Posted by: rcottrill | December 9, 2009

The S.P.T.H.S.

It is unfortunate that so many churches have largely abandoned the old hymns. But there is an encouraging return to them in some quarters–churches that have realized the shallowness of some contemporary choruses, and are turning back to our great heritage once again.

That many love our traditional hymnody is evidenced by the responses I’ve received concerning this blog, responses from others who quote from the old songs and tell of their enjoyment of them. Similar encouragement has been passed on from those who read my weekly newspaper column on the subject. Perhaps there is still hope. Not that we should totally abandon the new in favour of the old. But our congregations today also need the depth of insight and doctrine found in some wonderful hymns.

For many years, I conducted Community Hymn Sings, and found that folk from many different churches were interested in attending these times of fellowship and singing. The great old hymns tended to unite us across many denominational lines. While there are hymns and gospel songs that reflect a particular doctrinal position, the vast majority present basic truths upon which most can agree. They provide a rich vocabulary of praise and testimony.

It also seemed to be an extra blessing for many if the singing at these community events was done in four-part harmony. Perhaps there were too few singers in their home church who were able to read music or sustain a part. But with a larger group, specifically assembled to sing, the possibility of harmonizing was increased. At one hymn sing at least I recall having folks divide roughly into four sections–soprano, alto, tenor and bass, so that the ease of singing a part was increased.

There are endless possibilities. Have you ever heard of the S.P.E.B.S.Q.S.A.? It stands for the Society for the Preservation and Encouragement of Barbershop Quartet Singing in America. In daydreams and flights of fancy I’ve thought, What if we had a S.P.T.H.S. a Society for the Promotion of Traditional Hymn Singing? If we could get “branches” going in several locations, then plan an annual Festival of Hymn Singing, and get the whole bunch together…

Well, it’s an idea!


  1. Our church has 3 separate services. Sat. PM is contemporary, Sun #1 is “blended” (i.e. both old hymns and contem. praise songs), and
    Sun. #2 is also contemp. The choir still sings for both Sun. services. There are many seniors in our first service, as they LOVE the old hymns. I know these hymns carry much of scripture in the words, unlike the repetitive phrases the modern hymn writers use. We are a Mennonite Brethren congregation.

    • Interesting. Your church sounds like a going concern. You don’t say whether you are entirely happy with the three-service arrangement or not. I have sometimes found that “blended” means we’ll throw a verse or two of a hymn in to satisfy the old folks. Looking on from the outside (always a dangerous thing!) it seems the contemporary music is over-represented in your services. If the first service on Sunday focused on traditional hymnody, that would be better in my view. But again, I’m commenting on the basis of little information.

  2. Of course, the Hymn Society in the United States and Canada already exists for this purpose and they have a national annual conference with lots of hymn singing. There are also a number of local chapters.

    • Yes, I know about them, and they perform a valuable service. As I envision it, my focus would be a bit narrower. It would deal mostly with our traditional hymns and gospel songs, not with the exploration of new music, and it would be committed to the fundamentals of the Protestant faith and be evangelical in tone. I’m sure there’s room for more than one such group. (Britain’s Festivals of Male Voice Praise are closer to what I have in mind.)

  3. Mr. Robert, actually in our Church’s youth service, we have tried to educate these teens to sing hymns and gospel songs by selecting one theme song for each month. We have been doing this for 15 months already.

    Next 5 months, in September, we are planning to hold a big event called “Hymn Appreciation Night”. It’s much like a concert with our youth choir singing some hymns, and we want it to be like praise&worship too, so that the youth attending won’t just watch the choir sing hymns (we aren’t entertaining them), but they will also be motivated to sing hymns along with us.

    What do you think about this? It’s been my vision for years.

    • Wonderful idea! I wish you well with it. And if you haven’t seen it as yet, check out my article 30 Ideas for Promoting Hymn Singing, in the Topics section of my blog. You may find a few ideas there you can incorporate. I’d appreciate you sending me an update from time to time. If this idea caught on in more churches… Wow!


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