19 May 2024

More than a ritual: The importance of church singing

Priest and chaplain Emily Fraser is currently working towards a PhD on hymnody at the University of Divinity. Image: iStock and supplied.

Kirralee Nicolle

2 February 2023

Hymns not only connect parishioners, they also convey important theological points, according to a hymnody researcher from the University of Divinity.

While many Anglican churches continue to incorporate hymn-singing into services, some more contemporary parishes focus on modern worship songs.

Melbourne Anglican priest and doctoral hymnody researcher at the University of Divinity the Reverend Emily Fraser said there was nothing wrong with focusing on either hymns or praise songs providing the purpose of each was understood.

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“I think the problem is if we get too exclusive,” she said. “Hymns remain a wonderful teaching tool to produce an intellectual as well as an emotional and spiritual response. Praise songs are wonderful for introducing that sort of mesmeric sense of worship that you want when you’re just reflecting on a single idea, like God’s greatness.”

“So, you need to think about what you’re doing and why you’re doing it.”

Emily Fraser believes praise songs and hymns are both important, but serve different purposes. Image: Supplied.

Ms Fraser said singing in church brought about a unique sense of togetherness through group engagement, and that hymns were important as they were designed to be non-performative.

“We stand [when we can], so there’s united posture,” she said. “We sing the same text. We sing the same melodies. There’s so much which is important about singing being something which unifies us.”

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Ms Fraser said in her role as chaplain at Christ Church Grammar School, the beauty of singing together was demonstrated in chapel services.

“We continue to teach through song,” she said. “When we are at a church service and we stand and sing something, we’re not filling in time, we’re doing something very important. We are being taught. We are feeding our heads and our hearts as we sing.”

Ms Fraser said her study focused primarily on the hymns of Martin Luther, Charles Wesley and John Keble, and that wording in older hymns often required interpretation in a similar way to Scripture. She said famous lines such as “amazing grace, that saved a wretch like me” reminded us of the miracle it was that God entered the lives of every individual person no matter who they were or the nature of their circumstances.

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“I think singing and music is one of the greatest and most long-standing gifts to the church and liturgy,” Ms Fraser said. “It wasn’t just something that the early church did, Christ and His disciples sang hymns and Psalms and songs of praise.”

“And we continue in that tradition.”

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