I’ve got a serious confession that I haven’t shared with many people before. There are some hymns in the LDS hymnbook that I’m not completely comfortable with, at least not for settings of worship.
For example, I love the music of “If I Could High to Kolob,” but the lyrics are so deep and metaphysical. I’ve never enjoyed singing it in sacrament meeting, and I don’t think it has helped bring any people into the Church or strengthened any testimonies. [Update: I’m wrong on this, and appreciate one reader’s comment about the impact this hymn had in a funeral. You know, that may be a terrific setting for the song. Yes, I suppose it can be pretty powerful when one’s mind is tuned in to the deep and heavy issues, and the Spirit is right. I have no trouble with it being in the hymnbook, but it needs to be used with some caution, and is not one of the more “investigator friendly” hymns, at least not for new investigators.]
Another one my least favorites list is “Praise to the Man.” I’m not saying it shouldn’t be in the hymnbook, and yes, Joseph was a great prophet – but do we need to sing about him so often? If it were rare, perhaps I wouldn’t mention it here, but it seems to be a favorite with a lot of people. This song is from the days when the memory of Joseph as martyr yet to be vindicated as fresh on the minds of a heavily persecuted Church – is it really what we need today? For sacrament meetings, at least, it bothers me when that song comes up instead of songs about the Savior.
That issue came up once with a less-frequently heard hymn, “To Nephi, Seer of Olden Time.” When that song was the opening song for a Stake missionary fireside a few years ago when I had Protestant friends visiting, it really threw them for a loop: “Why are you Mormons singing songs of praise about men instead of the Savior?” [A commenter is right on this also: in retrospect, these friends might have found fault with anything we sang. The song really isn’t about praising Nephi, but is about relying on the word of God.]
My least favorite hymn is actually fine and has every right to be sung in a sacrament meeting. It’s “God Be With You Til We Meet Again.” When I was in the Hmong-speaking branch out here, it was sung at almost every meeting for two years until I nearly went crazy. OK, the Hmong hymnbook has only about 30 songs in it, and some weren’t translated especially well, and perhaps it really was the best one for them to sing. But not all the time. Sacrament meetings, baptisms, priesthood, whatever – it’s time to sing that song again. Help! Maybe it averaged to less than once a week, but it was enough that I could still use a little psychotherapy right now as I recall the experience. Second problem: I find it pretty boring to sing, at least for the base part. But that’s my problem.
I love it when hymns are thoughtfully selected for a meeting to enhance the worship experience – that’s usually what happens in my little ward in Neenah, Wisconsin, fortunately. But sometimes leaders in wards might assume that any hymn will do. Not all of the hymns in the hymnbook are necessarily suitable for sacrament meeting, in my opinion, and some aren’t necessarily all that suitable for many things. (None are suitable for nearly every meeting, every week.) They are there as resources, to be used carefully.
I suggest that Bishops should make sure that the hymns sung in sacrament meeting especially are suitable for worship of the Savior and God the Father.