Sacred Song to feature great hymn writer of our time



Jessica White | Staff Writer

Sunday’s Sacred Song Service will introduce a poet who will inspire morning worship service hymns for the rest of the week.

The service, at 8 p.m. in the Amphitheater, will feature hymns by Brian Wren, who is spending Week Eight in residence at the Chautauqua Writers’ Center and teaching a Special Studies class on writing words for worship. Students’ prayers and hymns will be used during morning worship services throughout the week. The class is Monday through Friday, 3:30–5:30 p.m.

Jared Jacobsen, Chautauqua organist and coordinator of worship and sacred music, said he has been trying to bring Wren to Chautauqua for years and was finally able to do so with the help of Sherra Babcock, director of the Department of Education and Youth Services, who has worked with the poet before.

“He’s not necessarily a household name, because people don’t really pay attention to who wrote the hymns, they just know what they like,” Jacobsen said. “His hymns have appeared in virtually every new collection of hymns in the last 25 years. He just has a gift for writing words for worship.”

Sunday’s service is titled “Love’s Open Door: An Evening with Poet Brian Wren,” and most of the hymns are taken from Wren’s newest collection, which has not yet been published. Jacobsen said there were too many great hymns to choose from, and he had the frustrating task of trimming the program.

“There’s just a blizzard of Brian’s stuff that is so wonderful that it’s almost like, ‘Which is your favorite child?’ ” he said.

Wren writes in an accessible and almost autobiographical way, Jacobsen said. His hymns are not densely theological, but they help people understand what and why they are worshipping. Jacobsen will choose several “keynote” hymns, and he said he hopes to have a brief interview portion of the service in which he explains to Wren why he chose the hymns and asks Wren how they came to be.

Jacobsen said he also hopes to bring more hymn writers-in-residence to Chautauqua, as that was a tradition from the opening season but has happened less and less in recent years.

Because Sunday’s service is so hymn-heavy, there will be extra focus on congregational singing.

“You can talk about a hymn until you’re blue in the face, but until you sing it, you don’t understand its power,” Jacobsen said. “The Sacred Song Service is a perfect place to do this.”