We are what we sing
In her new book, Fifty Hymns for Fifty Years, Anne Sardeson explores the story of the URC, one hymn at a time. She talks to Laurence Wareing about her life-long love of singing, writing hymns for the moment, and the difficulty of selecting only one hymn by John Bell
Can you tell me about the task you’ve set yourself in writing Fifty Hymns for Fifty Years?
I am looking at the 50 years of the URC since 1972 in terms of the hymns we’ve been singing and the hymn books that have been coming out. For each of the years, I’m picking a hymn to focus on and talking around that. That might be because it’s from a hymnbook that was published that year. It might be because it seems to have some particular relevance to that year. I’m also adding a bit of historical context, some of the things that happened, at the beginning of each decade. Just a timeline, because I think that reminds us of where we were up to – but mainly I focus on the hymns.
The idea is to paint a picture of the last 50 years while telling the story of some of the hymns that we’ve been singing. There are also some standalone reflections. There’s one on language, for example, which I’m hoping will give people conversation starters for church meetings or Bible studies.
What’s the value, do you think, of looking at the URC’s history through its hymns?
The last 50 years have been an extraordinary time in the development of hymns. As we approached the 1970s, an explosion in hymn-writing started. And then in the 70s onwards we have just been surrounded by new hymns and new hymn-writers. I’m hoping that people will use this book to remind them what it was like before 1983 when we got Mission Praise, and what a difference that made to the kinds of hymns that a lot of churches were singing. Or when Songs of Fellowship came out or some of these hymnbooks that we just take for granted now.
Hymnody has developed hugely, with overhead projectors, digital projectors, copyright discussions – just such a massive change. So it feels like a really good way to tell a part of our history, and to maybe get conversations going in churches about how their hymn-singing has developed…
This is an extract from an article published in the September 2022 edition of Reform