A few more reasons why we should use hymnals…

A few more reasons why we should use hymnals… August 4, 2014
Ringing in 2nd Sunday of Advent with some Hyfrydol from Flickr via Wylio
© 2009 brownpau, Flickr | CC-BY | via Wylio


After reading my 15 reasons, many of you chimed in with your own.

Here’s what some of you had to say…

Hymns of Response

We should use hymnals because…

“…hymnals give a a sense of unity as a body. This goes beyond the corporate worship of the local church. When I am able to travel and visit different churches, the hymnal, even if it is not the same one I am accustomed to, gives me a sense of unity with this local congregation and reminds me that I am part of a larger body.” – Brian

“…we can sing every single song in them without ever having known them before. When all we have are words projected on a screen, we don’t know what notes we’re supposed to sing unless we’ve already heard the song multiple times before.” – Nathaniel

“…the level of musicianship in churches has taken a giant slide downwards.” – Celia

“…they are full of rich doctrine.” – Beth

“…it is a visible and physical reminder that Christianity is not something new on the block. There are songs in there that have taught and inspired believers for hundreds of years. So I feel not only the unity with believers around the world, but with believers throughout history.” – Brian

“…the music we use in corporate worship ought to reflect and reinforce the theology which we claim to believe.” – Rev. Dion

“…some of us can’t see screens off in the distance because of poor eyesight.” – Billie

“…hymns tie us to the saints of the ages. Our Christian experience is not rooted in the 20th or 21st century. We find kinship with saints who have sung these same words and melodies from the reformation to our day. With the unfolding of history, both advancing and unraveling at times, it is a comfort to sing to each other such great Scriptural truths and doctrine. That these truths rhyme and have meter only help to plant them deeply in my brain.” – Kim

“…children learn to sing hymns with help from their parents. This past Sunday I witnessed three different sets of families where one of the parents placed their hymnal low enough for the child next to them to sing and the parent’s finger was sliding along the text and music so the child could learn to use a hymnal. This parent/child worship teaching interaction cannot happen when only screens are used.” – Stan

“…bound, published books encourage the selection and inclusion of material that is intended intended to last and has been deemed by a group to be worthy of inclusion.” – Quiremaster

“…these items do a lot for us in ways of organization, uniformity and acting as passive curators of our liturgy and theology.” – Nic

“…they protect us from committing the sin of chronological snobbery (i.e. newer must be better). – Andrew

“…singing from hymnals joins us together in mysterious ways. We each hold the same hymnal. We each join voices around us. We listen to sounds that surround us. We breathe together, pause at the same time, become quiet, rejoice, smile, soar — all as one. Together we audibly focus on words that strike the chords of our faith. Togetherness. Oneness.” – Mary Jane

“…turning pages of a physical book helps kinetic learners far more than seeing words that will soon disappear on a screen.” – Elise

“…each generation includes what it values most in its traditions as publish new versions, giving us theological time capsules of congregational and denominational evolution on the nature of God, the persons of the Trinity, the presence of Christ in the world, grace, forgiveness, discipleship, and service.” – Rev. Ruth

“…when I sing from the hymnal, I’m not just singing with the people near me in “the big room” … I’m singing with a “congregation” stretching out over decades and centuries, backwards and forwards.” – John

“…they help us break away from the constant barrage of technological stimulation that we encounter throughout our week. Corporate worship is meant to be a unique experience as compared to watching TV, going to a movie, or a rock concert. But when our corporate worship experience is filled with many of the same elements that we could get at a cinema or a concert it is hard to understand, appreciate, and experience the uniqueness of worshiping God corporately.” – Andrew


This is quite a list, isn’t it? I wish I’d seen some of these before I wrote my own. I think it’s safe to say that the case for hymnal use is a strong one, and I hope it’s a tradition that is carried on through a digital age.

Feel free to carry on the discussion in the comments.


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    • Sean

      It’s funny to see some of the same arguments for using hymnals are the same for using more modern worship with words on the screen. Personally I would argue for both.

      When I was a young kid growing up in church we used hymns and at that time it was very rare to find a church that did not use a hymnal. As a musician I found it easy to follow along with the hymnal parts. As a teen I sang in the choir and found that many in the tenor section would follow me when singing hymns (and other music) because I could read the tenor part and some of them really couldn’t read music. One thing that stood out though is that many people sang along with the hymns but there heads were buried in the hymnal even if they knew the song. And many of them had done these songs so many times that I think they were in a musical daze. No real emotion involved. They just kind of mindlessly sang the song and then sat down. Then my friend invited me to a FourSquare church.

