The Western Bible and Literary College ambitiously tried to live up to both parts of its name. In addition to a strong emphasis on biblical studies, sermons and lectures on Bible topics, there were many recitals of music and poetry and lectures on other subjects. Irene Doty, soon to be Mrs. E. L. Jorgenson, was among the piano-emphasis students. During his two years on the Odessa campus, Elmer Jorgenson’s name often appears on the recital and commencement programs and in the various presentations of the Philomathian Literary Society. Singing secular and sacred musical solos and in readings—such as Edgar Allen Poe’s dark poem “The Raven”, his name appears frequently in what was clearly an effort to develop his own speaking and musical skills, and to help undergird the college’s effort to provide a broad program for its students.

As the Jorgenson couple moved to Louisville at the end of 1909, he was consumed, he says, “with a passion to provide the church with a better, more suitable song book …” Recognizing his need to grow in both biblical and musical backgrounds (“I knew enough to know that I knew nothing (Socrates)”), he entered the University of Louisville in 1910, remaining three or four years, and then the old Louisville conservatory of Music for a similar period. He studied ancient and modem languages, music history, harmony, counterpoint, and composition, as well as applied voice and two years of serious violin study.

The newly wedded Jorgensons lived in the Portland Avenue area of Louisville upon their arrival in December 1909, renting an apartment from Dr. Frazee, father of Louis and James Frazee who still live in Louisville. Regarding the minimal income but the low cost of living during those early years, Irene Jorgenson once told her niece that she and her husband could not eat all the steak that ten cents bought in one meal. Although he assisted several out-of-town congregations in providing supply preaching (Borden, Pekin, and Utica in Indiana among numerous other Churches of Christ), E. L. J. was still considered to be a member of the Portland Avenue Church in February 1911 when he spoke to a union meeting as a representative of that congregation. This meeting highlighted missionary work supported by the Louisville churches and reveals the growing urgency Elmer felt for the work of missions. This “urgency” was no doubt fueled by continued association with missionary J. M. McCaleb and also that dedicated underwriter of missionary work, his old Odessa friend Don Carlos Janes. Janes edited the Encouragement Magazine to which Jorgenson often contributed an article. The magazine was later subsumed by the Missionary Messenger. After Janes’ death in 1944, Elmer became editor for the Messenger and administrator, together with his wife, Irene, for the Janes Trust in support of field missionary activity and Christian publication work. In the meantime, he remained very active in evangelistic meetings–both as preacher and as song evangelist.

 In July 1913, E. L. Jorgenson received a call to become the regular minister of the Highland Church of Christ on Bardstown Road in Louisville. The call provided a central organizing focus for his life during the next few years–a point of departure for his work at the University and Conservatory, and, most of all, for his increasingly active work in the compilation of the new hymn book. It also occasioned a family move from the Portland area to Hepburn Avenue nearer the Church.

Highland Church of Christ was planted with a tent meeting held by J. A. Harding in 1897. The beautiful building housed a very active local and missionary program which had enjoyed a distinguished series of preachers before Jorgenson. Many young people were motivated to become preachers and missionaries during the time of Jorgenson’s ministry with Highland, and the Church was active several times in sharing its own members to help begin new Louisville congregations. The ministry of this church has historically been one emphasizing freedom in Christ, the indwelling Holy Spirit in each believer, and a strong hope in the imminent return of Jesus. A wonderful irenic spirit of receiving Christians who held differing ideas about “non-essentials” of the Christian faith has generated a willingness to “receive ye one another” in the spirit of Romans 14:1-15:7. The trepidation experienced by E. L. Jorgenson upon assuming the venerated pulpit at the Highland Church was not much different from what any young twenty-six-year-old might have felt.

 In a reminiscing sermon given in 1953, Jorgenson spoke of history which could be related to the story of the great Highland Church:

. . . I could spend time in historical references to the great, good personalities of the past who planted firmly here the cause of apostolic Christianity, especially those who stood with us when the great test came-the test that had to come as the years since have abundantly proved—the struggle between free, spiritual growing religion on the one hand, and the incipient sectarianism which by and by, somehow or other, springs up in every movement. We had to learn, as all who would go on with God must learn, with what heaviness of suffering and discipline men make their way to freedom and to truth.

The Word and Work, a publication born in New Orleans under the aegis of Stanford Chambers and Dr. D. L. Watson in 1908, carried a Department of “Work and Worship” by Jorgenson as early as 1913, the year he began his ministry at Highland. This relationship continued through 1915, when Chambers  “decided that Louisville would be a much better location to be a good influence for the spread of the gospel and the strengthening of believers.” The February issue of 1916 listed Chambers, H. L. Olmstead, and E. L. Jorgenson as co-editors, with R. H. Boll as editor-in-chief. Jorgenson also was publisher of the magazine for many years. He and J. R. Clark assumed full editorial duties upon the death of R.H. Boll in 1956, until 1962 when they became associate editors with Gordon Linscott as editor-publisher. The current editor of the Word and Work, Alex Wilson, has written about their journalistic work: “. . . co-editors E. L. Jorgenson and J. R. Clark. Faithful, loving, humble men, concerned to build bridges and remove barriers among the people of God.”

