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Church musician William J. Reynolds dies

FORT WORTH, Texas (BP)–William J. Reynolds, church musician, composer, arranger, editor, hymnologist and distinguished professor emeritus of church music at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, died March 28. He was 88.

Born April 2, 1920, in Atlantic, Iowa, Reynolds was the nephew of I.E. Reynolds, a pioneer in Gospel music at Southwestern Seminary for 30 years. I.E. Reynolds established systematic training of church musicians at the seminary in 1915 and William J. Reynolds followed in his uncle’s footsteps.

Among Reynolds’ hundreds of compositions and arrangements, most Southern Baptists would be familiar with “Share His Love” and “I Have Decided to Follow Jesus.”

“Dr. Reynolds has the wonderful reputation of being a complete and multifaceted church musician,” said Stephen P. Johnson, dean of the School of Church Music at Southwestern. “As composer, conductor, hymnologist, author, director of the church music department at the Baptist Sunday School Board [now LifeWay Christian Resources] and teacher, he encouraged generations of church musicians in their creation and performance of quality church music. Because of his love for all aspects of church music in many styles, he was a beloved colleague of church musicians ranging from smaller rural churches to large congregations in the United States and beyond. His contribution to church music throughout the Southern Baptist Convention was scholarly, practical, inspiring and enduring.”

Reynolds composed more than 700 choral anthems, hymn tunes, children’s songs and other types of songs. Hymns he composed were published in the 1956, 1975, 1991 and 2008 editions of the Baptist Hymnal. He served as music director for meetings of the Southern Baptist Convention and the Baptist World Alliance, and he was the first Baptist elected president of The Hymn Society of America.

“He was one of, if not the most gifted songwriter in the Southern Baptist Convention, and his legacy lives in the great hymns he wrote and in the students who learned from him the extraordinary value of hymns in worship,” said Morris H. Chapman, president of the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee. “The hymns Dr. Reynolds wrote speak of God’s all-encompassing power and of His worthiness of our praise and adoration. He was truly gifted at blending theology and song.

“I was blessed by his visit to my office several months ago,” Chapman added. “Although he was in his eighties, he was still dreaming of more projects incorporating hymns and expressed the hope that they would never lose their rightful place in our worship experiences.”

Said Mike Harland, director of LifeWay Worship, “Dr. Reynolds was a pioneer in modern Baptist hymnody. As editor of the 1975 Baptist Hymnal, Dr. Reynolds was the first to bring many new songs and settings of older songs into the modern era. When the 2008 Baptist Hymnal was released last summer, it was my joy to present to Dr. Reynolds a commemorative edition of the hymnal that built on much of his work in the 1975 edition. I am very grateful I knew this patriarch of Baptist hymnody and will always be grateful for his example to me in the role I serve in now at LifeWay.”

From 1946 to 1955, Reynolds served as minister of music and youth at First Baptist Church of Ardmore, Okla., and later as minister of music at First Baptist Church of Oklahoma City. For 25 years he served with the church music department of the Sunday School Board [now LifeWay Christian Resources] of the Southern Baptist Convention. In 1980, he was appointed to the faculty of Southwestern Seminary as professor of church music, serving there until his retirement in 1998.

After retirement, Reynolds donated to Southwestern’s Bowld Music Library an extensive music collection containing more than 1,500 volumes of hymnody, including hymnals, biographies of hymn writers and histories of congregational hymn singing, focusing mostly on Southern Baptist life in the 19th and 20th centuries.

Reynolds’ donated collection also includes an archive of more than 750 files containing biographical and historical information about hymns, hymn writers and composers of hymn tunes — material gathered by Reynolds during his 60-year career as a church musician and historian.

Reynolds had a special interest in the Sacred Harp tradition of a capella Gospel singing in the South. Reynolds was a consultant in the publication of the Sacred Harp Songbook and was featured in the 2006 documentary “Awake My Soul,” which explored the history, music and traditions of Sacred Harp singing. He organized the first Sacred Harp gathering at Southwestern in 1984.

Reynolds authored two hymnal handbooks, “Hymns of Our Faith” (1964) and “Companion to Baptist Hymnal” (1976) and a hymnology textbook, “A Survey of Christian Hymnody” (1964). He also contributed to “Handbook to the Baptist Hymnal” (1992), consulted for “The Sacred Harp” (1991 edition), and wrote a history of music at Southwestern Seminary, “The Cross & the Lyre: The Story of the School of Church Music” (1994).

Paige Patterson, president of Southwestern Seminary, offered his condolences to friends and family.

“Dr. William J. Reynolds may well be directing a choir of angels by now. Long years of directing the music for the Southern Baptist Convention and groundbreaking years of instructing future ministers of music here at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, together with prolific contributions to the music we all have sung, combine to make him an institution in Baptist life,” Patterson said. “I am happy he is in heaven, but Southwestern will miss him and cherish his memory.”

Reynolds was hospitalized recently in Nashville, Tenn., after suffering from heart failure and pneumonia. He is survived by his wife of 61 years, Mary Lou Robertson Reynolds; sons Timothy Jensen of Nashville and Kirk Mallory of Alexandria, Va.; granddaughters Abigail Leigh and Rachel Elizabeth Reynolds of Nashville and Hannah Louise Reynolds of Alexandria, Va.; a sister, Mary Ellen Lovelace of Dallas, Texas; and a brother, James Theodore Reynolds of Bartlesville, Okla.

A memorial service will be held at First Baptist Church of Nashville at 11 a.m., Wednesday, April 1.
Keith Collier is a writer for Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.

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