      At that church everything was different which included more modern music which the older people in my original church would have left most of the older members in shock. I didn’t know most of the songs although, being a trained musician and having many years of singing parts, it was easy for me to improvise a harmony and fit right in. The nice part about that was that the more modern chord structure of the songs made it easier to improvise a harmony. Whether it was the different approach to delivering a message (More like a Bible study), the more modern music, or a combination of both I became more excited about God in this church. I came out of it knowing far more about Gods word.

      Skipping forward many years, I was invited by one of my old church leaders to help start a more modern service in the church I grew up in. I said yes right away because, as a teen growing up in this church, I felt like there was nothing for me there and I wanted that to be different for other teens growing up in the church. I played piano instead of their normal organ and we started off with hymns and a few more modern songs. This over a few years grew into a full praise band and one service with more modern music and one service with more traditional music.

      Skipping forward many more years, I now lead worship at a totally different church. This church is filled with many older people but other than that, it is the total opposite of what I grew up in. This church doesn’t do hymns at all unless they are modern arrangements. There are hymnals but they are never used except to collect dust. Instead, you see all these older people singing more modern and louder praise music and praising God at the same time. Some of the members though actually do love many of the older hymns, it’s just that this church had lost so many members because of leadership changes that they now use split tracks for worship since there are only one or two musicians left. One thing of note though, the pastor points out that it doesn’t really matter what songs you are singing as long as you are worshiping God. This has been the argument there for using modern worship songs. It works both ways though, whether you are singing hymns or praise tunes your focus should be on God.

      So now God is leading me to make a few changes. One is going to be a hymn Sunday every now and then where we do all hymns with just piano and voice. Yes, the hymns have value. The words are going to be up on the screen but the hymn numbers are also going to be there for those who want to use the hymnals.

      So in conclusion. Some people may prefer hymns, others may prefer more modern worship. This should not be divisive though. We should happily come together and worship together whether it be through hymns or more modern music. Both have value when we are using them to worship God.

      • Dale Paul

        What is wrong with having a “Blended” music service? It is not rocket science and it would meet the needs of all. Start the service with a lively contemporary chorus or two from the screen then change the tone of the service with a prayer or the offering. Then come back with a hymn but don’t put the words on the screen. Let the screen give only the title and page number and ask folks to reach for the hymnals and join in singing page number ???. Then, if you like use another “Toned down” contemporary chorus before the message…………I think every service should also have a “Special” and the music minister should utilize as much talent from the church as possible. We shouldn’t be so professional that we are embarrassed by letting some of the less trained sing or play.. We relate to those folks. And while we are on the subject, why do we close the service with a song and destroy the spirit of the message and service? Isn’t a prayer of dismissal more appropriate and let the congregation leave in a spirit of worship and prayer? ….Just sayin’

        • Jonathan

          It’s about meaning, not needs or taste. Nobody needs a hymnal or screen. Weve been fed a lie if we believe everyone ought to be able to have whatever they want all the time.

          If the final hymn is chosen well, it will illumine the preaching text. I actually think after the sermon is the best place for a hymn, because we need a chance to corporately respond to the congregation.

        • John jS

          That’s been done and scrapped in many churches. Trying to be all things to all people just makes everyone equally unhappy.

        • Sean

          I agree with John jS here and I have had this discussion with others music leaders as well. Blended worship can tend to leave all but a very small few unhappy.

    • I have played piano for an elderly congregation at a retirement home, and I think this is why they have a screen. It does help the people who are more blind and deaf, those with less tactile abilities for turning pages. However, after reading all these comments, I am glad I have never worshiped with a screen. As a musician, the hole idea horrifies me!

