Parishioners are ‘hymnotized’ by local woman’s hobby

From left, Doris Leonard, Winona Mullis, Randy Atcheson and Charlene Roberson. — Sylvia Felcyn photo

From left, Doris Leonard, Winona Mullis, Randy Atcheson and Charlene Roberson.
— Sylvia Felcyn photo

Greenwich resident Winona Mullis united First Presbyterian Church of Greenwich parishioners with music recently, using her lifelong hymnody hobby to bring the group together.

Hymnody is the creation, study, and singing of hymns and Ms. Mullis’ hobby found triumphant expression in mid-May at a luncheon for senior members of the church in its stately Grand Hall.

Accompanied by the piano skills of Minister of Music Randy Atcheson, some 50 parishioners sang five of her favorite hymns and also learned how and why the hymns came into being.

How Great Thou Art became an international favorite after the Billy Graham Evangelistic Team used it in their crusades during the late 1940s and early 1950s.

But the original text was written by a Swedish pastor, Carl Gustav Boberg, in 1885 after witnessing a midday thunderstorm with moments of flashing violence followed by a clear and brilliant sun.

After the storm, according to Ms. Mullis’ research, “The Rev. Boberg heard songbirds in nearby trees and fell on his knees in humble adoration to God. Shortly after this experience he wrote the hymn and Swedish congregations sang his words to one of their old folk tunes.”

The text was later translated into German and Russian and ultimately into English by missionaries to Ukraine.

Chosen in 1974 by a Christian magazine as the most popular hymn in America, its global reach extended further when it became a favorite of Korean Presbyterians.

“Hence a phonetic rendering of the Korean is included in the Presbyterian Hymnal,” Ms. Mullis said. “Many of the texts in our hymnals are based on deep, personal experiences of the writers and many are based on a particular Biblical verse,” she added.

Of Scottish-Irish descent, Ms. Mullis’ pursuit of hymnody took on new life when she visited Scotland and Ireland in recent years and learned that the only music practiced in many of Scotland’s kirks (churches) was singing of psalms.

“Hymns offer us a means of praising God, revealing man’s thoughts and feelings about Him, and when enhanced with melodies, harmonies, and rhythms a reservoir of spiritual strength and encouragement is received,” she said.

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