One week before choir practice I took the opportunity to set the hymn board for Sunday’s service. I started by taking all the numbers I would need out of the pile and I started to worry that I might run out of sevens and fours. At the practice later I commented, “This weeks service will be brought to you by the numbers four and seven.” After we finished joking around about Sesame Street and the shows brought to us by a number and a letter each episode, we went on to practice.
As a member of the team who select the weekly hymns I can assure you that we did not set out to see how few different digits we could use. We had no bias that week against twos, threes, fives, or nines. There are times in the church year, like Advent, Lent, Christmas, and Easter when the majority of the hymns will come from that seasonal section of the book. At these times all the numbers will be within around thirty of each other. If the theme for the week is mission the numbers are likely to be in the 700 s as that is the area of the book for that type of hymn.
Our Presbyterian Church in Canada Book of Praise, like most I expect, is organized with the sung Psalms at the beginning, sections of hymns for the seasons of the church year in order, then a section for God, Jesus, the Spirit, and the Trinity. The rest of the book is organized thematically.
A quick look at the hymn board when you first enter the church should give you a pretty good idea of the theme for the service.
Hymn selection for services may seem random to the people in the pews, and indeed it may be some of the time, but usually a lot of thought and reflection goes into the choices. An integral part of worship, the hymns should be carrying the theme through the service and helping you to perceive and internalize the message.
Check it out the next time you are in a church, whether using a bulletin or the hymn board. Look up a couple of the hymns to see what sections they are in. Are they grouped closely together or spread out?
I realize that many churches probably don’t use hymn boards any more, instead projecting the hymns and service information at the front. Our church uses bulletins we give to each person with the order of service, unison prayers, hymn numbers and announcements. I guess we don’t really need a hymn board, but it is tradition. Back when the Psalms were in our Book of Praise the number of the responsive Psalm would also have been on the board which is why there are five rows and only four hymn numbers.