    • Saralee Cz

      I,too, am a Christian. I grew up in a traditional church that used hymnals, and still does to this day. I am also a musician who likes to read alternate parts during the hymns. When I go to my sister’s church, EVERYTHING is on the Power Point, and if there is a contemporary song I don’t know, I am lost!Our church does incorporate contemporary songs on the Power Point mixed into the service, but there is NOTHING like the classic hymns of old. Sweet, pure theology that can help you in times of prayer, sorrow, happiness, anxiousness..how many people think of the hymn “It is Well with my Soul” when a loved child dies and can sing with sincerity, “the trump shall resound and the Lord shall descend!! My fear is, that with the movement towards all contemporary music, that future generations will not know the comfort of these words. The hymns of Luther, Wesley, Newton…all theologically sound. The fear that these hymns will be lost forever. Press on Musician, press on to fight the good fight.

      • Sean

        ““the trump shall resound and the Lord shall descend!! My fear is, that with the movement towards all contemporary music, that future generations will not know the comfort of these words. ”

        It is a beautiful Hymn. The story behind it makes it even more moving. It’s funny though. Last month I found a great contemporary version of it which I’m going to incorporate into worship.

      • Louise

        I am chiming in here with you, Sean. I see our grandchildren and all their friends growing up never hearing the great, theologically sound, wonderfully worshipful hymns of our traditions. I’ve heard every argument there is to hear about how great digital worship is, but I’m not buying it. Our old hymns in our hymnals are so rich with wonderful worship, big praise hymns, plaintive prayer hymns, meaningful, useful meditative type hymns and we’re losing all that. In hymnals we can look at music lines to break into parts if we’re so inclined and as the Spirit leads. Cannot get that with looking at a screen. Our new church sings blended music, all on the screen, but it just isn’t the same. It’s almost as if they cannot go outside about 12 traditional hymns, repeated over and over, amidst all the contemporary music. It makes me so sad. We have a wonderful choir that sings only with CD accompaniment, almost never with live accompaniment, though we are blest with many talented musicians who accompany the hymns and, don’t get me wrong, that’s wonderful. I don’t feel looking at a screen with parts of modern pieces going by (if we’re lucky) is progress. I’m usually so taken with the beautiful backgrounds of the words I get lost on all these pieces I don’t know. How often it happens that someone is distracted and doesn’t move the slide at the computer, and a lot of us are left standing there because we don’t know the piece being sung. It feels like Worship, dumbed down. Certainly not our best offering to our marvelous God! I do find I can pick up tunes super easy because they’re rather mindless in many cases, same pattern repeated over and over and over. I’m a retired organist, played for over 60 years in many churches wherever I lived, and the most telling thing to me is when the older traditional hymns go up on the screen in our current church the singing volume, quality and fervor go up immeasurably and that just thrills my soul!!!! To me that speaks volumes to this subject.

    • Brian

      When did singing hymns become about learning music rather than worshiping God?

      • Jonathan

        They aren’t, although a good follow-up question would be, “When did worshiping God become about singing in church instead of a life response?”

        Obviously it’s assumed that a congregation is already about corporately worshiping through singing together. Using a hymnal gives these fantastic added benefits.

    • Debbie

      Thank you for this post. Unfortunately, the church I attend rejected hymnals years ago along with the hymns. How I miss them for all the reasons you stated! Although I like some contemporary songs, the theology, poetry, and the beauty of words are missing from them as well as the good solid music lines. So many churches are moving toward totally contemporary services and are missing the value, tradition, and the COMFORT of real church music. How I wish my music leaders could understand this!

    • Beverly Nicol

      I do agree with this. I think we should be singing songs from our own hymnals, not from an insert printed on a piece of paper, I love the songs from our own hymnals and wish we should go back to using them. Thank you.

  • Zack

    1) There is a lot more than hymns in hymnals. Recent denominational hymnals contain statements or documents of faith, Psalms, all sorts of prayers, lectionaries, liturgical orders, to name a few. Lots of folks purchase copies for their own use, at home and in the pews. Folks can use the books for personal devotion or meditation. Can’t do that with a screen.

    • Debbie

      Very good point!

  • Johnny

    I’d also add that a well-composed chorale gives everyone a part to sing in their comfortable range.

  • Joe M

    I really believe it’s a personal preference issue. I don’t believe someone can make a case for either. Jesus said in Mark 9 that Anyone not against us is for us. I think that arguing for hymnals or a projection onto a wall just causes discord among the members of the church as a whole. Jesus definitely doesn’t want that. Thanks for the interesting read though.

