By Ryan Arndt
In the midst of the uncertain times due to the coronavirus, West Green Tree Church of the Brethren in Elizabethtown, Pa., has formed several midweek ministries to help the congregation stay connected. In addition to Sunday morning worship services, a Bible study on Tuesday evenings, a Children’s Worship and Youth Group were added on Wednesday afternoon and evening. Eventually, another live-streamed ministry would be added to the lineup: the Digital Hymn Sing.
It all started when a Facebook friend wrote and asked if I would consider posting videos on Facebook of myself playing the piano. A few other friends commented and suggested something similar. I began to think about getting the viewers involved and interacting so that instead of just listening, they would be participating. I realized a hymn sing was a great way to do that. The congregation could send in their requests ahead of time, I could practice them and upload the lyrics so that the words would appear on the screen, and we could sing the hymns together while apart.
Our first Digital Hymn Sing went live on April 20 and had an estimated 200-plus participants. Each Monday night since, we have been consistent at about 200 live viewers, with hundreds of additional views after the video posts to YouTube, where people can view it days or weeks later.
Requests of all sorts have come in. The most popular hymns are old favorites like “How Great Thou Art,” “Great Is Thy Faithfulness,” and “In the Garden.” However, many less traditional hymns have rounded out the lineup. Gospel songs like “Mansion Over the Hilltop” and “I Know Who Holds Tomorrow” also have found their way into the hymn sing. Some people send in a suggestion every week and others send one every couple of weeks. In a typical hour-long hymn sing, we get through about 24 hymns with some brief narration in between.
As the words are displayed on the screen, meaningful backgrounds are incorporated. For instance, when singing the song, “His Eye Is on the Sparrow” a background showed birds in a tree. Mick Allen, senior pastor of West Green Tree, serves as the operator of the camera and lyrics for the hymn sing.
What started as a way to encourage our congregants has grown into a tremendous outreach. I began to hear that people were participating in Florida, Michigan, and Arizona, in addition to Pennsylvania. From there, the list began to expand and now includes, to the best of my knowledge, Maryland, Georgia, Alabama, California, Washington, Iowa, and even Canada. After each hymn sing is recorded and saved on YouTube, at least one local retirement community has been airing it weekly on their closed-circuit television for the residents.
It is our hope that every person who joins the hymn sings and all of our live-streamed services will be refreshed and inspired by God’s word and will feel his love. It is fitting to end this story with the words of a hymn: “Because he lives, I can face tomorrow. Because he lives, all fear is gone. Because I know he holds the future, and life is worth the living, just because he lives.”
-- Ryan Arndt is organist and choir director at West Green Tree Church of the Brethren in Elizabethtown, Pa.