While he was a Master of Sacred Music (M.S.M.) student at Perkins, Brian Hehn helped the Hymn Society envision the organization’s work in its second century. Now, he’s working to make that vision a reality, as Director of the Hymn Society’s Center for Congregational Song.
Hehn (M.S.M. ‘12) served on the Hymn Society’s board in 2010-2012 as it grappled with a discernment process in anticipation of the organization’s 100th anniversary in 2022.
“I was kind of the token young person on the board,” he jokes. “Members of the board considered what the Hymn Society needed to do to thrive as an organization in its second century of existence, at a time when the church is in turmoil. We came up with a lot of great ideas on how to live out the mission going forward.”
Board members soon realized that the Hymn Society needed to expand its staff and ramp up programming to accomplish those goals, and to do that, money was needed. That led to the launch of an endowment campaign, which the Rev. John Thornburg (M.Div. ‘81) helped spearhead. (Thornburg was also named an honorary alumnus of the M.S.M. program in 2019.) That led to the creation of the Center for Congregational Song, and in 2015, Hehn was hired for serve as its first Director.
“The Center is the apostolic arm of the Hymn Society,” he said. “My job is basically to go out and make new friends. Find out who is doing good work in our field and connect them to the Hymn Society and also to help the Hymn Society learn from those folks. And doing all this while acknowledging that we are only a part of the church’s song and being as invitational and humble as possible as we go about that work.”
The job requires Hehn to work ecumenically. He interfaces regularly with church musicians, music directors, pastors and others in more than 50 traditions represented in the Hymn Society’s membership.
“One day I might find myself corresponding with an individual church and supporting them by connecting them to resources,” he said. “The next day I could find myself in a meeting at the denominational level. At a Hymn Society dinner, I might be at a table with someone who publishes congregational song, a hymnal editor, a hymn writer, a church musician or a pastor, all from different traditions: Roman Catholic, Presbyterian, Mennonite or Brethren.
“Every day is different. But all the people I encounter love and understand the importance of the church’s song.”
Hehn frequently crosses paths with fellow Perkins M.S.M. graduates in his work, including the Rev. Dr. Cynthia A. Wilson, (M.S.M. ‘86) who leads the Junius B. Dotson Institute for Music and Worship in the Black Church and Beyond at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary; and Diana Sanchez-Bushong (M.S.M. ‘86), who is Executive Director, Worship Ministries at Discipleship Ministries.
“I do a lot of denominational level stuff, and that field is chock full of Perkins MSM grads,” he said.
Resourcing is a big part of his job. If someone is looking for a resource that doesn’t exist, Hehn might help create one to fill the gap. As an example, he recently received a call from a pastor who was looking for a way for his congregation to pay royalties, as a means of reparations, whenever his church sings Negro spirituals. That led to the creation of the Hymn Society’s Reparations Royalties pilot project, a series of guidelines and other resources available online. The project was featured in January in a news report on NPR.
Hehn loves the ecumenical aspect of his job. Ecumenism is a passion of his, inspired by an experience from his college days. As an undergraduate, he spent a summer in the Iona Community on the island of Iona in Scotland, “an international, ecumenical Christian movement working for justice and peace, the rebuilding of community and the renewal of worship,” according to the organization’s website.
“What I saw there was this vision and understanding of the church that was broader and more joyful than anything I’d experienced before,” he said. “It was then that I realized that I was being called to lead the church’s song, whatever that meant, and to understand and embrace how broad and diverse the church is. That’s what I’ve been pursuing for the 15 years since.”
Today, Hehn jokes that he’s “denominationally promiscuous.” He grew up in a Presbyterian church, attended a United Methodist seminary, and as his second job, serves as Director of Adult Discipleship and Liturgical Worship at a Lutheran (ELCA) church in the Baltimore area.
Anchoring him through his busy schedule is his family: wife Eve, 8-year-old son Jakob and 1-year old daughter Clara. In fact, Hehn considers coaching Jakob’s soccer team as one of his primary spiritual disciplines.
“I run around on a field with little kids,” he said. “It reminds me that a lot of things are more important in life than whatever I’m stressed about.”