In July 2012, the congregation of Central United Methodist Church in Fairmont, WV voted for their favorite hymns.  After counting the ballots, the “Top 10 Hymns” with the most votes were selected for a special hymn sing.  As each hymn was introduced, a brief history of the hymn and the composer was read.  As you can see, there is often more than meets the eye.  There are some interesting bits of wisdom and surprising stories about some of the composers.  I hope these stories give you a better insight into some of our long-time favorite hymns.   (Note:  There were several ties – three for 6th place and two for 5th place, so the countdown begins with 7th place.  There are still 10 hymns.)  


#7 –   HOW GREAT THOU ART   (Received 6 votes)  The original text for the next hymn was written by a Swedish pastor, Carl Boberg, in 1886.  While visiting a new country, Boberg was caught in a sudden thunderstorm.  The awesome and violent lightning and thunder quickly ended, leaving clear, brilliant sunshine and the calm sweet singing of the birds in the trees.  Falling on his knees in awe and adoration of Almighty God, the pastor wrote 9 stanzas of praise.  Swedish congregations began to sing his lines to one of their old folk tunes.  The text was later translated into German and Russian, and ultimately, into English by the Rev. Stuart K. Hine and his wife, English missionaries to the people of the Ukraine.  It especially became an international favorite after the Billy Graham evangelistic team used it in their crusades during the 1940s and early 1950s.  Please join in singing How Great Thou Art, found on page ______  in the hymnal. 


#6 -  ( 3 Hymns Tied for 6th place with 7 votes each)

          PASS IT ON:          Kurt Kaiser was born in 1934 in Chicago, Illinois.  He attended the American Conservatory of Music and Northwestern University School of Music, earning both Bachelor and Masters Degrees in Music. From 1965 – 1970, Kaiser served as director of the Baylor Religious Hour Choir.  At the same time, Kaiser and his friend Ralph Carmichael began writing Christian rock musicals geared to reach out to the youth of the time. _"That was a period of time where the kids felt disenfranchised," Carmichael explained. "They were hearing a new genre of music on the radio that was so different from what they heard in church, so they just rolled their eyes at it. So Kurt and I began experimenting. Soon it began to catch on with youth ministers across the nation."  Their first youth-oriented product was the musical "Tell it Like it Is," which became a nationwide hit and ushered in the age of the youth musical._Kaiser and Carmichael were amazed as the book sold out its first run of 2,500 copies. Carmichael then ordered a second run of 100,000 copies, which filled an entire warehouse as well as part of the house of his boss, only to see that run sell out. In total, they sold about 500,000 copies of the musical and saw people around the globe singing one of the musical’s most popular songs, "Pass it On," which remains his signature song. "It was the beginning of youth finding a place in church again," Carmichael said.  Please join in singing “Pass It On”, found on page _______  of the hymnal.

          SPIRIT SONG:    (Also tied for 6th place with 7 votes)   John Wimber, a singer, keyboard player, songwriter and arranger, was also a charismatic pastor and was later one of the founding leaders of the Vineyard Movement. Born in 1934 in a non-religious family in Kirksville, Mo., Wimber became a full-time musician in his early twenties after serving in the Army. As a rock musician, he was best known for his association with the Righteous Brothers as their keyboard player, producer and manager.  In 1963, when he converted to evangelical Christianity, Wimber was, in the words of Christianity Today, a “beer-guzzling, drug-abusing pop musician, who was converted at the age of 29 while chain-smoking his way through a Quaker-led Bible study.”  When said by many to be one of the greatest theologians of the 20th century, Wimber would often reply, “Really, I’m just a fat saxophone player trying to get to heaven.”  In 1982, Wimber’s church left Calvary Chapel and joined a small group of Vineyard churches, and soon pastors and leaders from the handful of Vineyard churches began looking to him for direction.  From these small groups of believers who met in homes to worship God came the Spirit-given songs that Wimber wrote.  Wimber's teachings have influenced many Christians, both in and out of the Vineyard.  Please join in singing “Spirit Song”, found on page ______  in the hymnal.

