Oklahoma Church Films “Heritage of the Hymns Tour” Documentary
By Carl Stagner
Implications of history are certainly not limited to those who might consider themselves historians. Everyone is affected by history, planting and harvesting from soil first cultivated by those who came before us—plotting paths forward well-worn by trailblazers of our collective heritage. Part of the beautiful heritage we share in the Church of God movement, and in the broader holiness movement, is the hymnody of faith. Many such pairings of lyric and melody (and harmony!) precede the days of Warner, Fisher, Byers, Naylor, and Warren, yet express clearly and fervently the truth of Scripture and the testimony of the heart. A new, cinematic resource provided online at no cost is now available through the ministries of one influential Church of God congregation in Oklahoma City.
A documentary about the heritage of several classic hymns of Christianity was never the intention. Piecing together bits and pieces of the stories behind these songs, as well as their connection to certain sacred places of Christian musical heritage—and the heritage of our Wesleyan roots—was never the intent. But as the providential orchestration of the Lord would have it, the “The Heritage of the Hymns Tour” would become a musical film featuring pastors of Crossings Community Church, the Voices of Crossings Choir, Jay (and Amy!) Rouse, and Dr. Cliff Sanders—formerly of Mid-America Christian University, and now the founding director of The School of Wesleyan Studies at Crossings.
“I’ve always wanted to go to England and see where some of the great hymns of our faith were born and learn why they were written and how God used them,” Larry Harrison explains.
Larry, who serves as pastor of worship ministries at Crossings, delights in recounting how the project started. “I began to plan a trip in the fall of 2020, and we officially began to promote the trip in early summer of 2021. The trip actually took place in early June 2022. This gave people plenty of time to hold the dates on their calendars and make plans, not to mention save their money. The trip was first pitched to our choir as a ‘Heritage of the Hymns’ trip.”
Then, as Larry recalls, other pieces of the puzzle began coming together. “About the same time, in early 2021, Dr. Cliff Sanders joined our staff and began our Center for Wesleyan Studies. I think on Day Two of his employment at Crossings, I was in his office asking him to go on this trip with us and that we would visit many of the places where John and Charles Wesley did ministry. It soon became a project of joint interest of hymns and the Wesleys (as you’ll see in the documentary). Because our doctrinal roots are from Wesley and our new Center for Wesleyan Studies, there was increased interest.”
The opportunity for an experience of lifetime was building, one that leadership was noticing could have the potential to also affect the congregation and the broader church community in a profound way, if harnessed in time. Marty Grubbs, senior pastor, came along, as did a video crew. “Our video team decided to go along and shoot footage of Cliff and Marty at the different Wesley sites, teaching and talking about the impact of Wesley on the church today,” Larry explains. “[But] the video team also filmed our choir concerts and performances. Once we got back from the trip, the video team determined they needed to create a documentary.”
Featuring almost forty-five minutes of talented musicianship, fresh arrangements by beloved Church of God artist Jay Rouse (on piano during the performances), beautiful choral harmony, stories of how certain hymns came to be written, fascinating anecdotes about the life and ministry of John Wesley, and beautiful scenery, the documentary is sure to make an impression on the broader Church of God family, as it already has among the local Crossings community.
“Trips such as these are always life-changing,” Larry reflects. “Sitting in the St. Peter and St. Paul Church in Olney, England, where John Newton wrote the hymn, “Amazing Grace,” was a moment I’ll never forget. It was transcendent singing the hymn with those on the trip in the very room where it was first introduced in January 1773. Visiting the site where John Wesley’s heart was ‘strangely warmed’ (Aldersgate) and he truly experienced the transforming work of Christ, after having performed so many years of ministry, was so impactful. There are many more moments like this. We visited the little town where John and Charles Wesley grew up (Epworth) and spent the day with the Wesley Memorial Methodist Church on Sunday, worshipped with them, and they hosted us for a meal and then we presented a concert that evening. Joining our lives with these dear brothers and sisters was something we’ll never forget. And the list goes on!”
Listeners will enjoy worshiping the Lord along with the Crossings musicians through hymns like “Amazing Grace,” “Take My Life and Let it Be,” “Victory is Mine,” “And Can it Be?” and the “Doxology.” Viewers will further appreciate the depth of stories behind the songs and the songwriters, as well as vicariously visit the places where Wesley and other notable church leaders made their initial mark in ministry.
Dr. Cliff Sanders remembers the experience fondly and is pleased others now have the opportunity to enjoy the music and the message. “I think that the value to people’s souls was in that we were able to experience some sense of the history of the hymns we sing,” he concludes. “It also gave an experience and sense of history as to the lives of John and Charles Wesley. As one would imagine, being in the locations gave a memory and experience that tends to enliven their singing of these hymns and hearing of the Wesleys when they returned home. Finally, the value to people was to be immersed in the country and places where Wesley’s theology made practical differences. This trip also gave real opportunities to discuss the hymns and the life and ministry of the Wesleys.”
Feel free to watch, share, and openly distribute this complimentary online resource, “The Heritage of the Hymns Tour.” Access it now on Crossings’ website.
Learn more about the Church of God movement at www.JesusIsTheSubject.org.