Asbury Theological Seminary, 2020

Wilmore, Kentucky
2020

Project Director: Jonathan A. Powers

To strengthen practices of congregational song by introducing a globally diverse diet of hymns and other congregational songs and by strengthening understanding of the contexts in which songs were created.

Provide a brief summary of the purpose and goal of your grant.

This project engages the story and theology of the Wesleyan-holiness hymn tradition. To educate students at Asbury Theological Seminary on hymnody, and to encourage singing the faith in old and new ways, this project includes a study of the theology, history, and musicality of hymnody, paying attention to contextualized expressions of hymn music. Through collaborative education opportunities, hymns included within an already established hymn canon at Asbury Theological Seminary will be examined.

What are two questions that have generated reflection on worship and helped shape your project?

1. How does hymnody contribute to worship, theology, and formation in the global church?

2. What are important cultural/contextual issues to be aware of when considering global expressions of hymns?

What impact has your project had on the worship life and habits of the congregation? 

The end of year hymn-sing led by project participants showed that students had gained a great appreciation for the hymn tradition. Students introduced hymns by sharing biographical, theological, and formational insights, inviting the congregation to focus on particular aspects of God's character and work. Participants have expressed their own excitement to sing and lead hymns more often. Following the event, many non-participants asked if we could do hymn sings regularly at Asbury.

What have been your greatest challenges (or challenging opportunities)?

Of course, the pandemic made certain aspects of the project challenging. While we were able safely to meet in person for the entire project, meeting in a socially-distanced manner was not optimal. Additionally, even though we did have a couple of opportunities for students/participants to work on new, original expressions/arrangements of hymns, it was difficult to do collaborative creative work. We only scratched the surface in composing new expressions of hymns, but have plans to continue.

What would you like to share with other Project Directors?

The worship theologian Robert E. Webber often quipped that worship renewal comes through worship education. We were blessed to see renewal take place at Asbury Theological Seminary this semester through this project. As we taught on historical, theological, doxological, formational, and contextual aspects of the hymn tradition, greater value for hymns has been evident in the Asbury community. There has been a greater increase in hymns sung in chapels and special events, all with great fervor.