Hymns Live On for Hundreds of Years

Rod's piece pic
Written Spring of 2014

“There’s a reason that some music has stuck around for hundreds of years, whereas some of the things we’re singing now, in twenty years, no one will have ever heard of,” says Rodney Derstine, music teacher at Christopher Dock Mennonite High School. I sat down with Rod recently to hear his views on music in the church and how hymns seem to be disappearing from our Mennonite church worship services. “I like hearing the four part harmony.”

Rod grew up in a singing family. His mother had a strong influence on his love of music in that she listened to classical composers on the radio. He also remembers playing forty-fives of classical music over and over again. From Bach and 17th century chorales to Sing the Story, Rod loves music of all kinds.

“It’s fun to see students enjoying hymns.” Rod tells his students each year, “I’m not looking to change what you listen to, but I’m looking to expand what you like.” He tells them it’s like when he first started eating Japanese food. “The more I ate it, the more I really started to like it and then even crave it.” He feels if music is constructed well and has a good text; ultimately, the kids will enjoy it.

“Many students today have no concept of hymns or even a religious background. But I keep plugging away at it, continuing to lead hymns in chapel.” He admits some years he has become discouraged with how the singing in chapel has sounded, but he tries not to take it too seriously if the singing doesn’t go well. “You don’t have to hit a homerun every time you sing.” Rod continues to introduce songs such as #118 (Hymnal: A Worship Book), “Praise God from Whom” in chapel. “I just try to expose them to different things.”

I asked Rod if he believes that community people are more attracted to the contemporary choruses than hymns. “That’s a myth, especially if you do old hymns with texts that have depth. There is a richness and so much variety in hymns, if done well.”

Rod believes that music is most powerful when we are moved beyond ourselves. “A number of years ago when we were living in Oregon, I chose to lead the hymn “My Shepherd Will Supply My Need” on a Sunday morning at Salem Mennonite Church. I didn’t realize that Rich Reger was sitting in the back row and had been estranged from the church for many years. When I led that song, he began crying. He told me later it was that hymn that brought him home. Rich later became a pastor. He died this last year of cancer. He was a dear friend…and that hymn brought him back.”

7 thoughts on “Hymns Live On for Hundreds of Years

  1. Mr. Benner –
    I am writing in response to your posting of “Stories Passed Down” 4/24/2012.
    I accidentally found it last week. I am so glad to find out what happened to Mary Ellen Heebner and her mother. I noticed on findagrave.com that they died so close together and I thought there must have been a tragedy. It certainly is so very very sad. heart wrenching I am sure that it was so very difficult for your great grandfather plus everyone else.

    The picture also caught my eye as I knew the mother of the baby who was the daughter of your great grandfather, Daniel Heebner. { Sara C. Heebner Halladay (Mrs. Paul Halladay) was a very dear friend of mine. I had the wonderful opportunity to know her during the last five years of her life. } Ruth Mary Halladay was their daughter. I believe that this Sara would have been your great aunt, since your grandfather, Albert, was her half brother.

    I have been trying to connect Sara Heebner Halladay and her children (Ruth Mary and Paul Karleton) with her parents (Daniel Heebner and Katie Nyce Cassel Heebner), half brothers (Horace, Jacob, Abraham, Albert), half sister (Mary Ellen), and brothers (Dan, Willard) on findagrave.com. see memorial record 45922077 In fact, I believe that I saw the name of four Sara Heebners, including your mother.

    I have been trying to find at least one picture of Sara C. Heebner Halladay when she was young – young adult/teenager/child. Do you have any Heebner family pictures of your great grandfather, Daniel,/grandfather, Albert, that included her in the picture?

    I did find her class picture at West Chester Normal School/West Chester Teacher’s College in the 1919 yearbook – The Serpentine, but it is a very old picture with many people which are unidentifiable.

    Best wishes to you, your mother, and your family

    • I’ll ask my mom about a picture, but I know she has told me in the past that the only picture she knows of her Grandfather is the one holding the baby. She loved Sara Halladay and my parents visited them on a trip out west. I have pictures of her and her family that I can locate but not one of Daniel with her. Sorry…
      Best wishes to you as well. Bev

      • Hi! Bev Thanks for your response
        Sorry, I wasn’t sure about the name.

        I would be glad to see absolutely any pictures of Sara Halladay. Maybe, you could post what you find on your blog – just a suggestion.

        When I found Sara Halladay’s record on findagrave.com her name was misspelled and the only information listed was the cemetery information. I just couldn’t leave it. So, I tried to remember what she told me about her family. I found your grandfather Albert’s obituary which helped a lot. Also, the fact that many of your relatives are buried at the Plains Mennonite Church cemetery helped a lot, too.

        I have a few questions that you may know. If not, could you ask your mother?

        I assume that your mother and Sara Halladay were named after Daniel Heebner’s first wife, Sallie/Sara Landis/Landes Heebner (your mothers’ grandmother). I also assume that Ruth Mary Halladay was named after little Mary Heebner who drowned. Am I correct?

        Also, did your mother attend the wedding of Sara C. Heebner and Paul Halladay on 8/22/1926? Where did they get married? Are there any pictures?

        I am so very glad to be in contact with Sara Halladay’s family. She certainly was a gem. She made such a major impact on my life. I knew her when I was in high school and college. She passed away during my senior year at Manchester College.

        I certainly enjoy your blog – all the pictures of your mother, family, and the stories.

        Take care and best wishes, Judy

      • Okay, I copied out your questions and I’ll try and get back to you with the answers. Of the top of my head, mom never mentioned being named after Sara or a connection with Mary, but it is possible. Her dad never wanted to talk about the accident, so my mom knows very little. The information we know is from the newspaper and other people that remembered it. I’ll try to get back to you in a week or so.

      • Hi Judy,
        I saw my mom this past weekend and forgot to ask her about the Sara’s wedding but she did not think she or Sara Haliday were named after her deceased grandmother. She said she never heard that. We’re looking for pictures of Sara Halliday in my dad’s slide collection which might take some time. That’s all for now. Bev

      • Bev,
        Thank you so much for talking to your mother about my questions. THANK YOU to you both.
        I wish I could talk with you and your mother in person but I am in Indiana.
        I hope that you find some pictures, but I truly hope that this is not an imposition of any kind. I wish I was there to help with the ‘looking through the slides project’.
        Take care,

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