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Joyce Borger on Hymnals as Pastoral Care Resources

Joyce Borger, editor of the hymnal Lift Up Your Hearts and the quarterly magazine Reformed Worship, shares how to use a hymnal as a pastoral care resource.

Joyce Borger is editor of the newly published hymnal Lift Up Your Hearts (LUYH) and the quarterly magazine Reformed Worship. In this edited email conversation from November 2013, she shares how to use a hymnal as a pastoral care resource. All hymn numbers mentioned below come from LUYH.

What does it mean to use a hymnal as a pastoral care resource?      

Pastoral care at its narrowest definition is when a pastor meets with a congregant to offer spiritual comfort, encouragement or support. I define pastoral care more broadly. It can be administered by non-ordained staff, fellow believers or even through the arts—visual, movement and music—with or without words. Pastoral care encompasses all methods of caring for someone spiritually in a pastorally sensitive manner, whether in difficult situations or in helping congregants freely express joy.

When have you used a hymnal to minister pastorally?

Every time I plan and lead worship, I am doing a pastoral act by caring for those who come with a variety of emotions. A pastor recently shared how she buried a stillborn child on Saturday and baptized a set of twins on Sunday. The songs chosen and words spoken in that Sunday service needed to address both families’ pastoral needs and help her congregation express both grief and joy.

When has a hymn ministered to you?

It hasn’t been so much that someone read a particular hymn to me but that I’ve had access to the texts via a piece of paper, listening to the hymn sung or recalling something I’ve memorized through repeated use. In the year prior to 9-11, I was part of a student leadership team that led weekly Taizé services at our seminary. When the horrors of 9-11 happened, the Taizé song “Nada te turbe/ Nothing Can Trouble” kept playing in the background of my mind: “Nothing can trouble, nothing can frighten. Those who seek God shall never go wanting. God alone fills us” (444).

I also remember attending a worship service where a choir sang “My Life Flows on in Endless Song” (443). The text was in the bulletin, which I folded and stuck in my jacket pocket after worship. Days later I was keeping vigil at my mother’s side. She had cancer and had suffered a heart attack and stroke. I found that bulletin in my pocket and read: “No storm can shake my inmost calm while to that Rock I’m clinging. Since Christ is Lord of heaven and earth, how can I keep from singing?” It didn’t negate the storm, but it did remind me who I needed to cling to.

And when my heart is filled with joy, like when I watch my daughter playing in the leaves, I find myself humming “Great Is Thy Faithfulness” (348) or “You Are Good” (577).

Which Lift Up Your Hearts songs did you choose especially for their relevance to specific types of pastoral care?

Our editorial team often discussed the challenges that our own churches were facing. When our congregants open the hymnal we want them to hear God speaking to their needs and to speak to God about their needs. Some songs surfaced because they are “heart songs,” songs that a particular congregation repeatedly turns to in joy or sorrow and that many people have memorized.

Some things are too difficult or specific to sing about. In those cases we most often wrote prayers to correspond with sung refrains, like we did with “A Prayer for Discipleship in Home and Family” (308). We named so many living situations—including military bases, prisons, college housing and foster homes—to remind worship planners to include those items in their prayers. When I pointed out this prayer to a friend of mine who was a foster parent, it brought tears to her eyes to have that challenge acknowledged.

Do you have advice on when or how to use these prayers or songs in worship?

It’s important to frame them; for example, talk about aging along with singing “When Memory Fades” (449) and praying “Our Times Are in Your Hands” (448). You want to match contexts and songs. There are times to pray in song: “Pass Me Not, O Gentle Savior” (422). In the face of opposition or struggle, we may need to testify: “The Lord is My Light” (431) or “In God Alone” (433). When those in the valley of death cannot sing, we can sing on their behalf: “All Will Be Well” (414).

How else might worship planners use hymnals as pastoral resources?

We need to think beyond ourselves to the bigger events happening in our nation or world. After Typhoon Haiyan hit the Philippines in November 2013, I wondered how our congregations could enter into the survivors’ grief. What could be better than Psalm 147 set with the words and music of Filipino Norman Agatep, “Praise the Lord Who Heals” (442)? Their voices may be sore from grief, unable to sing, but we can sing on their behalf, holding on to the promise that “the Lord consoles the grieving and heals their bitter pain,” even when they might not feel that reality. This kind of song helps us authentically acknowledge that we are part of a larger Christian community. When one part of the body suffers, we all suffer, and when one rejoices, we share in that rejoicing.

It’s also important to think of worship as a rehearsal for funerals and other difficult times. We provide songs in multiple styles so that a praise band can pull from their worship repertoire for difficult times. That’s why we included the Easter song “I Will Rise” (468), which testifies to the promise of the resurrection, in our ‘In Death and Dying’ section.

Can a hymnal be a pastoral care resource in congregations that don’t often use hymnals?

Yes, it can, but you need to be more intentional. If you don’t have hymnals in the worship space, congregants won’t be able to flip through and find songs that minister to their particular need. Worship planners can ask, “If we were faced with X, what would we sing the next time we gather for worship?” Make sure you include songs of prayer, lament and comfort often enough in your worship repertoire so that they become congregational heart songs. Then, when you do a pastoral care visit during a time of sorrow or joy, you can use your Bible and hymnal to make connections between their current experience and the worship that happens on Sunday.

Register for Joyce Borger’s 2014 Calvin Symposium on Worship workshops: Nuts and Bolts of Lift Up Your Hearts (A4); Roundtable Discussion on Worship Planning (B2); and Lift Up Your Hearts: a Resource for Pastoral Care (C6). Explore the Lift Up Your Hearts hymnal website.