But let’s return to the earlier 1900’s. The pace of life for Jorgenson was becoming a daily marathon. The great passion of his life, “to provide the church with a better, more suitable songbook,” was pressing more urgently upon him as he worked clipping, editing, choosing material, and designing his dream book. Irene Doty Jorgenson has written, “During these years he was . . . working on the compiling of Great Songs of the Church, laboring many times until the wee hours of the morning.” Preaching and the pastoral work of the Highland Church, frequent evangelistic meetings, a heavy writing schedule, and the time spent on the book became impossible to carry. Although the first book had been published and he was already doing spade work for the No. 2 hymnal by that time, by 1923, Irene Jorgenson writes, “The load . . . became so heavy that he felt he should resign from the ministry of the Highland Church. He did, however, take out-of-town appointments, thus being relieved of congregational responsibility through the week. He could devote more time to his compiling work.” And as that work continued, “By the end of World War I, 1918,” he writes, “I thought I was ready to print (of course I wasn’t) but I began. And then a rude discovery!”

The shock experienced by the young would-be compiler was his reaction to the business half of the world of Christian music publishing. He needed to use songs published by the E. 0. Excel Publishing Company and those published by the Hope and Rody Publishing Companies to realize the collection he had wanted. He was confronted, however, with the choice of either using Excell’s hymns exclusively, or those of his competitors. “That was not at all what I had hoped and labored and studied and prepared to do. It was to be as it lay on my mind and heart, ‘the best from all the books.’ I had been so naive as to think that surely money would buy anything, and naive enough to imagine that somehow I could get hold of that amount of money.”

“Stymied by the feud,” forced against any reasonable human expectation to depend upon the Lord, the dual problem of agreements and raising advanced royalty payments led to the “most wonderful thing (prayer experience) in my life and exceeded far better than anything we had ever dreamed or asked for or thought.” A trip to Chicago to visit Mr. Excel led to a personal relationship with that aging music executive (song evangelist for two famous preaching evangelists) which opened doors of blessing. “Go ahead, use anything you want, mine or my competitors.” At the same time, he fixed a very reasonable royalty figure. With Excell’s contract as a model, Jorgenson was able to get the same deal with Rody and Company. To get the necessary start-up cash, he mortgaged his home and borrowed a temporary small loan from his brother, Alfred.

The little family grew during the latter stage of the book’s preparation. Martha Jane, the daughter for whom the couple had prayed nearly ten years, was born January 9, 1919. The Missouri Ledger of Odessa, hometown paper of her Doty grandparents, later described her as “a charming child, intelligent and thoughtful beyond her years and with perfect manners, winning the hearts of all she met.” Among those hearts she won were E. L. and Irene Doty Jorgenson, her parents. She was for them the focus of their personal hopes and plans, and they devoted themselves vigorously to her well-being and to her training with love.

Sixty pages of the new hymnal were made and numbered when, as Jorgenson wrote, “the alphabetical lightning hit me.” Despite counsel to the contrary, he redid the book plan, and on May 20, 1921, the first alphabetical hymnal in the world was introduced to the churches. Containing four hundred songs, each “indispensable” as the compiler saw them, the book was printed on “special paper made to order by the Kalamazoo Mills” and printed and bound in a “rich, green art-cloth by the Conkey Company.” The original Great Songs contained standard round-note notation.

The new book made its debut in Louisville with a union song rally during the very week it came off the press. The “class”, meeting alternately at the Highland and Portland Avenue Churches, was to sing through all four hundred songs—”the best four-hundred songs of songdom”–with several visiting song leaders. R. H. Boll noted the occasion with some satisfaction in the Word and Work: “It was such a success and so enjoyable that we wonder why that sort of thing is not being done among us everywhere.”

Boll was moved greatly by the spirit of the meetings, the quality of the songs themselves, and makes a point for the non-instrumental singing in the Churches of Christ:

 “If anyone had thought an instrument necessary in order to have beautiful and effective singing, I believe those song meetings would have reversed his opinion An instrument would have been a hindrance rather than a help. We got a new revelation of the possibilities and the power of song in the Christian assembly.”

Finally, the editor of the Word and Work extols the virtues of his colleague’s new book:

“Incidentally, the meetings were marked by an increasing appreciation of the wonderful collection of songs Brother Jorgenson has brought together in this book, rightly named “Great Songs of the Church.” It is a treasury of truth set to music; beautiful word and sweetest melodies.”

            The union song-meet’s success in Louisville, both as a significant spiritual event and a means of presenting the new hymnal, convinced E. L. Jorgenson that he should take the concept “on the road”. Thus, a vigorous program of song-rally meetings began which each year took him to various parts of the United States, especially to the West by way of Texas and the Southwest, as long as his health permitted. These meetings resulted in many rich personal Christian relationships and were, on the other hand, successful in making the hymnal known throughout the Churches of Christ in a short time. By August of 1921, three months after the book’s introduction, an exultant notice in the Word and Work reports, “Great Songs of the Church has already received the unsolicited, unqualified approval of leading song-leaders.” By 1937, the compiler could write about his first hymn book that it had found “immediate favor and wide acceptance,” the popularity of the book “has never waned but waxed from year to year,” and that “perhaps a quarter million believers sing Messiah’s praise every year from its pages.”

A fringe benefit of the publication was the opportunity of introducing a few of the compiler’s own efforts as a composer. Great Songs of the Church No. 1 contains “My Sins, My Sins, My Savior,” a song often used as a communion hymn by Churches of Christ with text by J. S. Monsell; “There is a Peace” with words by Jessie Rose Gates, and in the post-1922 edition the song generally considered to be his musical masterpiece, “Immortal Love, Forever Full” with poetry by John Greenleaf Whittier. The “Songs for Children” section includes his translation of the old German song, “Can You Count the Stars?” In 1922 fifty “noble hymns, to please the British churches” were added to the book as a supplement; in 1925 these were incorporated into the body of the alphabetical book.”

-DR. Dale Jorgenson was the nephew of E L Jorgenson

 [To be concluded]