Academic journal article The Hymn

Research Director's Report

Academic journal article The Hymn

Research Director's Report

Article excerpt


Some friends of mine and I once visited the Elizabeth Hubert Malott Japanese Garden outside Chicago. Our guide described not only the plants and ornamental features of each area, but also the idea of "borrowed view," whereby the designer of the garden takes into account what one sees beyond the immediate area in crafting a particular space. "Do you see how these two plants are placed, so that when you stand here, they serve to frame your view of that over there?" It was an epiphany moment, and I have often thought of the "borrowed view" in many other contexts since then. Such as worship.

At Hymn Society conferences and within the pages of this journal, we talk a lot about the words of hymns, the music of hymns, and the history of hymns-but the places in which we sing them do not often get so much attention. The windows, art, and architecture of our worship spaces are the "borrowed view" of hymn singing. Some settings shape the singing for good and others for ill, but all worship spaces deserves attention from those who plan worship.

In my first parish after graduating from seminary, I spent one Saturday each year with my confirmation students talking about worship spaces and how they shape the worship itself. We would gather in our sanctuary, and I'd ask them, "What symbols and art do you see in this space that adds to our worship? What do you see that perhaps gets in the way?" Generally, they wouldn't see much and would offer comments like "it's just our church. Pretty ordinary, really."

Then we'd go on a tour of area churches. We would visit places like a Roman Catholic cathedral, a Greek Orthodox parish, and the chapel of a community that specializes in modern liturgical art. In each place, our eyes would be opened to how the artists and architects were doing things that influences worship in each space.

At the end of the day, we had returned to the place we had started: our own sanctuary. "After what we've seen today, let's look around here again. What do you see here that adds to our worship, or that gets in the way?" This time, my questions usually unleashed a flood of responses. The way we viewed our own worship space changed drastically, once we'd had our eyes opened by other spaces. …

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