          TO GOD BE THE GLORY:    (Also tied for 6th Place with 7 votes)    Frances Jane Crosby, best known as Fanny Crosby, was born in 1820.  Blind since she was an infant, she later became an American Methodist rescue mission worker, poet, lyricist, and composer.  She is best known for writing of over 8,000 Protestant Christian hymns and gospel songs, making her one of the most prolific hymnists in history.  Because some publishers were hesitant to publish so many hymns by one person, she used nearly 200 pseudonyms during her career.  The music for the next hymn was written by William H. Doane and was included in his Sunday School Collection “Brightest and Best”, compiled in 1875.  Fanny Crosby wrote the words, emphasizing her belief that to give glory to God should be the greatest desire of every Christian.  In 1952, the hymn gained international popularity with the Billy Graham Crusade Team. Crosby was inducted into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame in 1975.  Please join in singing “To God Be The Glory”, found on page ____ in the hymnal.   


#5 –   (Tied for 5th place with 8 votes each)

           BECAUSE HE LIVES:   Christ's resurrection is our guarantee of at least two basic truths. First, he has the power to give His life for us and to bring us ultimately to glory to reign with Him forever.  And second, His resurrection makes it possible for Him to live in our hearts and to be an integral part of our daily living.  Bill Gaither's music has enriched evangelical hymnody for several decades.  He recalls the circumstances that prompted him to write our first hymn.  "At the end of the '60s, our country was going through some great turmoil with the height of the drug culture, and the whole 'God is dead' theory was running wild. It was also the height of the Vietnam war.  During that time, our little son was born, and we thought, 'Brother, this is really a poor time to bring a child into the world.'  We had two girls, but Benjy was our first son.  When he was born, the lyrics to the second verse came to me - How sweet to hold a newborn baby, and feel the pride, and joy he gives, but greater still the calm assurance, this child can face uncertain days Because He Lives.  It gave us courage to say, 'Because Christ lives we can face tomorrow' and keep our heads high.  Please join in singing Because He Lives, found on page _______  in the hymnal.

          HYMN OF PROMISE:    (Also tied for 5th place with 8 votes)  Natalie Sleeth be­gan stu­dy­ing pi­ano at age four. She grad­u­at­ed from Well­es­ley Coll­ege, Massachusetts, in 1952, with a Bachelor of Arts in Mu­sic The­o­ry. She later re­ceived an hon­o­rary doc­tor­ate from West Vir­gin­ia Wes­ley­an Coll­ege in 1959. An or­gan­ist, she wrote over 180 high­ly suc­cess­ful se­lect­ions for church and school. She wrote this hymn in Feb­ru­a­ry 1985 as a chor­al an­them, & lat­er adapt­ed it as a hymn. She wrote that she was pon­der­ing the death of a friend (life and death, death and re­sur­rect­ion), pon­der­ing win­ter and spring (seem­ing op­po­sites), and a T. S. El­i­ot poem which had the phrase, ‘In our end is our be­gin­ning.’ These seem­ing­ly con­tra­dic­to­ry ‘pairs’ led to the the­sis of the song and the hope­ful mes­sage that out of one will come the other when­ev­er God choos­es to bring that about.  This hymn was dedicated to her husband Dr. Ronald Sleeth, who served as President of WV Wesleyan College in Buckhannon for one year after John D. Rockefeller was elected Governor of the state.  He was diagnosed with cancer very soon after the hymn’s composition and asked that the Hymn of Prom­ise be sung at his fun­er­al.  Please join in singing “Hymn of Promise”, found on page ______  in the hymnal.



#4 -  IN THE GARDEN:   (Received 11 votes)  C. Austin Miles was a pharmacist who began writing gospel songs and eventually became an editor of hymnals and songbooks as well as a popular music director at camp meeting, conventions, and churches.  His hobby was photography and he found his darkroom perfect for developing, not just his photographs, but his devotional life.  In its privacy and strange blue glow, Miles could read the Bible in total privacy.

          One day in March 1912, while waiting for some film to develop, he opened the Bible to his favorite chapter, John 20, the story of the first Easter.  Miles later said: "As I read it that day, I seemed to be part of the scene… My hands were resting on the Bible while I stared at the light blue wall.  As the light faded, I seemed to be standing at the entrance of a garden, looking down a gently winding path, shaded by olive branches.  A woman in white, with head bowed, hands clasping her throat as if to choke back her sobs, walks slowly into the shadows.  It was Mary. As she came to the tomb, upon which she placed her hand, she bent over to look in and hurried away.  John, in flowing robe, appeared, looking at the tomb; then came Peter, who entered the tomb, followed slowly by John. As they departed, Mary reappeared, leaning her head upon her arm at the tomb.  She wept.  Turning herself, she saw Jesus standing; so did I.  I knew it was He.  She knelt before Him, with arms outstretched and looking into His face, cried, 'Rabboni!'  I awakened in full light, gripping my Bible, with muscles tense and nerves vibrating.  Under the inspiration of this vision, I wrote as quickly as the words could be formed, the poem exactly as it has since appeared.  That same evening, I wrote the music." 

