The Hymn Society Celebrates The Unifying Power of Song


For ninety-five years, The Hymn Society has been encouraging, promoting and enlivening congregational singing in the United States and Canada. In mid-July, over 300 academics, ministers, worship leaders, congregants, musicians, composers and musical enthusiasts gathered from around the world at Waterloo, Ontario, for the Society’s annual conference. For five days, participants listened to lectures about music history, attended concerts, took hymn writing workshops, networked with Christians from other congregations and denominations, and plotted the way forward for church music in the 21st century.

           “We have a strong musical heritage in the church,” Brian Hehn, manager of programming for the conference and director of the Center for Congregational Song, said. Although the centre, an offshoot of the Society, will not officially open until October, Hehn has been preparing the programs to be rolled out—including a website and hymn writing workshops.

Hehn said that “the power of song” has united Christian churches, even when theological debates have pulled them apart. “Theological understandings can often divide Christians but our song is often what unites us.” The Society states as its mission that “the holy act of singing together shapes faith, heals brokenness, transforms lives and renews peace.”

Based in Dallas, Texas, Hehn has a busy life as an adjunct professor of church music at Wingate University (his alma mater) in Wingate, North Carolina (mainly via Skype), a leader of drum circle workshops all over North America, and Associate Music Minister at Prince of Peace, Catholic Community in Plano, Texas. He also co-authored the book All Hands In: Drumming the Biblical Narrative, published by the Choristers Guild.

Hehn said he appreciates the work of Rev. Dr. John Ambrose, a retired minister from Halton Presbytery, and former president of the Hymn Society. “John has done important work for the Society as a board member and in editing hymn books,” he said.

“The Society has members from over twenty denominations,” Hehn said. “And over a hundred members from Canada—mainly in the Toronto area.” Southern Ontario has its own branch, called SOCHS—Southern Ontario Chapter of the Hymn Society. “I love the fact that the organization is so intentionally ecumenical. We have everything from Roman Catholic monks to Mennonites, several Baptist groups, Presbyterians.”

“Music has a unique way to bring wholeness to people,” Hehn said. “They often find healing through song. Alzheimer’s patients have remembered five stanzas of a song they sung as a child. It’s remarkable.”

“We live in a culture now that’s very performance oriented. When people have been told they can’t sing, it’s hard to get them to participate. But rhythm—drumming—is a powerful way to include everybody. All generations come in at the same skills level. It’s a way to get people to participate quickly and eventually find their voice within a congregation’s song.”

Two other hymn societies—one in Great Britain and one based in Germany—run similar programs on a smaller scale. Every six years, an international conference in held, which includes everyone. America will host in 2022 as part of the Society’s one hundredth anniversary.

“If you’re passionate about the church’s song, join the hymn society,” Hehn said. “The more voices we have at the table the better.”

To learn more about the Hymn Society go to

And the Southern Ontario Chapter has its own web site.