The past Sunday, our Bishopric decided that instead of following the Sacrament ceremony with prepared talks by three or four members of the congregation, or with a testimony meeting like we normally do, they would try something new: A Hymn Testimony Meeting.
The Bishop’s Councilor read the First Presidency’s preface to the LDS Hymnal:
Music in Our Church Meetings
Inspirational music is an essential part of our church meetings. The hymns invite the Spirit of the Lord, create a feeling of reverence, unify us as members, and provide a way for us to offer praises to the Lord.
Some of the greatest sermons are preached by the singing of hymns. Hymns move us to repentance and good works, build testimony and faith, comfort the weary, console the mourning, and inspire us to endure to the end.
We hope to see an increase of hymn singing in our congregations. We encourage all members, whether musically inclined or not, to join with us in singing the hymns. We hope leaders, teachers, and members who are called on to speak will turn often to the hymnbook to find sermons presented powerfully and beautifully in verse.
Latter-day Saints have a long tradition of choir singing. Every ward and branch in the Church should have a choir that performs regularly. We encourage choirs to use the hymnbook as their basic resource.
Music in Our Homes
Music has boundless powers for moving families toward greater spirituality and devotion to the gospel. Latter-day Saints should fill their homes with the sound of worthy music.
Ours is a hymnbook for the home as well as for the meetinghouse. We hope the hymnbook will take a prominent place among the scriptures and other religious books in our homes. The hymns can bring families a spirit of beauty and peace and can inspire love and unity among family members.
Teach your children to love the hymns. Sing them on the Sabbath, in home evening, during scripture study, at prayer time. Sing as you work, as you play, and as you travel together. Sing hymns as lullabies to build faith and testimony in your young ones.
Music in Our Personal Lives
In addition to blessing us as Church and family members, the hymns can greatly benefit us as individuals. Hymns can lift our spirits, give us courage, and move us to righteous action. They can fill our souls with heavenly thoughts and bring us a spirit of peace.
Hymns can also help us withstand the temptations of the adversary. We encourage you to memorize your favorite hymns and study the scriptures that relate to them. Then, if unworthy thoughts enter your mind, sing a hymn to yourself, crowding out the evil with the good.
Brothers and sisters, let us use the hymns to invite the Spirit of the Lord into our congregations, our homes, and our personal lives. Let us memorize and ponder them, recite and sing them, and partake of their spiritual nourishment. Know that the song of the righteous is a prayer unto our Father in Heaven, “and it shall be answered with a blessing upon [your] heads.”
He then explained that we, as members of the congregation, were invited to come forward to the pulpit, when prompted by the Holy Spirit, and direct the congregation to a favorite hymn in the hymnal and share how that hymn has influenced our testimonies of the Savior and the Restoration of His Church. We were encouraged to read one stanza of the hymn aloud and then the congregation would sing one or two of the other verses. To allow enough time for people to share, no more than two verses would be allowed.
The meeting that followed was wonderfully inspirational. Members got up and told short experiences that made their specific hymn of choice special to them and shared their feelings of worship and devotion to the Lord. We must have sung almost 2 dozen hymns during the course of the remainder of the meeting.
One sister in particular nearly brought me to tears. She and her husband have an adult son who suffers from fairly serious Autism who attends with them every week. She got up and said that she would like to stand proxy for her son because he cannot speak for himself. She described how much he loves the hymns of the church. She then read from the words of the second verse of hymn #227, There is Sunshine In My Soul Today (download MP3):
There is music in my soul today, a carol to my King,
and Jesus listening can hear the songs I cannot sing.
Oh there’s sunshine, blessed sunshine,
when the peaceful, happy moments roll.
When Jesus shows his smiling face,
there is sunshine in the soul.
We all raised our voices to sing, and when we reached the words ”…Jesus listening can hear, the songs I cannot sing,” I nearly had to stop singing because of the emotions I felt as I watched our Autistic brother, rocking back and forth to the music as he sat with his family in the pew.
Often our meetings focus on doctrine, personal experiences, and teaching. This was a meeting where worship ruled. And it was a blessing.
There really was sunshine in our souls last Sunday. I hope we do hymn testimony meetings regularly.