About Hymn by Hymn

Rev. Kimberley Debus

What started as a spiritual practice in 2016 soon became something more – a resource, an analysis, a much needed examination of our hymns – our living, sung theology.


On October 4, 2016, I began a daily practice of singing each of our currently published 490 hymns, one a day, and writing about them at my personal blog, FarFringe.com. At the beginning, I wrote only personal reflections. But soon I was also writing about usage, history, theology, and setting.

Over the course of the practice, I wrote about gendered language, the language of Empire, cultural misappropriation, calls to justice, meandering lyrics, and awkward rhymes. I waxed poetic about favorite songs, composers, favorite lyricists, favorite messages. I sang through the darkest days and the brightest. I shared personal stories and collective ones. I linked to dozens of video versions, and I bemoaned the lack of tune recordings. I discovered some new favorites and those I would likely never use. I considered just how far we’ve come on this arc of justice – a journey reflected in our theological and linguistic choices.

In the process, I learned that our clergy and laity care deeply about our hymns too – and are over and over again looking for more information that helps them use our hymnals more proficiently and lead our congregations in song more adeptly.

And thus, the Hymn by Hymn Resource Guide was born.

Over the next three years, every hymn in Singing the Living Tradition and Singing the Journey will be re-examined; with the help of other colleagues (musicians, educators, and ministers) each hymn will be more deeply researched, with information about its origins, a consideration of the theology, an examination of its place in our work of liberation, and insights into the use and performance of the music. I will also continue to include personal reflections – from me and others – to broaden and deepen our spiritual experience and connection with these songs of our living tradition.

And perhaps most importantly, you will be invited to curiosity: not only to learn more about the history, composition, and theology of our hymns, but also to consider linguistic shifts, theological stances, implicit biases, and cultural appropriation. In our explorations, we endeavor to be invitational rather than dogmatic.

Simply put: the Hymn by Hymn Resource Guide is a doorway for current and future Unitarian Universalists to hold the beauty and complexity of our hymnals. Singing our hymns reflectively connects us with our personal faith and our hearts’ deepest joys and sorrows. Learning about our hymns help us ask better questions of ourselves in our ongoing work of drawing the circle wide and growing our faith in liberative love.

These songs – even those that challenge us – are beautiful, inspiring, comforting, enlivening. I have felt all those things and more as I have sung and shared. I want us to share this joy.

To learn more about me and my Unitarian Universalist community ministry, visit The Art of Meaning.

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