Let your mind join Mary in the garden when Christ first appeared to her following his resurrection.  Please join in singing In the Garden, found on page _______  in the hymnal.  



#3 – AMAZING GRACE:   (Received 12 votes)  John Newton's earliest memories were of his Godly mother who, despite fragile health, devoted herself to nurturing his soul.  At her knee, he memorized Bible passages and hymns.  Though she died when he was about 7, he later recalled her tearful prayers for him

          After leaving boarding school at age 11, he began life as a rough seaman, eventually engaging in the despicable practice of capturing natives from West Africa to be sold as slaves to markets around the world.  But one day the grace of God put fear into the heart of this wicked slave trader through a fierce storm.  Greatly alarmed and fearful of a shipwreck, Newton began to read The Imitation of Christ by Thomas Kempis.  God used this book to lead him to a genuine conversion and a dramatic change in his way of life. 

          Feeling a definite call to study for the ministry, Newton was encouraged and greatly influenced by John and Charles Wesley and George Whitefield.  At the age of 39, John Newton became an ordained minister of the Anglican Church in the little village of Olney, near Cambridge, England.  To add further impact to his powerful preaching, Newton introduced simple heartfelt hymns rather than the usual psalms in his services.  When enough hymns could not be found, Newton began to write his own, often assisted by his close friend, William Cowper.  Until the time of his death at age 82, John Newton never ceased to marvel at the grace of God that transformed him so completely.  Shortly before his death he is quoted as proclaiming with a loud voice during a message, "My memory is nearly gone, but I remember two things: That I am a great sinner and that Christ is a great Savior!"  The original title of the next hymn was Faith's Review and Expectations.  This is a nearly forgotten verse :  The earth shall soon dissolve like snow, the sun forbear to shine; But God, Who called me here below, shall be forever mine.  Please join in singing Amazing Grace, found on page ______ in the hymnal.


#2 –   LORD OF THE DANCE:    (Received 13 votes)  Sydney Bertram Carter was born in 1915 in London, England.  This hymn follows the idea of a traditional English carol “Tomorrow Shall Be My Dancing Day” which tells the gospel story of Jesus of Nazareth and originates the device of portraying Jesus' life and mission as a dance.  In writing the lyrics to this song in 1963, Sydney Carter was inspired partly by Jesus, but was also partly intending simply to give tribute to Shaker music.  Carter said, "I see Christ as the incarnation of the piper who is calling us. He dances that shape and pattern which is at the heart of our reality. By Christ I mean not only Jesus; in other times and places, other planets, there may be other Lords. But Jesus is the one I know of first and best. I sing of the dancing pattern in the life and words of Jesus. Whether Jesus ever leaped in Galilee to the rhythm of a pipe or drum I do not know. We are told that David danced (and as an act of worship too), so it is not impossible.”

Surprisingly, Carter once stated, "I did not think the churches would like (this song) at all. I thought many people would find it pretty far flown, probably heretical and anyway dubiously Christian. But in fact people did sing it and, unknown to me, it touched a chord ... Anyway, it's the sort of Christianity I believe in."   Please join in singing “Lord of the Dance”, found on page _______  in the hymnal.


#1 – HERE I AM, LORD:  (Received 24 votes)  Daniel Schutte was born in Wisconsin in 1947.  After graduating from High School, he became one of the founding members of the St. Louis Jesuits who popularized a contemporary style of church music set to sacred texts sung in English as a result of the liturgical reforms initiated by the Vatican.  His compositions are primarily written for liturgical use, particularly in Catholic worship but, over time, have found their way into Protestant worship.  Based on 1 Samuel 3, the scripture recalls when Samuel was a boy serving the Lord under the direction of Eli.  One night, Eli had gone to bed and the Lord called out, “Samuel, Samuel.”  Samuel thought it was Eli calling to him.  After going to Eli three times, Eli realized it was the Lord who had spoken to Samuel.  Then Eli gave Samuel the directions we all should listen to:  “If the Lord calls your name again, say “Yes, Lord, I am listening”.  

A poll conducted by the National Association of Pastoral Musicians found among members that Schutte's hymn came in second among "songs that make a difference".  In 2004, a similar survey conducted by The Tablet, an international Catholic magazine, reported our church’s favorite hymn as their readers’ favorite also.  Please join in singing “Here I Am, Lord”, found on page _______ in the hymnal.