Deciding on hymns can be more difficult than you might think. Regular worshippers may have their own favourites, but if your Sunday morning visits to church have lapsed, your experience of singing hymns may well be limited to memories of school assemblies.
Here are our top ten tips for making your selection
Most religious ceremonies will include at least two hymns – one after the bride’s arrival and the minister’s welcome and one at the end of the service before the recessional. If you would like a third, this is usually sung after the marriage ceremony itself and before the prayers.
Try to pick something familiar and unchallenging for your first hymn as most people’s voices take time to warm up. If your guests don’t know the words or the music, they may also end up miming instead of joining in and that will leave you with a flat atmosphere. Popular first hymn choices include: All People That On Earth Do Dwell; Dear Lord And Father Of Mankind; Lord of All Hopefulness; Immortal Invisible.
If you decide on three hymns, why not keep the softer, more melodic of the three for the middle part of the service, particularly as the vows and prayers are the spiritual high point of the ceremony? Popular choices include Morning Has Broken; Living Lord; Make Me A Channel of Your Peace; Be Still, For The Presence Of The Lord; The Lord’s My Shepherd.
For the final hymn of your wedding it’s an idea to have what some ministers dub ‘the foot-stomper’ or ‘the belter’ – a rousing, well-known hymn that everyone can join in with before the recessional music at the end. Popular choices include: Praise My Soul, The King of Heaven; All Things Bright and Beautiful; One More Step Along The World I Go; At The Name of Jesus; Guide Me O Thou Great Redeemer.
Check whether your chosen hymn has more than one tune and opt for the better-known version. Hymns such as O, Jesus I Have Promised can be sung to more than one piece of music, either as a fast, upbeat hymn or in a slow, more anthemic way, so don’t assume that you and your organist are talking about the same tune.
Read the meaning of the words carefully. Some hymns contain lines that may not be appropriate for a wedding (Fight The Good Fight, for instance, could raise a few titters in the congregation). Although most ministers will usually agree your choice, there have been occasions when certain hymns give rise to objections. For instance, old favourites such as Jerusalem and I Vow To Thee My Country have both been rejected in the past for being ‘too nationalistic’.
In most Roman Catholic and Anglican ceremonies, you won’t be allowed hymns with ‘Alleluia’ in the title or chorus either during Lent or Advent (ie the weeks leading up to Easter and Christmas Eve).
You and your guests may not want to sing all eight verses of very long hymns, so do a little judicious pruning. Take your minister’s lead when it comes to cutting and make sure he or she either makes an announcement first (“we will be singing verses 1, 2, 5 and 6 only”) or print your chosen verses in your order of service.
Ask if you can borrow both a traditional and modern hymn book from your minister to take home and go through in your own time. Hymn choices don’t have to be made the instant you book your wedding.
If your church has a choir, book them as soon as possible. Even if they don’t perform a special anthem or aria, there’s nothing like a few well-rehearsed tenors to boost the singing levels. If there isn’t a choir, consider hiring a soloist or duo to give your hymns a professional lift – with the permission of your minister, of course.