano whenever I'm called upon to play for Sunday worship. I play a certain hymn, and in spirit I'm anywhere I choose to be, and the voices of St. Paul's people blend with those of every time and place. I can momentarily revisit the people of the little town of Hillsville, VA where the piano was always barely in tune, and most of my parishioners praise The Lord with that certain mountain twang others can imitate, but never quite duplicate. Then I return to the present, and rejoin you as the words and music flow on in that endless harmony called life. I realize, as I sing or play the familiar refrains that hymn-singing is probably the only musical tradition still in existence where the assembly is invited ... No, encouraged to sing along. I don't always play hymns exactly as they're written because I believe that hymnal versions of harmonies are often just suggestions upon which to build, and to create an atmosphere where we can sing, and sometimes change keys, and just enjoy the hymn for the hymn's sake!
  I'm aware of a growing need to preserve, and cling tightly to my "fave" tunes, especially the hymnody that is at the heart of our Christian life and heritage. Hymns are, after all, just about the only music we can all still sing with all of our voices blending as one voice praising God!
  I wonder, as I prepare to play the hymns I have chosen for these summer Sundays, what's on your mind as you turn to the gathering hymn, or the hymn of the day. Every hymn, even the many I don't care much about, has a message to share from the authors of words and melody that's meant to touch even those who "can't carry a tune in a bucket." When I hear, sing or play "Lift High The Cross," I'm a little sad and nostalgic because the very first time I heard it was on a September day at a convocation introducing LUTHERAN BOOK OF WORSHIP. It was just two months after I arrived to take up my position as Pastor of Gladesboro Church in Hillsville, VA. I sing or play the hymn, and smell again the ink that had barely dried on the pages of those new green books I wish we were still using today. But "Lift High The Cross," like all of my many other favorite hymns, possesses the power to pull me back to the past when I sang it with others from my congregation, and propel me forward to the present, where I am part of you as we sing it. Our voices mingle with voices everywhere singing in harmony, or slightly off key. As the hymn invites us to "lift high the cross," we mightily proclaim the love of Jesus Christ!
  Whenever I become really depressed, and no other music will raise me from a despairing moment, I reach into my heart, or into my vast music library to find some hymns to sing or hear or play on the keyboard. Gradually, the text and harmonies wash over my soul, and "peace, like a river attendeth my way" once more.
  Hymns are more than just pages randomly selected for worship once a week. They're textual and melodic moments when we raise our voices as one voice, and our song, no matter how well or how badly we sing, draws us all together in the presence of God. When we sing, let's just be carried on the melody, and allow ourselves that moment of renewal a favorite hymn provides.