    • Jonathan

      I think God wants us to think deeply about what goes on in corporate worship. I’m not suggesting anyone who disagrees is inferior. I do think we far too often use the word “preference” to keep from having to actually think deeply about what our choices reflect about ourselves and our theology.

    • “I don’t believe someone can make a case for either.”

      Did you even read the last two posts? That is precisely what they just did.

      Also, it most certainly does not cause discord among the church. IF it is all about personal preference, then of course it will. At my parish, where I direct the music, we use the screens and the hymnals, and we don’t fight about it.

      • Joe M

        Sorry, I should have been more clear. I believe it’s a preference of singing hymns or today’s more modern praise and worship songs. We do a combination of both.

    • Sean

      I would agree with you. They both have their positive and negative aspects. As a musician I am used to reading notation and improvising so just the words on the screen don’t bother me plus I also am able to read notes and chords and often do.

  • Brian

    Hymnals contain hymns, psalms and poetry that has richness and depth that modern praise music can’t come close to. It’s like having some meat and vegetables rather than only whipped cream.

  • I can’t help but wonder if the vast majority of this list would be made obsolete if only worship leaders introduced traditional hymns, psalms, and music notation on the actual Powerpoint slides, and gone this route instead-of/in-addition-to the modern worship standards of today. There’s no rule saying that they cannot, and in fact, they would have a much greater list to choose from, now that certain sites like hymnary.org have unearthed some of the greatest forgotten hymns, even by modern day publishers.

    • Sean

      As a Worship Leader, I use both hymns and modern worship songs. As a musician I’ve been through this argument before about having notation, As an Audio/Video person I know that the problem with notation on the screen is that it tends to be too small to see at a distance plus many people do not actually know how to read music anyway. Now it is possible to do scrolling notation with video but this is very time consuming, not something most people know how to do, it can be hard to follow, and overall, if someone needed to have the notation, they might as well open the hymnal at that point.

  • I would say that it’s more important to teach and use hymns than prescribe the manner in which they are delivered. Using hymnals can be problematic for many churches for several reasons.

    Hymnals are expensive. Even at a bargain-basement $10 per copy, for a congregation of 100 or 150 that runs into some serious coin in a small church. And they need to be replaced periodically as they get torn, pages get ripped out or they simply get updated.

    Many modern churches do not have book holders in the seating, and use chairs, not pews, so there is the question of where the books go.

    Unless you are doing an all-hymn traditional service, you are going to have to use projection for your more modern songs. Having mixed media like that is confusing and breaks up the flow of the service. Instead of moving smoothly from song to song, you wind up stopping while people flip pages.

    The importance of musical notation is overstated here. I’ve seen statistics on music notation literacy being as low as 5% to a max of about 40% (and I think that is being really, really generous) Simply put, having the melody notation does not help most people know how to sing a song, and it confuses more than it helps. It’s difficult to project clearly, most presentation software does not support it.

    Better that the worship leader includes a rotation of hymns in the repertoire, and perhaps takes time to fulfill his or her pastoral role and teach…

    • Jonathan

      Modern technology is also expensive and must be replaced periodically. Not having spaces for hymnals simply reflects the priority of the congregation. Any church that wants to use them will figure out a place to put them.

      Songs that are not in the hymnal, which should probably not be the majority in most services, can be printed in the order of worship with at least the melody line, depending upon copyright.

      Also, as a former music educator, I can tell you that anyone, even small children, can benefit by learning to watch the melodic direction. And empowering those in your congregation who can read music will do nothing but improve congregational singing.

  • Steve Digby

    I can remember: When I was very young, I sat next to my mother in church. I became aware that she was not singing the melody. She pointed out the alto line to me. I learned to sing harmony!

  • G

    Comments are closed on the original post, but I’m taking the time to thank you for your list. I found it via a friend’s share on Facebook and was elated. As a 36yo, I’m completely uncool because I love hymns. Everything you listed has also crossed my mind at some point during the “twaddle” prevailing in our worship services. Especially since I feel my four children are missing out on experiencing what many generations up to this point in Western church history have always known. Thanks for shining a light on this issue!

    • Jonathan

      Thank you, and as someone who is close to your age bracket, I think if you look around, you’ll see plenty of like-minded folks our age. And, you’ll find those who would agree if someone had ever had the sense to teach them, instead of just assuming they needed Christianized pop music to stay in church. Also, if you look around, young people are leaving the church faster than ever before. Maybe that should be our clue that what we’re doing isn’t working.

