Sacred Song and the Public Square

Guest post by Brian Hehn
Direct of The Center for Congregational Song
The Hymn Society in the United States and Canada

The Hymn Society’s Annual Conference

Each July hymnologists, pastors, church musicians, composers, poets, and people who just love singing together come together at The Hymn Society’s Annual Conference. This year we will meet in St. Louis at Washington University to celebrate the intersection between the public square and the church’s song. How do those two intersect and interact? How can song function not only within the walls of the church but out in the world? And what better place to explore that topic than in St. Louis, which has been in many ways the focal point of protests and conflict over the last decade here in the United States?

Diverse Leadership

We believe that the holy act of singing together shapes faith, heals brokenness, transforms lives, and renews peace. Because of that, we are committed to including diversity in our leadership. Our conference leaders this year come from a wide variety of backgrounds, races, and genres/styles. The opening hymn festival will be led by one of the nation’s most talented young organists, Nathaniel Gumbs, who will lead us in some of the great hymns of the faith interweaving with the voice of the organ. The next day, we will be lead in both plenary and hymn festival by former member of Sweet Honey on the Rock and aural/oral song-leading expert Ysaye Barnwell. The following day will include a plenary by Cuban hymnologist Amos Lopez followed by an evening hymn festival of Roman Catholic hymnody at the beautiful Cathedral Basilica. Wednesday will feature David Bailey and Urban Doxology, whose ministry is based in Richmond, Virginia, and focused on bringing reconciliation to their community through worship and relationship-building. Finally, our Thursday closing festival will feature local St. Louis musician Paul Vasile in a celebration of song that moves us from our seats into the streets.

Nathaniel Gumbs
Nathaniel Gumbs
Ysaye Barnwell
Ysaye Barnwell
Paul Vasile
Paul Vasile

Community and Connections

One of the things that is unique and inspiring about gatherings of The Hymn Society is the sense of community that naturally occurs. Although the room is filled with some of the country’s most talented song leaders and knowledgeable scholars, they each bring with them a deep humility and a desire for learning. Another aspect of the conference which helps quickly build community is that we eat all of our meals together on campus. This year the food at Washington University should be a treat, and the dining hall is filled with natural light and beautiful architecture, so our meal times should be especially enjoyable. With the community that naturally occurs comes new connections and networks of folk who often become new support groups, collaborators, and mentors/mentees.

A local St. Louis Hymn Society member, Tom Baynham, leading us in morning worship in 2015.
A local St. Louis Hymn Society member, Tom Baynham, leading us in morning worship in 2015.

Invitation

I hope you’ll come join us at this year’s conference. For more information about the conference, please visit our website.
See you in St. Louis!

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