A Centennial Celebration

2021 marks a critically important year in the history of Churches of Christ.

2021 marks 100 years since Elmer Leon (“E.L.”) Jorgenson of Louisville, KY published the very first edition of Great Songs of the Church.

To say that this hymnal has had a monumental influence on the hymnody, the singing, and the worship practices of Churches of Christ (all flavors, all branches) would be an understatement. But I am certain that most folks (within and outside of Churches of Christ) have no idea just how different 20th century American church music, hymnody, and hymnals would look were it not for the work of this man.

Elmer Leon Jorgenson, 1886-1968

Jorgenson gave well over a decade to the preparation of the first Great Songs and its publication in 1921. According to individuals like Forrest M. McCann and his nephew, Dale Jorgenson, E.L. surveyed in excess of 600 different books to make his initial selection of 400 titles to be included in the first version…with additions and substantive editions in 1922, 1925, 1926, it became clear that the possibilities for a “#2” version would soon be needed.

As early as 1910, at only age 24, Jorgenson naively believed his work would be relatively simple and accomplishable…little did he know a decade of work would soon unfold, and a lifetime of works

(McCann 1997 Speech) E.O. Excell, Charles M. Alexander, neither would allow their copyrights in any hymnal together…shortly before their death, they relented and Jorgenson was the first to benefit from their change of heart, now appearing side by side in same book…

Just think about that…were it not for the tireless work of Elmer Leon Jorgenson, who knows if we’d ever have had a hymnal that had the hymns of Crosby, Kirkpatrick, Watts, Bradbury, and others in the same book…that’s right. Jorgenson was the FIRST to get the copyright owners to allow these different catalogues of hymns to be printed alongside one another.

E.L. Jorgenson, and his work for Great Songs of the Church forever changed the American hymnological landscape…and this is but one of numerous reasons why this monumental centennial year is worthy of celebration.

Great Songs Of The Church, 1921 Edition

Watch for other posts to come…and for information on how you can be a part of celebrating this important hymnal’s 100th anniversary.

Speaking of how you can help…

There are a number of special ideas, events, and publications being discussed and planned for a year-long celebration.I have been asked to reach out to friends and colleagues to see if you’d be willing to look through your shelves, closets, and church libraries in search of some older editions of Great Songs with the goal of completing 2 complete full sets, full runs of the hymnal from 1921 through its special printing in the early 2000’s. 

I know that from time to time, individuals, families, and even libraries acquire a pile of duplicate or triplicate books. This is one of those rare instances I’d dare to prevail upon you to see if you might be wiling to part with some of those duplicate copies to help me preserve a piece of our movements history. Would you be willing to look through and see what you and your library and special collections may have in this regard?If you’d be willing to do this and if you find some you’d like to give, please contact me at your earliest convenience. PLEASE CONTACT ME: email me, djbulls@mac.com.

I am working to raise some funds to help with these acquisitions/donations as well as with the events we’re working toward in 2021… if shipping costs are needed and if there should be a need to pay something very small for such a transaction, let me know.

Jesus Loves…YOU

It will not surprise regular readers of this irregular blog to hear me write “what we sing forms who we are.” It’s been that way as long as there have been humans singing…and heck, even animals, and nature, and heaven sing…so I guess what those created things sing forms them too.

I think about almost everything I do in my life through a hymnological lens. It’s who I am…and that started in my curiosity as a young child wondering why the song leader at my church where I grew up had a white-leather, special book that was different than the gold colored ones we all had in the pews.

So, i’ve been consumed with thoughts about the recent COVID-19 experience and the death of George Floyd especially through this lens…and here is what I’ve decided to write as of Tuesday, 0945 AM on June 9, 2020. (I’ve had lots of posts I’ve started, walked away, deleted, started over, and “rinse and repeat…”)

While I love the simple theology of “Jesus Loves Me,” it seems painfully clear that generations have been too focused on self as a result. I think that it’s time to make “Jesus Loves You” the main verse.

I love that I and you and generations of others learn that we’re loved by Jesus with this simple hymn as youngsters. But here’s the problem: its selfish.

And the root of each and every problem of race, bigotry, cultural and societal elitism, is a hateful selfishness that may even be subconscious.

Until we realize we are called to love and serve ALL (read that as someone other than yourself…no exceptions) just as Jesus did.

When we sing “Jesus loves YOU” it’s more for our heads and hearts to believe others are more important than it is anything else.

John tells us that “They’ll know we are Christians by our love.” But until we believe this at the core of our being that other people (regardless of race, gender, financial status, job status, etc.) are more important than we are and live like it, things are not going to really change.

Change starts with ME. And Until My heart & head believe and are ready to act like “Jesus Loves YOU,” change can’t happen.

