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CBS Features Story on Popularity of ‘In Christ Alone’ and Reviving Lost Art of Writing Hymns

( [email protected] ) Apr 08, 2015 02:13 PM EDT

In Christ Alone Hymn

For anyone who has recently visited a church anywhere in the United States, especially over Easter, chances are that some songs and hymns are played more than others. One of them is the hymn "In Christ Alone."

In a report that aired on CBS "Sunday Morning" over Easter, the headline story focused on the history of hymns. CBS News reporter Tracy Smith focused on the backstory behind the popular hymn "In Christ Alone," which was originally written back in 2001 by Keith Getty and his wife, Kristyn.

"The first hymn out of the box was actually 'In Christ Alone,'" said Getty. "It was a basic statement of what Christians believe."

Smith reported that in a 2013 survey ranking the best-loved hymns in the United Kingdom, "In Christ Alone" was the second most-popular hymn of all time; the top spot went to "How Great Thou Art." She asked Getty if he had any idea on how popular the melody would become in churches around the world.

"Are you kidding me?" Getty said. "The original melody was written on the back of a Northern Ireland electricity bill, which at the end of the year I threw in the trash! No, I had not a clue!"

Getty added that he wrote the song when he was 25 years old. He told Smith that at the time, he wanted to "make a statement about the importance of our faith and the importance of singing our faith."

However, Getty, who originally came from Northern Ireland, told Smith that he didn't always think that writing hymns would be his calling.

"Before that, I wanted to play football for Liverpool. But then I realized I wasn't that good," Getty said. "I wanted to write something that was a little bit more, a little bit deeper, have a little bit of a different voice."

According to Smith, the Getty family currently lives in Nashville with two daughters; Kristyn is currently pregnant with their third child.

"I feel I've been pregnant for years," Kristyn said. "We've lived in Nashville for five years. And we've had three kids in that time. So it's been wonderful, and we're so grateful and we love it. But it's been pretty exhausting. So I'm looking forward to not being pregnant anymore."

Smith reported that the Gettys performed "In Christ Alone" and other music at the Grand Ol' Opry in Nashville. She asked Keith if he ever became nervous in such events.

"I never got nervous in my whole life, but I only have to pray," Getty said. "I'm the fat guy at the piano."

Smith talked with Pepperdine University professor Jerry Rushford about the history of other iconic hymns. One of the lyrics to the hymns, "Rock of Ages, cleft for me?" was inspired by an actual rock located near Bristol, England.

"The legend is that Augustus Montague Toplady was walking through the Mendip Hill, and the storm came up," Rushford said. "He got into that cleft. I've got into the cleft a lot. You would stay dry in that cleft!"

Rushford also elaborated on the history behind "Amazing Grace," which was originally written by former slave trader John Newton, who later became a minister. That hymn is commonly played in national funerals and whenever the United States was in a state of grief.

"Twenty-five years after he almost died, he's remembering that night on the high seas, when the man right next to him was swept overboard to his death," Rushford said of Newton. "He was so close to death, and he yelled out 'Oh, God, save us!' He had never called on God for anything. And he writes these words, 'Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me.'"

The professor then turned to the history behind the iconic "Hallelujah Chorus," which was written by the great composer George Frideric Handel back in 1741. According to Smith, that hymn was based off a vision Handel had while he wrote all 260 pages of "The Messiah" in a 24-day span.

"His servant, who brought him in a tray of food, tells us the story that he came into the room and Handel was looking the other way," Rushford said. "And he turned with this lioness mane of hair all disheveled and his eyes wide. And he uttered the great line, 'I did think! I did see! All heaven before me and the great God himself!' That's what just happened."

Smith then asked the professor if the hymn composed by the Gettys, "In Christ Alone," will stand the test of time like the other classic hymns he talked about in detail.

"Oh, I really do," Rushford replied. "They are gifted. I would think that right now -- we're into 2015 -- 'In Christ Alone' is the greatest hymn written in this century so far. I would sure think that has immortality with it. They write things that just seem eternal."

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