A Musical Heritage: Beloved Tradition Returns to Convention 2023

 In All Church of God, CHOG, Church of God Convention

By Carl Stagner

Since the turn of the century, nearly every major Church of God Convention has included a worship service set aside especially for the singing of what have become known as the “heritage songs” of the Movement. Beginning inside Anderson University’s Byrum Hall more than two decades ago, the event has gathered worshipers within the acoustically suitable sanctuary of Park Place Church of God, the expansive Reardon Auditorium, Madison Park Church of God in Anderson, Crossings Community Church in Oklahoma City, Central Community Church in Wichita, and the World Center Marriott in Orlando. Pandemic limitations pared back the number of special gatherings in Denver two years ago, but Church of God Ministries is pleased to announce the return of the beloved tradition this year in Tampa.

The Church of God has long been known as a “singing church.” From the earliest days of our Movement, it was singing that helped spread our message quickly and broadly. Few can forget heritage standards like “A Child of God” and “There’s Joy in the Lord.” How can the heart not rejoice in the singing of “I Will Praise Him, Hallelujah!” or “What a Mighty God We Serve!”? The rich content of Church of God heritage music touches the soul, spanning the generations and the cultural spectrum. While other wonderful genres of music strengthen our worship, giving authentic expression to adoration of our Most High God, these timeless heritage songs allow us to sing our theology in accessible terms.

Dr. Nicholson directing at Madison Park in 2009.

This year’s director is once again the esteemed Joe Gregory, who serves as lead pastor for First Church of God in Jefferson City, Missouri. As Joe considers the gift of songs those early writers left for us to enjoy generation after generation, he marvels. As he’s put it, “Music serves as a vehicle for us to express ourselves in ways that we otherwise could not. It is a real gift from God to us so that we might express truth in him and love to him. And the things we can express about him, lyrics alone could not help us facilitate. Music enhanced the message of the Church of God because words we sang mirrored our doctrinal understanding of the Scriptures. It reinforced the message.”

The social media savvy among us have come to expect a certain “blast-from-the-past” every Thursday. Popularly known as Throwback Thursday, these posts take followers and fans back in time, presenting an image of the sheet music and lyrics to a wide variety of hymns and spiritual songs penned by pioneer composers like D. S. Warner, Barney Warren, D. Otis Teasley, Clara Brooks, and many more. Convention 2023 and General Assembly is your opportunity to do more than simply stare at a scanned page from the hymnal! Indeed, the Heritage Hymn Sing scheduled for Tampa will activate all the senses in four-part harmony—or, as Dr. Robert Nicholson, one of the late directors of this Convention staple, used to quip—“five or six parts,” whichever works for you!

Joe Gregory concludes, “I am looking forward to this year’s gathering of the hymn sing to be able to sing great songs of our faith once again. While we embrace the new songs of today, it does us good to remember songs that aided us in our Christian faith which come from our past—songs we learned along our journey with Christ and his people.”

“He’s got the whole world in his hands.” What an encouraging reality! Be inspired by it, be challenged by it, and experience it firsthand at Convention 2023 and General Assembly, June 22–25 in Tampa, Florida. Learn more and register at www.chogconvention.org.

Feature (top) photo: Joe Gregory leads the 2019 hymn sing in Orlando while pianist Jean Shackleton accompanies.

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