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.