My grandfather, my father and I share a common gene. We thirst for hymn music. And these days, when I get the urge to do some real heavy-duty hymning, I've begun to drop by the First United Methodist Church on 200 South.
Charles Wesley, a Methodist founding father, wrote 1,500 hymns during his life. I'm convinced the Methodists try to sing them all at least once a year.A few weeks ago the choir was on vacation, so the congregation and I got to pitch in. We sang a good 10 hymns that day. Last Sunday I dropped in again and learned a new hymn that was fresh off the presses.
Not all the Methodist hymns are by Wesley, of course. And I know about half of the ones the congregants do. For the other half, I catch a break. The organist at First United loves a robust bass as much as I do. All I have to do is follow along.
"Among mainstream Protestant churches," says choir director, Lane Chaney, "I think the Methodists have the strongest singing tradition."
And that fact gives Mormonism and Methodism a family resemblance.
You'll find choir seats, impressive pipe organs and professional caliber directors in both churches. But more than that, the tone and temperament of the hymns are indentical. If you doubt it, look at the name of the wordsmith on the popular LDS hymns "Jesus, Lover of My Soul," "Rejoice, The Lord is King," "Christ the Lord is Risen Today," "Come Let Us Anew" and "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing."
They're all by that Wesley fellow.
"Since John and Charles Wesley," says Cheney, "every Methodist hymnal begins with the hymn `O For A Thousand Tongues to Sing.' The hymn has 18 verses. We seldom do all 18, however. The Wesley brothers also include instructions on how they wanted the hymns to be sung."
I checked out the Wesleys' "Directions for Singing" in the hymnal. Any dutiful choir director would be pleased to hand them out. They include:
- Let not a slight degree of weakness or weariness hinder you.
- Beware of singing as if you were half dead or half asleep. Be no more afraid of your voice now, nor more ashamed of being heard, than when you sang the songs of Satan.
- Sing modestly. Do not bawl.
- Sing in time. Whatever time is sung be sure to keep with it.
- Above all, sing spiritually.
Singing with the Methodists is a joy. Partly because this year is a joyous celebration - First United Methodist Church turns 125. It's a "downtown" church, which means the congregation is small and wonderfully diverse. You sit and sing with people from as far away as Pakistan, yet from as close to home as Park City. (The old LDS 10th Ward near 800 East has a congregation like that).
So when I sit in the pews and sing with the Methodists, I give it my best. I try not to bawl, try not to give into weariness or be afraid of my own voice.
After all, before his vision, Joseph Smith himself felt at home with the followers of Charles Wesley. He wrote: "In the process of time my mind became somewhat partial to the Methodist sect, and I felt some desire to be united with them." (J.S. History 1:8)
Today, some may wonder just what he saw that drew him to Methodism. I'll hazard a guess. It wasn't what he saw, it was what he heard. From Palmyra to Carthage Jail, Joseph Smith had a soul that was stirred often by singing.
He edged toward the Methodists because - like many Mormons today - he loved those old Wesley hymns as much as we do.