The Twenty-something Church Organist


Hymns Tim Loves:

This Day Was Made by the Lord (Christopher Walker): “For the Easter season, on the weeks Psalm 118 isn’t the psalm, use this for opening. It’s bombastic and delightful.”
We Belong to You (Trevor and Victoria Thomson): “The most recently composed (2006) of the ones on this list, it’s an example of a song being contemporary without being too poppy or rocky or poprocky.”
How Great Thou Art (Stuart Hine): “I did not know this hymn was as recent as it was. I thought it was at least a couple hundred years old. But it nearly makes me cry when I play it, which makes it awfully hard to, say, play it.”
For All the Saints (Ralph Vaughan Williams and William How): “This one is one of my personal favorites. It gives the saints the regal treatment they deserve. A great one to blast at entrance.”

Hymns Tim Avoids:

All Are Welcome (Marty Haugen): “I don’t have an issue with the lyrics, but the song is agonizingly too long for me and too hard to sing. And the four measures between verses are two measures too many.”
Anthem (Tom Conry): “A mess from beginning to end. Too hard to sing. Too incoherent the lyrics. Also, the lyrics “rage against the night” kind of makes me think of this.”
At the Name of Jesus (Christopher Walker): “Semi-gospel, semi-country, but a total mess that’s difficult to play. To me, this sounds way too secular-y to work.”
Your Grace Is Enough (Matt Maher): “Uses ‘yeah.’ Fine for concerts. Not for Mass.”

Read more of Tim’s thoughts about hymns and playing the organ at his blog, Pull Out All The Stops.

Tim Horneman was 13 years old when he first played the organ.

It was at his parish’s 7:30 a.m. Mass in October of 1998, with just a few parishioners in the pews.

“I don’t remember much because I was really, really nervous,” he said. “But the early masses were low-attended, so it gave me a chance to kind of start out. Once it was over it was a relief.”

The chords must have clicked, because the Chicago native continued to play every week in high school, practicing on his family’s 1960s Yamaha organ and in the organ loft after hours.

Fast forward to today, and the 28-year-old is still pounding the pipes.

“There’s something to be said for making a lot of noise,” Horneman said.

Every Saturday, Horneman plays the English and Spanish Mass in Aurora, Ill., as well as two Sundays a month at nearby parishes—one of which includes a new digital organ, which replicates the sound of the organ and is significantly cheaper.

The mostly self-taught organist said he enjoys leading the congregation in song. He sits in the choir loft with his back to the altar, looking in a mirror to keep an eye on the Mass and see if parishioners are singing, which is something, Horneman says, people love to do.

“I think when music is done properly, it draws people closer and closer to Jesus,” he said. “If I can contribute to having a meaningful and excellent worship experience, then that’s a really good feeling for me.”

Playing the organ is integral for Tim’s prayer life too. He said he feels closest to God when he’s playing and singing.

“There’s this sense of power coming over you,” he says. “You get a song, and sometimes it’s kind of tricky, and sometimes it gets you kind of choked up. It may be such a beautiful song, such a meaningful hymn, you just feel, blessed.”

Horneman’s hobby may be unique for a twenty-something—or as he puts is, “How many church organists in your 20s do you know?” But he says his co-workers at an editorial firm downtown have been receptive and intrigued by his ministry and Catholicism, which he’s happy to discuss.

“When you get to your 20s, you can be really surprised by what people think is cool and what people think is not,” he said.” “I’m not sure calling an organist is cool, but co-workers know it’s part of who I am. I’m a committed Catholic, I’m a church organist, but I don’t have any interest in being overbearing or haughty. I just try to live out every day with a sense of joy, and lead by example.”

For now, Horneman hopes to continue leading the congregation in song every weekend.

“It has become kind of a community, people get to know you, and it’s something that keeps me coming back.”

Photo by Stephanie Bassos