Taylor Davis asked for our requests for favorite old hymns. The plan was to have a Favorite Old Hymn Sunday, but there have been so many requests that it will take two Sundays (August 16 and 23) to sing most of our favorites. As I think about all the beautiful hymns that are special to me, I’m lost in rich memories.
Three girlfriends and I joined the church choir when I was eleven years old. We thought the seventy-year-old alto needed our help — especially during the Sunday evening “favorite hymn service.” Ferris Heights Methodist in Waxahachie was the small church with the “little choir that could.” It included a family that had been trained to read shaped notes at the Stamps Quartet Singing School, and they had confidence and volume that set the pace for the rest of us.
On Sunday evenings in August all of the windows were open and fans were provided in every pew. Yellow jackets were usually ignored, as was my cat that loved to stroll the center isle and perch on the altar. My father (the preacher) would ask for hymn requests, and folks would shout the page number for their favorites. I can still sing all of the stanzas to every song: Blessed Assurance, Standing on the Promises, He Keeps Me Singing, He Leadeth Me, Leaning on the Everlasting Arms, Tis So Sweet to Trust in Jesus, Love Lifted Me, Have Thine Own Way, Lord. Those hymns shaped my theology and my spiritual character.
When we had sung for exactly thirty-five minutes, my father would say, “Last hymn request,” and he would turn to the choir and smile. Everyone knew someone in the bass section would shout, “Number 271. Awakening Chorus!” The organist always set an energetic, joyful tempo that challenged the attention span of the eleven-year-old altos. A strong four-part harmony was necessary because each section had a chance to “show off,” and there was always a serious case of giggles in the alto section if I missed a note. At the climax of a series of echoed “Rejoice!” all eyes were on Sissy Curry. She was the only soprano in the church who could hit the high G for the final “Rejoice!” and she delivered with strength, then turned to the choir with a smile and a nod, cueing the enthusiastic response: Jehovah reigns! Some hymns are just fun to sing.
Awakening Chorus didn’t make the cut for the new Methodist Hymnal, and I was disappointed. Perhaps it was because there is only one Sissy Curry. It won’t be a good choice for our Favorite Hymn Sundays because it has been forgotten, but recalling makes me smile.
It was hard to pick just one, but ultimately I chose Open My Eyes. The lyrics define my relationship with God, and it has a lovely alto harmony. I invite you to join me as together we get lost in the rich memories these beloved hymns invoke!