I recently posted an article on Building Faith regarding the importance of teaching hymns and church music to children as a means to teach faith while creating memories that last a lifetime. (Building Faith is the new on-line community that I administer, which is probably why my postings on this site have diminished in recent months). For many of us, the Christmas season brings back lots of memories, and they are often triggered by music. Music brings us together and can create instant community; the recent flash mob in the mall in Philadelphia singing Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus has been a YouTube and Facebook phenomena.
This past Sunday my congregation held its annual Service of Lessons and Carols. We listened to the readings of the prophets as well as God’s announcements to Mary and Elizabeth. The church was filled as together we sung familiar hymns such as O Come, O Come, Emmanuel and Come Thou Long Expected Jesus. The choir was was comprised of voices of all ages, some perhaps singing songs just learned and others singing ones learned long ago. My parents attended with us – and yes, my Alzheimer-stricken mom was singing away. Sometimes with the words – but definitely la-la-ing in her falsetto right on key. Music is a memory that stays with us.
The previous week my parents were at our home for the usual Wednesday night dinner. I don’t remember what our conversation was about; probably joking and talking about when grandchildren would be home for the holidays. Suddenly my mom began singing, I Love to Tell the Story.
Now this hymn was not part of my childhood repertoire and I did not learn it until I was an adult involved in Christian education. It’s not even in Hymnal 1982. (However, it is in Lift Every Voice and Sing II: An African American Hymnal for the Episcopal Church.) The hymn had its first impact on me at a ground-breaking Episcopal Christian Ed conference in 2003 in which I participated as part of the design and implementation team – Will Our Faith Have Children? Christian Formation Generation to Generation – in Chicago. Bishop Michael Curry of the Diocese of North Carolina was keynoting, and sang the song with a passion. I can still picturing him bouncing around the stage, his Bible (or Prayer Book) held high in his hand. The importance of being able to share the Christian story – the story of Jesus and His love for us – is at the core of what it means to pass on faith to the next generation.
Jump ahead 10 years, and my mom’s singing this song at my dining room table. We never knew she knew it. She was adamant that she learned it in Sunday School . . . the tiny Baptist chapel she walked to in her neighborhood (that part was from my memory of her stories from my childhood). The chapel still stands today in our town, now someone’s home. Whether it be Away in a Manger or Hark the Herald Angels Sing, wouldn’t we rather have our children sing these songs to the next generation instead of Jingle Bells or Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer?