Sixty-four hymns enter. Only one emerged as the winner.
As sheltering-at-home Disciples long for the hymns that connect them to their congregations, Rev. Kory Wilcoxson, senior pastor at Crestwood Christian Church in Lexington, Ky., pitted 64 hymns from Chalice Hymnal in a tournament to determine which hymn is the most popular.
"Here I Am, Lord" (#452), written by Daniel L. Schutte in 1981, conquered the extremely musical field, taking 56.4% of the vote over runner-up #561, "It Is Well with My Soul."
Earlier this year, Wilcoxson, learned that cross-town congregation Central Christian Church was staging a hymn tournament. When the COVID outbreak dispersed congregations in March, he realized the coincidental overlap between the outbreak and the cancellation of the annual tournament, plus the need to have an entertaining distraction, made the timing perfect for a national hymn tournament run from his Facebook page using Google Forms.
Mirroring the basketball tournaments, he created four regions: the Stone, the Campbell, the Craddock honoring legendary preacher Fred Craddock, and the Hord Owens, honoring the current General Minister and President. Then came the job of seeding the tournament.
“I knew what the top four seeds would be, but after that, it became really hard. A favorite of mine may not be a favorite of somebody else,” Wilcoxson says. “I went through the hymnal and listed every hymn I wanted to be considered, and I ended up with about 100 to choose from. Then I got it down to 75 or 70 ‘bubble teams,’ and narrowing it down was really, really hard.”
Like every basketball tournament, fans have debated the seedings – beloved hymns ranked too low, despised hymns too high, hymns that were left out altogether. “There’s a 14-seed that made it to the Elite 8, so obviously that was a terrible seeding on my part. I assumed ‘In The Garden’ would go far into the tournament, but it went out in the second round. It’s been interesting to see people’s reactions. The passion people have about these hymns has been fascinating – cheering for this one, rooting against that one.”
The biggest surprises were a run by 14-seed “Come Thou Font of Every Blessing” and the early exit of 2-seed “I Was There to Hear Your Borning Cry.” “Crestwood loves that hymn – they love that hymn – and I would assume other people would as well. I guess not.” But the top seeds remain heading into the final rounds.
When each round of online voting ended, Wilcoxson analyzes the results, pulling unusual lyrics or citing the more unique names of authors and composers behind the music. “It’s helped me know the hymns better, to really dive into them, to see what humor can be pulled out of that.”
Even though the tournament is based on the Disciples hymnal, participation has been ecumenical, including a dozen different faith traditions. Each round averaged 275 voters from 33 states, Canada, and even North Macedonia.