      Anyway, thank you for your comment. I appreciate it very much.

  • Jeff Marold

    All the songs in my hymnal were written from the early to mid 1600’s to the early to mid 1900’s. I never could understand why these songs written in these 300-400 years are considered to be “more holy” or “more reverent” than all things written since. I am a worship leader who absolutely loves hymns (Blessed assurance, There is a green hill, Whiter than snow, and Be thou my vision being some of my favorites.) I cannot imagine our God wanting us to sing songs written of him long ago and not expressing in song how we feel now.

    • Jonathan

      They aren’t good because they’re old, they’re good because they’re good, and although I think our generation could take much from the wisdom of the previous ones instead of rolling around in our narcissistic ageism, nothing is preventing people from writing good hymns. The Townend/Getty collaboration has produces some solid ones, and a few of our greatest hymns have been written since the mid 20th century by the likes of Timothy Dudley-Smith and Fred Pratt Green. The problem is that we’re being very indiscriminate about what we use, and most of us are only using new songs, much of which is dross and won’t stand the test of time.

      Anyway, nobody is saying that we shouldn’t sing new songs. At least I’m not. If that’s what you’ve gotten from the conversation, frankly, you haven’t really paid attention to what’s being said.

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  • Bill

    I have visited churches which have no hymnals but instead project only the lyrics of the hymn onto a screen, without the music. I was lost, unless they happened to be singing one of the “old standards.” I am not a musician, but I am capable of some sight-reading of music and find it to be a real help, because I like to sing in church. Another argument for keeping hymnals: my congregation, which is affiliated with the United Church of Christ, uses the UCC “New Century Hymnal”, which not only gives you the words and the music, but also a short commentary on each hymn, such as interesting background information about the author…which I really like.

  • T. David Junes Jr.

    I was raised in the church and congregational singing using a hymnal was a normal part of worship. It grew up in the youth choir which of course transitioned into adult choir. I went through seminary and then served three churches who all used the hymnal in worship. My ministry positions precluded singing in the choir. Of late, the third church I served in the early worship service which serves as the contemporary service uses the screen. Some of the songs are new and some use the old traditional words set to updated music which are all accompanied with guitars and drums. The church has a traditional service at 11:00. The traditional time for worship! There is a place for both approaches. If you look in the scriptures you will find seven references to worship the Lord with a new song, and the bottom line of all this is our worship which is a matter of the Christians heart. And God our father who looks at the heart will see the attitude of the worshippers. So as the old saying says when we are making our choices about what songs to sing in worship don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater there’s room for both the old rugged Cross and We Believe by The Newsboys!

    • Sean

      I would agree with you. Even hymns have evolved over the ages and that evolution has been different among varying denominations. The focus should be on God no matter how we are worshiping him.

  • auggie

    I spent all of my teenage and college years sucked into the so-called praise and worship scene, instigated and encouraged by the Baby Boomers. There was no worship song I wasn’t familiar with nor any form of worship leading I didn’t do. In my 20s, I rejected it for liturgy and hymnals. This rejection came as a natural outflow from learning and embracing an altogether different theology of worship… and frankly, being tired of the desperate (and usually unsuccessful) attempts to look cool that plague the modern church in our entertainment-saturated age. There are many of us who have walked this route. No one can blame us of merely wanting to sentimentally stick with what we’re used to, or “not really understanding” contemporary worship.

    So often the language of “preference” is used with regard to the worship wars. Isn’t it obvious that this is actually the problem? A new form of worship, generally underpinned by charismatic and revivalistic theology, enters the scene and presents itself as a “preference,” and what’s more, also labels “traditional worship” as a “preference.” But worship is not about individuals and their preferences! This is first-world arrogance. People didn’t worship with liturgy all these years because they “preferred” to, or because it corresponded to their private tastes and what moved them emotionally. It was bigger than they were. It transcended their petty tastes and preferences. It wasn’t about THEM and their self-expression or whatever else mistakes itself for worship these days. It was about receiving and reflecting the Word of God for sinners in need of forgiveness. If they got emotional about it, fine. If they didn’t look as emotional as you think they ought to… none of your business. They were receiving exactly what they needed to in an environment that deliberately transcended their workday lives and private individuality.

