Christopher Chelpka

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Hymnary.org Helps You Find Better Hymns Faster

Hymnary.org is a fantastic tool for researching church music and for finding songs to sing in worship. I focus this article on finding songs for worship, and I’ll start by explaining how this works at my church.

Picking Hymns At Covenant

At Covenant, we use the Trinity Psalter Hymnal for our corporate worship. The Trinity Psalter Hymnal has about 700 songs to choose from, which is great but potentially overwhelming. Especially since our aim at Covenant is to match each hymn to its particular place in worship and to a main theme in the sermon. And there are other factors too.

So, for example, if a prominent theme in the sermon is the spread of the gospel, and we need a song to follow our confession of sin and assurance of pardon, then Psalm 51 might be a good choice. First, because Psalm 51 is a song about the grace of repentance. And second, because it includes the line: “Then I’ll teach your ways to sinners; rebels will return to you. From the guilt of blood, O free me, God, my God and Savior true.”

Without Hymnary.org, finding an appropriate match will depend on your memory of the hymnal and the usefulness of the indices.

As you might guess, sometimes it’s hard to find what you are looking for. In a pinch, you can pick a standard like Holy, Holy, Holy or Be Thou My Vision and move on. But now that the metadata and texts of the songs in the Trinity Psalter Hymnal are online and searchable at Hymnary.org, you have a better option.

Case Study: Baptism Songs

Imagine you are preaching a short sermon series on baptism, and you want to sing hymns that match this theme. If this were my church, and I planned on a five-week series, I would need about 18 hymns, less than that if we repeated some of the songs. So let’s say you are looking for 13 hymns related to baptism.

You might begin by looking up “baptism” in the topic index of the hymnal. There you would find that the index directs you to the seven hymns in the baptism section (189–195). Assuming you’re happy with them all, that’s only about half of what you need. And there’s another problem: about five of the seven are directly related infant baptism. Nothing wrong with infant baptism, but you’re probably only going to use some of these in a sermon series that focuses on baptism more generally.

So, not having enough songs yet, you think to look up “water” in the index. Good move! Under WATER OF LIFE you’ll find four more hymns, and these are all real winners:

  • Come to the Waters
  • Glorious Things of Thee Are Spoken
  • Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah
  • I Heard the Voice of Jesus Say

So now you have, at the most, eleven hymns. Which means you’re still short. Also, it would be nice to have more options to choose from, especially some psalms, since you have none on your list so far.

Full-Text Searching

Now watch this.

  1. Go to the advanced search of Hymnary.org.
  2. Under Texts, type water in the field called “Full Text”
  3. Under Hymnals, type TPH2018 in the field called “Hymnal, Number”
  4. Under Result Type select Instances1

This is how you search the text of every hymn in the Trinity Psalter Hymnal for the word “water”. Click search and you get 51 results!

Not all 51 are relevant but many are. For example, you’d find these songs you hadn’t found before:

  • O Day of Rest and Gladness, which reminds us that holy worship is the place where “gospel light is glowing with pure and radiant beams, and living water flowing with soul-refreshing streams.”
  • The Church’s One Foundation, which begins “The church’s one foundation is Jesus Christ, her Lord; she is his new creation by water and the Word”
  • Psalm 46, which includes: “God’s city is forever blest with living water welling; since God is there, she stands unmoved ‘mid tumults round her swelling. God speaks and all is peace, from war the nations cease; the Lord of hosts is nigh. Our father’s God Most High is our eternal dwelling.”

Things are looking good. You might have a list now of 13 songs related to baptism, but there are other things to consider as you make your choices: familiarity, musical factors, order of worship, etc. And so it would be helpful to have a few more options.

No problem. If you expand your search to other relevant words, like “wash” or “cleanse”, you’ll find songs like Let Us Love and Sing and Wonder, which has talks about being washed with Christ’s blood in all five verses, and Psalm 51 —again!—which prays “wash me, make pure within, cleanse, O cleanse me from my sin”. And there are several other hymns that will make your search worthwhile.

Searching Across Indices

Dianne Shapiro, the content manager at Hymnary.org, told me about another popular way to get more results: Use the indices of other hymnals to find songs in a particular hymnal. In other words, suppose a certain song is not included under the topic of baptism in the Trinity Psalter Hymnal, but it has been indexed under baptism in a different hymnal. By following some simple instructions, Hymnary.org can discover those connnections for you.

First, login and add the Trinity Psalter Hymnal under “My Hymnals”. This way an icon will appear next to any results that are found in the TPH after any search.

Second, in an advanced search type “baptism” in the Topic field, without specifying the hymnal you’re searching for. Select “texts” under Result Types. Now when you search, all the hymns in every hymnal tagged with “baptism” will appear. And any result that is found in the TPH will have a special icon next to it, even if the TPH did not itself tag that hymn with “baptism.” So clever!

For a topic search on “baptism”, you’ll get over 1,000 results. But you don’t have too dig through all of those because many appear on the first page that are found in the TPH. In fact, the first one found in the TPH is Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing, which, amazingly, has not come up under any of our other searches thus far—it’s a real gem. And it’s not the only one.

Conclusion

All this writing may make searching seem difficult. But just give it a try. It’ll take you less than ten minutes to figure out, especially if you follow my examples.

And, of course, it’s possible to fuss too much with this. But if you don’t have the hymnal memorized yet and are regularly looking for hymns, then learning how to use the basic search features on Hymnary.org is worth the time. The website will help you find better hymns and find them faster.


  1. Hymnary.org distinguishes between “instance” and “text”. For example, the TPH includes the text, Psalm 23 and two instances of that text: 23A and 23B. An “instance” is the full-text for each song in the hymnal. Thanks to Dianne Shapiro, Content Manager at Hymnary.org, for helping me with this distinction and other parts of this post. [return]