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Softly and Tenderly Jesus is Calling. Written by Will L Thompson, published in 1880.
Some songs are mainly sung during the music service. You know, before the preacher gets up and talks. Others seem more commonly used during the invitation, such as Softly and Tenderly. As a child sitting through an often lengthy sermon, I welcomed any sign that we were nearly finished… :^)
One difference I’ve always noticed in invitational songs — they’re slower, and more emotional. Or maybe more loving? More wistful? Can’t find the exact word I’m looking for. But you never hear a fun, foot-stomping hymn during the invitation. It just isn’t done. When I was little, that didn’t require thought. Nobody wondered why. It was just the way things were. Even if the song was slow.
Now that I’m older, I see the common sense behind song selection. As my song-leader friend (Hi Jim!) once said to me… you design a song service to prepare people. Faster songs during the early part. Wakes people up. Then medium speed songs. Sets the mood to listen to the preacher. And finally, the invitational music is designed to provide a soothing complement to the altar call. Played softly, and yes… tenderly.
In today’s media-savvy generation, I suppose you might think of it somewhat like the sound track to different parts of a movie. Each part has to be appropriate to the events going on.
In one respect, I can acknowledge it seems kind of cynical. Manipulative. But that’s not the intention. You have to look further. When people come to church, it’s to worship together. Or to learn. It’s all about coming to God and sharing the experience with others. The music is an important part of this structure. For people like me, who come closest to God through music, it’s critical. For others, it establishes the theme. We’re in church. We’re settling in, getting ready to listen to the sermon. At the end, it’s an offer to make a public acknowledgment of faith. A chance to bring your life to God. Or to commune with God in a community venue.
The music lets you know where you are. What part of the service it is. It’s also a very traditional component. Without the music, it just wouldn’t feel like church. And it helps focus on the matter at hand.
One last thing- I got this from Cyberhymnal.org. Will Thompson, who wrote Softly and Tenderly, paid a visit to Dwight Lyman Moody as Reverend Moody lay on his death bed. The reverend took Will by the hand, and said “Will, I would rather have written ‘Softly and Tenderly Jesus is Calling’ than anything I have been able to do in my whole life.” This from a man who spent his life serving God.