Jesus Loves Me (Anna Warner/William Bradbury)


We don’t like these words. We don’t like saying these words. We don’t like not knowing. But these three words fill my mind as I try to process this last week’s events, the entirety of the COVID-19 virus crisis…

As a 38 year old, privileged white male who has NEVER wanted for anything…who has always had a roof over his head, a meal to eat, and spare change in my pockets, I DO NOT KNOW how to respond to the death of #GeorgeFloyd. I don’t know how I can yield my voice, my gifts, my pulpit, my pen, my music to a growing chorus of people struggling to help bring biblical justice into our world. I DO KNOW that God weeps with those who weep…and that the comfort of the Holy Spirit has never been needed more than it seems to be needed today. I have so much more to say…but I don’t know quite how to articulate my thoughts yet.

COVID? Why can’t scientists, politicians, and idiots who are trying to look smart just rest in knowing that it’s ok to say I DON’T KNOW. We don’t know what’s next with this virus. We don’t know what all the symptoms are and how they manifest themselves..We don’t know if/when a next wave of cases comes where they will be, what they will look like. We don’t know if we’re reopening things too soon. There’s just SO MUCH we don’t know. We need to not guess and say that we think we don’t know. Because we DON’T know.

Here’s another I DON’T KNOW. We don’t know when Jesus is coming back. But it is “high time” we started living like it could be tomorrow. We need to start RIGHT THIS SECOND making life on earth like it is in heaven. LOVING one another…STANDING UP, KNEELING, WEEPING, CELEBRATING with those who need people to love them where they are, who they are. Why? Because it’s what Jesus would do. I need to do a better job acting, living, speaking, and LOVING like Jesus.

“Let Party Names No More…”

Let Party Names No More (from Haggard, 1815)

Let Party Names No More (B. Beddome, 1769) from Rice Haggard’s Christian Hymns (1815)

This hymn by Benjamin Beddome, “Let Party Names No More…” was written around 1769. Rice Haggard was among the first to include it in his Christian Hymns hymnal of 1815, one of the earliest from the Stone-Campbell-Scott, etc., Restoration Movement.It’s easy to see why it isn’t in hymnals today…don’t you think?

Wanna sing it at your church this Sunday?

Try the words (Short Metre, S.M., or with ST. THOMAS, ST. MICHAEL, DENNIS, BOYLSTON, LABAN (just to name a few).

Though the COVID-19 virus and all the surrounding crises seem to have slowed the election year rhetoric, this song speaks of something much deeper than merely the political system. Early leaders in the movement of the Campbells, Stone, Scott, and others longed to be Christians only, not the only Christians. It was Raccoon John Smith who said “Let us, then, my brethren, be no longer Campbellites, or Stonites, New Lights or Old Lights, or any other kind of lights, but let us come to the Bible, and to the Bible alone, as the only book in the world that can give us all the light that we need.” (J. Murch, Christians Only, Cincinnatti: Standard Publishing, 1952).


Singing, COVID-19, and Church…

So, some stream of consciousness thoughts that have been percolating for some time now.

hedley lamarr


As the great theologian Hedley Lamarr once said:

“My mind is aglow with whirling, transient nodes of thought careening thru a cosmic vapor of invention.”


I’ve been thinking, almost constantly now for several weeks, about the implications of COVID on our church and the church as a whole’s re-assembling…and about the numerous reports and stories regarding how singing can, did, does, and could be a significant factor in transmission of airborne germs that could carry the virus.

I don’t want to think about an assembly WITHOUT SINGING. The thought of that even being an option on the table saddens me deeply. If we can’t sing together, then it’s hard to think that it’s right to come back together quite yet.
[You can read an earlier post I shared last week about the wisdom in choosing not to assemble together quite yet from a perspective of preventing risk as opposed to creating risk…]

Yes, there are ways we can sing with masks on, tools, technology, things we can use to help us still worship in song even if we can’t sing full-heartedly and spirit-filled without masks.

As I was sharing with my bro Nathan Tillotson a little while ago, one of the take aways I hope to see as a result of this quarantine is that the church more fully embraces the communal and spiritually formative nature of congregational singing.

Each week, what I miss the most in our season of live streamed worship, is singing with my church family. For some time now, the church has seen in its present pendulum swing with regard to worship music, a leaning toward a return to more congregation-friendly, participation-initiating, more hymnic style songs (i.e., Getty/Townend – Sovereign Grace – Bob Kauflin – Indellible Grace – Kevin Twit – Audrey Asaad and others writing them and helping to lead the church in such a direction!).

But as the church processes just how much it has missed being together, I hope and pray that it will recapture and appreciate the incredible power and witness of congregational song again…it’s long overdue.