Counterpoint: Receiving Change with Grace and Gratitude

I only truly disagree with Jonathan on one point from his recent post about the new hymnal, and it’s probably not the part you would expect.

In his post, Jonathan notes something that different churches do: “Other churches have gospel choirs or hand bells or rock bands.” The implication is that our church does not have handbells, which is where I disagree. As a member of the Bells at Temple Square, I can confirm that we do have at least one official bell choir run by the Church. In addition, I have performed with handbell choirs in sacrament meetings around northern Utah and have talked to people who have done similar activities in Idaho. So, while it is uncommon in Latter-day Saint worship services, handbells are not entirely absent from our tradition.

The Bells at Temple Square. (I’m the one ringing the big aluminum bell near the center of the picture.)

Persnicketiness about hobbies aside, Jonathan is right about the hymnbook—it will invariably have disappointments to everyone in the Church. By sheer volume constraints alone, there will be a lot lost. The new hymnbook is announced to have somewhere around 500 songs in it to cover the functions of both our current hymnal and our children’s songbook. Currently, in the English language versions there are 341 hymns and 285 children’s songs, for a total of 626 songs. Thus, even if there were no new songs being added, we would lose over 100 songs. But we know that we will be adding new songs from the non-English hymnals and songbooks published by the Church, from other Christian traditions, and from the 17,000 songs that were submitted for consideration. So, yes, each of us will likely have some of our favorite hymns lost and replaced with hymns that we (as individuals) are not as keen on. And, as the old saying goes, “blessed are they who expect nothing, for they shall not be disappointed.”

That being said, I still believe that there will be reasons to embrace and love the new hymnal. While it is reasonable to mentally steel ourselves for disappointments as a way to practice not hating the hymnbook, we need to also practice celebrating and expressing gratitude for the aspects that we do like. Thomas S. Monson explained the effect of this type of gratitude:

  • “Regardless of our circumstances, each of us has much for which to be grateful if we will but pause and contemplate our blessings.”[1]
  • “My brothers and sisters, to express gratitude is gracious and honorable, to enact gratitude is generous and noble, but to live with gratitude ever in our hearts is to touch heaven.”[2]
  • “We can lift ourselves and others as well when we refuse to remain in the realm of negative thought and cultivate within our hearts an attitude of gratitude.”[3]

While naive optimism and ignoring problems like the proverbial ostrich can be unhealthy, looking for things to be grateful for and embracing that gratitude about what is being included that you do like will generally result in greater happiness than finding and fixating on everything that does not meet your expectations. Thus, for practicing not hating the new hymnbook, I recommend looking for aspects of the hymnbook that you do love (as it becomes available).

One area that I have heard repeated concerns about the introduction of new hymns is that members will not want to learn them, especially since we do not have time set aside for learning new hymns at church. (REC911’s comment on Jonathan’s post is only one occasion out of many that I’ve heard that concern voiced.) But here’s the thing – all hymns were introduced somewhere along the way before they were embraced. We’re not limited to singing Gregorian chants or the hymns of early Christians like Ephrem the Syrian that have been passed down from antiquity. On a less hyperbolic level, there are several new hymns introduced in the 1985 hymnbook that are beloved parts of our musical repertoire today. Consider the following handful of examples that were included in the 1985 English hymnal for the first time:

  • “Press Forward, Saints”
  • “How Great Thou Art”
  • “Our Savior’s Love”
  • “Where Can I Turn for Peace?”
  • “I Believe in Christ”
  • “My Redeemer Lives”
  • “Hark, All Ye Nations!”
  • “I Am a Child of God”

These examples are well known and frequently sung in the Church today. Are there some of the hymns in the hymnbook today that haven’t become known after being introduced in the 1985 hymnbook? Yes—the hymns written by Paul L. Anderson, for example, are fantastic hymns that remain relatively unknown. But my point here is that hymns can be learned and become part of our congregational and personal repertoires even if they are new to us.

That being said, there will need to be an effort that goes into introducing these new hymns. And I admit, as a child of the 1990s, I may be underestimating the amount of effort that takes when a new hymnal is introduced. But there are a couple things that I have seen work in wards to introduce unfamiliar hymns that could help with the process:

  • Using the ward choir as a place to learn new hymns. This has two effects – it creates a core group of ward members who are now familiar with the song that is being introduced. It also introduces the broader congregation to the hymn when sung in sacrament meeting. I’ve seen some wards sing hymns directly out of the hymnal while doing this—and it works great. I’ve also seen wards using arrangements that rely very much on the hymnbook (in the style of a Hymnplicity arrangement) have a similar effect.
  • Introduce hymns gradually into congregational worship. I have seen success with this when the person selecting the hymns uses mostly familiar, beloved hymns and a smaller amount of unfamiliar hymns (one at most per sacrament meeting). It works even better when a new hymn is introduced and then is repeated every 3-6 months afterwards until the congregation gets used to it.
    • In my last ward, I was chorister for three years and managed to introduce a handful of hymns that the ward became comfortable with through using this approach (comfort level gauged by anecdotal observance of volume levels).
    • One statistician analyzed the selections of the hymns we sang and compared it to more general trends. They found that the ward was “in 70th percentile for # of unique hymns per year: you averaged 110 and the overall average is around 105. You’re also in the 92nd percentile for how often you sing less common hymns, so whatever system you’re using is indeed working.” They went on to add that there were several examples that “you sang multiple times each” that are usually “once-a-generation or rarer.”[4] So, it was a successful approach.
  • Use the Church’s Music Resources to Learn the Hymns at Home. The Church has indicated it is recording the new hymns and songs and will eventually share these recordings along with the hymnal. Thus, even if you don’t have access to a piano at home, you still have the opportunity to do your own hymn learning time outside of official church meetings.