    • Jonathan

      One of the best comments so far. Thank you.

    • Joe M

      I feel you’re very bitter about praise and worship songs. I like both but I believe it’s biblical to sing both. The bible talks about singing hymns, songs and spiritual songs. And you’re only using the past couple hundred years to prove your point. However, all one needs to do is read the Psalms and you see all three of these song types. I totally understand your point of trying to make a church look cool and just making a service to appeal to a persons ears and make them feel good about themselves. I don’t agree with that either. If you read the introductions to many of the Psalms you’ll also see that many different instrument types are used.

      • Jonathan

        Labeling someone as “bitter” seems to be an easy catch-all to shut down profitable discussion. I actually read Auggie’s comment to be a helpful, thoughtful critique of contemporary Christian worship. It’s not okay to keep pretending that all is well in the church with regard to “worship style” and “options.” Your suggestions about plurality of song types and instrumentation really don’t address the heart of Auggie’s comment at all.

        • Joe M

          And your reply doesn’t address the book of Psalms in regards to praise songs and hymns. Psalms is primarily praise songs and songs asking for strength. It tells how individuals feel about what is going on around them and to them. I didn’t read Augies comment. I’ll try to find it.

          • Jonathan

            Oh, I assumed you were speaking to Auggie because you replied to his comment. If you were speaking to me, the same thing goes.

            I’m sorry, but what you are asking seems unclear. Nobody ever said we weren’t to sing any of the types of songs Paul mentioned. That was pretty clear in the post, I think.

  • Pingback: Remembering Hymns and Their Place in the Church | Brian Olson – Christian Speaker, Bible Teacher and Minister of the Gospel of Jesus Christ()

  • John jS

    I think we must do both. I learned to read music by singing the bass or tenor lines and listening carefully to the organist to check my accuracy. I also think that we need to realize that our beloved traditions are meaningless to those new to the church or new to this earth. Contemporary music is more meaningful to them than our hymn-based traditions.

  • Dave

    This article, and the comments of many postings here, are a great example of why the Church is divided and struggling in our times. We have very much lost sight of what is important, and are dwelling on the form, rather than the substance.

    The current book of hymns replaced the prior book, which replaced the prior, etc. Many generations of music have evolved over the last 2000+ years. Each culture, generation, and even denomination has been richly blessed by employing music in worship. “Sing to the Lord a new song” suggests that there is something pleasing to God about worship where His people connect with the song, and sing with passion. Worship in truth and spirit through music is more than four part harmony, guitar riffs, and personal preference. It is certainly bigger than 200 year old, or 2 month old songs. While scripture is unchanging, culture, and what creates passionate worship does change. The generations need to both find music that creates a worship connection, and practice some grace. Unless we learn to respect and honor what brings passion to worship, we are destined to destroy our worship, and turn people away from their Creator.

    I for one am fed up with worship wars, and the highbrow attitude of musicians on both sides. Both claim some degree of higher ground, and in the process have created friction that the devil delights in. Hymn people delight in how they can read music and sing all the parts, forgetting that those that cannot read music are left behind, as well as those who cannot understand the meaning of the older prose. Contemporary people celebrate the passion, freedom and simplicity of their jam band worship experience, not realizing how lost people are that are used to reading and following music, line by line, from a page. I think the devil is truly delighting in the oil and water atmosphere WE have created. Shame on all of us.

    As Christians, we have a few very simple instructions. Love the Lord your God with your all, love your neighbor as yourself, tell others about Jesus and the Good News, and keep it up until you are called home. There is nothing here about music. There is everything about love. We need to focus on what is important, pray for some grace, and move on from the petty worship wars that plague our congregations. We need the Holy Spirit to help us move beyond oil and water, and put us back together.

    BTW – I am a mid 50s who worship leader who finds great joy in singing both hymns and contemporary songs with passion. The only true cure for oil and water is the Holy Spirit. Praise God.



    • Joe M

      Amen! You have put into words how my heart feels about this. Thank you

  • Mike

    in the Bible, they worshiped God with lifted hands. How do you hold a hymnal with lifted hands?

    • Jonathan

      Most biblical instances of hand raising point to it as a prayer posture, not specifically during singing.

  • Nancy

    I’ve noticed when visiting churches that the hymns projected on a screen often have typos. That’s VERY distracting to me.