A Charge to Keep is a research and film project focused on metered hymn singing in Southern black churches. Metered hymns are an integral part of the "devotional," the song-filled opening of a service that serves to prepare the congregation for worship. These songs illuminate the complications and contradictions of black Christianity in the United States. Metered hymns were both forced upon enslaved black people as a colonizing tool and refashioned by black worshipers as a source of strength. A Charge to Keep opens a window onto how the tradition lives in the 21st century and highlights the power of collective singing to enrich communities, in churches and beyond.

Community Stories

Mrs. Carrie Oliver grew up in a one-room church in rural Georgia. She describes her memories of singing hymns and other songs with her grandmother and the physical movement that accompanied them.

Metered hymns are passed down through church families and home families. Here pastors, deacons and congregation members reflect on how the metered hymn tradition connects us to our pasts and futures.

While there are several theories on the origin of the lined hymn, the tradition is primarily practiced in a church setting. Participants discuss when—if ever—a hymn could be raised in a secular space.

View more A Charge to Keep videos in our Vimeo album.


Several of the project participants discussed the importance of having a hymn of one's own. While deacons and pastors often have several to choose from, congregation members tend to have one or two they know well enough to raise. Here are examples of metered hymns and other church songs, as well as some of the variations sung in Central Georgia and the South Carolina and Georgia Sea Islands.

"A Charge to Keep" (metered hymn)

"A Charge to Keep" (metered hymn)

"Guide Me O' Thou Great Jehovah" (metered hymn)

"Adam in the Garden"

"Run On"

"Amazing Grace"

Listen to more A Charge to Keep audio recordings on our SoundCloud page.