Hymn sing to ring rafters of historic church

Published 7:05 am Saturday, September 23, 2023

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By Christine Weerts

Special to The Selma Times-Journal

A historic church that has been silent for over a decade will be filled with music at 4 p.m. Sunday, during Hymnfest 23 – a hymn sing-along free and open to the community.

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The community sing-along will be held at St. Luke’s Church, a Gothic-designed church built in 1854, at Old Cahawba Archeological Park west of Selma. Local church choirs and musicians will lead the singing. All participants will receive Hymnfest 23 hymnals to sing along.

“I look forward to hearing the hymns of so many congregations in and near Cahawba resonate once again through the rafters of St. Luke’s Church during this celebration,” said Linda Derry, Site Director, Old Cahawba Archeological Park. “Hymnfest 23 will truly be a time-traveling experience – singing old-fashioned hymns that have been part of the faith community for generations.”

Rafters will ring with cherished hymns like John Newton’s “Amazing Grace,” written 250 years ago this year celebrating God’s grace and forgiveness, the regal “Holy, Holy, Holy” written by Reginald 1826 while serving as Anglican Bishop of Calcutta in India. The “Sweet Blessed Assurance,” written in 1873 by blind hymn writer Fanny Crosby, who served in several inner-city rescue missions and said of her blindness, “When I get to heaven, the first face that shall ever gladden my sight will be that of my Savior.”

Hymnfest will feature century-old hymns that offered sustenance in the cotton fields and on the battlefields; Spirituals like “Swing Low Sweet Chariot” written by Wallace Willis reflecting on Elijah’s heavenly chariot journey and one of the Union soldiers’ favorite hymns, “Sweet Hour of Prayer,” remembering the comfort of heavenly prayer.

The old Sunday School favorite, “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands,” a concert song of famous contralto Marian Anderson, will remind singers that even in the midst of life’s storms, we are not alone.

The hymns will be led by singers from several Christian congregations, including choirs from St. Paul’s Episcopal Church and First (Missionary) Baptist Church in Selma, and the Chanterelles, a Selma-based group of musicians from Baptist, Episcopal, Lutheran, Church of Christ among other faith traditions.

Hymnfest 23 is sponsored by Black Belt Treasures Cultural Arts Center, the Daniel Foundation, Thrivent Financial, Old Cahawba. The Alabama Historical Commission. Dallas County Commissioner Jan Justice and Senator Robert Stewart have also supported the event. 

Old Cahawba Archaeological Park located at 9518 Cahaba Road lies at the confluence of the Alabama and Cahaba Rivers, about 15 miles west of Selma off of AL 22. From 1819 to 1826, it served as Alabama’s first capital. Old Cahawba is a historic property of the Alabama Historical Commission. To learn more about this, call 334-872-8058 or visit www.ahc.alabama.gov.