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  • Writer's pictureSusan Powell

My Roots: The Way Way Back

The hymns I've chosen for the launch of my new project "Join My Song" are intentional--a cross-section of the Christian traditions that have shaped me.

"Savior Blessed Savior" was the title track for my 2006 album. Frances Havergal's many hymn tunes were well-represented in the hymnal I grew up singing from. It was the Trinity Hymnal, published in 1990 by the PCA, a conservative evangelical denomination. I grew up in the PCA, except for short sojourns in similar communities: Orthodox Presbyterian, RPCNA, and Reformed Baptist. What they all had in common was their deep commitment to Calvinist theology and their passion for singing. Church was the most important part of my life, and my most beloved memories are of congregational song. Before I could read, my favorite hymn was "When Morning Gilds the Skies."

Five years later I couldn't name my favorites because there were too many. (I did have lists.) Maybe it was William Cowper's "There Is a Fountain Filled with Blood." Before I was even a teenager I was playing for my church on Wednesday nights. The pastor would come up to me before prayer meeting and grin: "OK, Miss Walking Talking Hymnal. What number is 'Abide with Me'?...402...OK, we're singing that tonight." I knew the number of all 742 hymns, and I knew the hymn writers of most of them, too. Why all this mattered to me so much is a story for another post, but it did.

It was another five years and I was in my late teens. I'd been making recordings for my church's website for a couple years when a young family I was babysitting for asked me if I'd record them some hymns so they could sing with their little girl at home each night. "You know," Jay said, "I think there would be a market for this." I was skeptical but he was well-connected and I started exploring the idea and found out he was right. A year later and I had self-published a 4-CD set of tracks complete with endorsements and shiny graphics. There are still families and tiny churches singing along to these recordings almost 20 years later.

So my new YouTube channel "Join My Song" is just a return to my roots. But now I hope to spread branches. Instead of sticking to one hymnal, I'm eager to reflect the wide range of Christian traditions that have shaped me since I was a child. These are my songs. I used to joke that if you cut me I'd bleed hymn lyrics. I've been around more than a few blocks since my baptism as a wee Calvinist, and my songs have accumulated, multiplying as I've encountered the Faith sung all over the church. I'm not a Calvinist anymore but I still treasure the strengths I witnessed in that tradition: especially the passion for Scripture and beautiful theology and the commitment to gathered worship. And I love their hymns.

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