Hymns, praise music, Negro spirituals, Christian rock, sacred harp and Gregorian chant may seem like starkly different styles with little in common, but they share one thing: they can all be heard in churches across America.

That’s what brought about 220 Catholics, Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians, Episcopalians, Mennonites and dozens from other denominations together for a five-day meeting of the Hymn Society, which ended Thursday (July 15) at Samford University.

“We all sing,” said Deb Loftis, executive director of the Richmond, Va.-based Hymn Society. “We embrace each other’s tradition. What we’re trying to do is embrace the widest variety of congregational music, and bridge stylistic differences.”
One night, the group had a sacred harp singing, using shape-note songbooks. Another, they gathered at a black church and sang spirituals.
“It’s an opportunity to study and celebrate what congregations sing,” said Emily Brink, senior research fellow at the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship in Grand Rapids, Mich. “This is one place that text writers, tune writers, musicians and publishers can talk.”
While churches across the country sometimes split and fight over musical styles–with older members arguing for keeping old hymns and younger people pushing for contemporary music–the Hymn Society wants to teach the world’s churches to sing in harmony without conflict.

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