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Historical society recalls gospel songs

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ABBOTSFORD, B.C.

The sound of gospel songs filled King Road MB Church, Abbotsford, B.C., June 14, for an evening of singing and learning about the songs popular in our churches in the last century. The event was sponsored by the Mennonite Historical Society of B.C.

Gospel songs were once a staple in Mennonite church life; now they are rapidly fading into disuse. Musicologist Evan Kreider traced the development and popularity of these hymns. He noted that gospel songs grew out of the great revivals of the 1850s. By the late 1800s, some Mennonite churches began using gospel songs, first in evening services and for youth groups. They eventually became part of Sunday morning services.

“Successful revival movements bring an energy to church life,” said Kreider, citing the Brunk revival services of the 1950s as an example.

Gospel songs, with tunes often adapted from popular music of the day, focus on themes of assurance, personal salvation, and heightened individualism such as is evident in Fanny Crosby’s “Blessed Assurance.” Kreider observed that this hymn says, “Jesus is mine,” not Jesus is yours, or ours, but mine.

Kreider’s rich historical insights were interspersed with animated congregational singing of gospel songs, as well as performances by a male quartet and ladies sextet.

—Henry Neufeld

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