Something you’ll see in many older church buildings in the US is a hymn board hanging up on the wall near the front of the worship space. Before projector screens and the printing-out of worship service bulletins or pamphlets, this was how the songs of the day were announced. I’ve seen several churches that still use these, thankfully, though I am aware that many others sit unused due to the growing ubiquity of projector screens and contemporary music that isn’t put into hymn books anymore.

I could wax eloquent on the downside of reliance on projectors in liturgy, but that isn’t the goal of this blog post. Rather, this is part of our Visual Tour through my church’s little chapel. I kind of wanted a hymn board in our new space, and my wife (who has been the chief decorator of both chapel and home) agreed. It turns out that hymn boards cost over a thousand dollars in many cases because they’re handmade from quality wood by loving experts. We weren’t prepared for that sort of investment, so we got one that was much less expensive and can be ordered from a number of different church supply companies.

At the time of taking this photograph, the board is set up to be ready for Evening Prayer, where I often appoint two hymns (one in place of the Phos Hilaron, near the start of the service right before the Psalms, and one as an anthem amidst the sequence of prayers toward the end). On Sunday morning, this board is typically filled with 3 to 5 hymns plus a few pieces of service music (chants for the Kyrie or Ten Commandments, the Gloria in excelsis Deo, the Sanctus, and the Agnus Dei). I still announce the songs as we get to them, but it’s helpful for me and for the congregation to have the visual reminder up there on the wall so we don’t have to shuffle about with papers in order to check what we’re singing next.

When our church was started, and I became the music minister, we originally did both contemporary-style songs as well as hymns from the book. A few years later we got new hymnals which I really like, and the contemporary music phased out. Part of the reason for that was that I, as the priest, didn’t have as much time to devote to practicing and leading or teaching contemporary songs (which is considerably more work than hymns from a book because the congregation has no music to read to help them learn it). Another part of the reason was simple demographics – the folks in our church had little familiarity with contemporary style songs, and while some were open to learning them, others simply struggled and weren’t edified. It was the more natural solution to let them go and invest in the tradition of rich and beautiful hymnody we’ve inherited. I wouldn’t say I’m a hymn snob, but I do very much prefer such congregational songs over the great majority of pop-influenced contemporary music which is often much more difficult for a group of people to sing together without a lot of guidance.

And so, here we are, with this lovely hymn board in the front-left corner of the chapel. There’s something oddly satisfying about the hands-on work of changing the numbers on it in preparation for worship. It makes the whole thing feel less virtual, more embodied. And let’s face it, in this Internet Age, we need to reclaim all the embodied experiences that we can.

3 thoughts on “The Hymn Board

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