Awards show speeches aren’t usually masterpieces of rhetoric. Most, in fact, are simply lists of people whom the winner wants to thank. While their list may include celebrities or important people in the industry, it’s also likely to include their parents, their family and friends, and members of the team that helped create the film, song, album, etc., that is being honored. Occasionally, the winner will give thanks to an artist of an earlier generation who influenced their work. Unlike the credits at the end of a film, there are no contractual obligations to name certain people in an awards speech, but leaving out someone who should have been thanked can lead to major embarrassment.
What does this have to do with churches? In my experience, most churches do a great job of listing the writers and composers of worship songs when they are legally required to do so by copyright law. For songs in the public domain, however, it’s fairly common to omit any information about the source. I’ve even seen churches credit “© Public Domain”, as if we had Mr. Domain to thank for the song.
Why does this bother me? In part, I’m sure, it’s because I’ve written a few hymns and vainly hope that a church in the 23rd century will include my name in their holo-bulletin. Beyond this selfishness, I have a few reasons.
Naming others is essential to community. Our church services ought to be full of names. The Bible is, after all. Those long genealogies and the greetings at the ends of Paul’s letters aren’t just filler. Those names represent real people and real relationships, and they remind us that the people of God is made up of, well, people.
Crediting the sources gives us a sense of history, rich worship, and communion of the saints. When we sing “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,” we’re singing a song that, in one form or another, has been used in worship for over a thousand years. There’s something remarkable in the ability of a hymn written centuries ago to capture our emotions and shape our worship today.
Learning the origins of our favorite hymns can help us discover new music. It’s easy to lump all the songs in a hymnal together as a generic genre called “hymns,” but hymns come in a great variety of styles, both musically and lyrically.
- Love the simple majesty of the doxology “Praise God from whom all blessings flow”? The tune, called “Old Hundredth,” originated in the Genevan Psalter of the 1500s and likely written by Loys Bourgeois. Consider other hymns from the Genevan Psalter for your worship.
- Prefer the mystical harmony and imagery of “What Wondrous Love Is This?” You might want to explore other songs from Southern Harmony (edited by William Walker) and The Sacred Harp (ed. B.F. White and Elisha King), two influential song collections from early 19th century America.
You get the idea. There’s no legal requirement, of course, to include these credits. I hope, though, more churches will take the time to thank and recognize those who have enriched our worship.