The Mormon Times recently shared an online article about The Lower Lights, a group out of Provo, UT. The 40-plus-member conglomeration of artists gets its name from a Moody-inspired hymn by Philip Bliss (“Brightly Beams Our Father’s Mercy”). Their album, A Hymn Revival (September 2010), is a 15-track set of relatively newer “old hymns” of the gospel era, stylized in a bluegrass/Americana setting, whose throwback sound (though a bit more mainstream) is reminiscent of Bifrost Arts. I assume (without much investigation) that some of their songs are unique to the Mormon tradition:
1. Ye Elders of Israel
2. Come, Ye Children of the Lord
3. Jesus, Savior, Pilot Me
4. Secret Prayer
5. Count Your Blessings
6. If You Could Hie to Kolob
7. Brightly Beams Our Father’s Mercy
8. Israel, Israel God is Calling
9. The Lord is My Shepherd
10. Swing Low, Sweet Chariot
11. We Thank Thee, Oh God, For a Prophet
12. For the Beauty of the Earth
13. There is a Green Hill Far Away
14. Sweet Hour of Prayer
15. This Little Light of Mine
What is of interest to me here is simply that the hymns movement isn’t just an evangelical phenomenon. And, at this point, it’s not even a Protestant, Catholic, or Christian phenomenon.* This signals to me that there are broader cultural issues at play feeding into the hymns movement than just what is happening in the evangelical worship culture. Perhaps it is truly the case that our cultural sense of being rooted in something older than ourselves is all but lost in our postmodern, now-oriented milieu.
I speak often of the lack of much historical connectedness, theological depth, and biblical awareness in modern evangelical worship (though the tide is turning) and how the hymns movement has arrived largely in reaction to this reality. But what is to account for the LDS church experiencing a similar uprising? Maybe it’s too soon to tell. Maybe this is an isolated pocket of hymn-resurgence. I am largely ignorant of the shape and state of Mormon worship. My hunch is that, because the Mormon church was founded in 1830 on the American frontier, their worship is shaped by the Protestant revivalistic gospel hymnody of that era. If, in fact, this is true, the above album falls very much in line with what would be the hymn tradition of the LDS church.
Perhaps the Mormon church has never had a “contemporary worship” movement to which a hymns counter-reformation would be a necessary response. Still, here we have a group of relatively young people who are passionate about their church’s hymn tradition and eager to re-present it to modern ears.
*I do not consider Mormons Christians because their view of Jesus Christ does not fall within the bounds of orthodox Christianity.