Altogether, there are a variety of things we can do to embrace the new hymnbook and accept it with grace. And remember, this isn’t the first time we have updated the hymnbook. Officially, this is the sixth or seventh iteration of official Latter-day Saint hymnbooks (depending on how you track things). Each time the hymnbook has been updated, there have been lessons learned about what works and what does not. The fact that we have around 190 years of experience with publishing hymnbooks as a Church does give me some confidence that those in charge of the process know what they are doing, all the more due to the level of input they sought out from the general membership of the Church. And as Jonathan Green wrote about the forthcoming hymnbook, “The goal is not to add one more thing that we can criticize and belittle, but to join our voices in worship.”

As a way of sharing a few resources I mentioned in the comments, here are previous updates: 

There is also an X account that I follow that is specifically aimed at keeping abreast of news and potential songs:

As far as places to get affordable music, some of the sites I’ve listed before for ward choirs will likely be helpful on that front:

I would like to put out some accessible arrangements (for ward choirs with piano and for organ), but we’ll see what I have time to do.

[1] Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Thomas S. Monson (Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 2020), 306.

[2] Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Thomas S. Monson (Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 2020), 309.

[3] Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Thomas S. Monson (Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 2020), 309.


9 comments for “Counterpoint: Receiving Change with Grace and Gratitude

  1. Thank you. I’m a ward organist, and this is my second time around for a new hymnal as an accompanist, and (if you count memories of Junior Sunday School singing) third time around on children’s Songbook. One of the things I’ve been doing now to prepare the congregation is to use the new songs (as I become aware of them) as part of prelude, so they become familiar. I also bring back old forgotten pieces from old books (adult and kids) when they fit the theme of Sunday School or Sacrament meeting. I get comments about the memories that they bring.

    On a personal basis, at the last two introductions (1985 and 1989) we sang at home through the book, one song a day, as part of family prayer time. They all became familiar to us that way. Some we liked more, some less. But it was fun.

  2. Coffinberry, I keep saying on these type of comments that they are almost helpful. To be truly helpful, they need more information.

    What songs seem likely to be included?

    How do you learn about songs likely to be included?

    How do you find organ friendly arrangements of these songs? (Preferably without spending a ton of money on separate music of somewhat difficult arrangements for the many different songs.)

    I am sure I’m not the only one who is frustrated that people with good music backgrounds generally seem somewhat unwilling to help those with less.

  3. PWS, I’ve been trying to post updates that include likely possibilities as I’ve been hearing about them:

    There is also an X account that I follow that is specifically aimed at keeping abreast of that type of information:

    As far as places to get affordable music, that might be tricky with Organ prelude music for a little while, but some of the sites I’ve listed before for ward choirs will likely be helpful on that front:

    I would like to put out some accessible arrangements (for ward choirs with piano and for organ), but we’ll see what I have time to do.

  4. PWS, I’m not sure I have much to offer, as my approaches are rather unsophisticated.

    I generally watch for hints at the church website, such as Sam described in a previous post here. I have over the years dug deep into the online resources to find thr winners and runners up in the annual hymn/song contest. I would imagine that what is there is a good hint toward what we might expect.

    I am a poor organist in the sense that I was originally a pianist in a branch, who never learned to use the pedals, but did self teach to do fingerings that work to sustain the notes when at organ. I don’t have an organ at home, so i pracice without the sustain pedal to make sure to get organ type phrasing ready.)

    I practice eveey week one evening at the church while my husband is working with the youth. I give special attention then to the registrations to figure out what I think sounds good for the various melodies and purposes (goal: not to sound like merry go round, or that we should shout ‘Play Ball’ at the end.

    I don’t look for organ arrangements, (agree on the expense, and theyre usually too hard for me) but what I do do is copy the songs I will use for my (20-25 minute) prelude that month, and put them in a binder in key order to facilitate a smooth transition between pieces. I pencil in a change or two sometimes, especially hymns to make them organ playable (like that part after “rise with living breath” in He Sent His Son).

  5. Good stuff Chad, thanks for sharing. Couple things came to mind as I read this…
    – Will the new Hymn book fit in the pew book holders we have now? Or are they not printing them? (I hope someone thought about this)
    – I have always wondered how the Bells got started on the Spoken Word. Do you know? (my guess was always someone high-ups wife)

    The first time I sang “I Believe in Christ” was at a missionary conference in 1982 or 83. It was odd sounding as a hymn for me, just different. About half way through singing it I decided to look at the bottom to see who wrote it. Light bulb moment. He was sitting on the stand. :) Ah that’s why we were singing it!

  6. I have no idea on whether the new hymnal will fit, especially since most hymnbooks in the Church today have around 200 hymns. They did indicate that they are creating printed editions, but I’m not sure on how they will work with the pew holders.

    Bells at Temple Square started after an anonymous donation was made to the Choir. Craig Jessop had been interested in handbells since he had heard some on his mission in England, so he jumped on the chance to start up a bell choir and called up Tom Waldron to get it going. The Tabernacle Choir had already been using some bells in pieces, with the choir members ringing and singing (like “I Saw Three Ships”), so it made sense to have the Bells take on that responsibility during the relevant pieces on Music and the Spoken Word. While the Bells were there, they decided to have the Bells do some solo numbers once in a while on Music and the Spoken Word (usually from stuff we were working on for our concerts).

  7. Chad – thanks for the reply. Sorry, my “will the books fit” was not meant for you to know and answer but just a general thought. The way I wrote my comment it looked like I was in fact asking you tho. oops.

    Very interesting about the bells! Thanks for scoop.

  8. Several of our local high schools have wonderful bell choirs. If there are any Stake Presidents reading this, it seems like it would be a wonderful thing to do at the Stake level.

Comments are closed.