Introducing Library Special Collections: The Hugh T. McElrath Online Exhibit

The IWS Library is delighted to announce the creation of our Special Collections webpage along with an online exhibit entitled The Life of Hugh T. McElrath: An Online Exhibit on the 20th Century Hymnologist through Hymnals.

McElrath has several unique connections to IWS. Rev. Dr. Constance Cherry, one of our IWS faculty members, was a student of McElrath. Plus, did you know that Robert E. Webber, the founder of IWS, had a connection to McElrath through one of the books featured in the exhibit? Read through the exhibit to find out! The McElrath exhibit explores McElrath’s life and ecumenical worship interests, as well as the development of Christian hymnology in the 20th century.

As an ecumenical institution focused on ancient-future worship, IWS recognizes the value in studying the contributions of worship leaders who have gone before us. Hugh T. McElrath (1921-2008) was a prominent scholar and church musician who taught hymnology at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. McElrath retired to his winter home in Penney Farms, FL and subsequently donated his collection of personally owned books to IWS. His collection includes hymnals, songbooks, and books on hymns published during his lifetime. Many items in the collection feature hand-written notes by the author which include his name, date of purchase, and location where he acquired the material.

The new online exhibit explores the scholarly life of Hugh T. McElrath through the hymnals he owned. Each decade of McElrath’s life is surveyed and paired with a hymnbook he purchased during that decade. Beginning with his undergraduate work in the 1940s, the exhibit concludes with his death and information about his legacy through publications, as well as suggestions for further research. The exhibit also reveals influences cited in McElrath’s prominent book he co authored, Sing With Understanding: An Introduction to Christian Hymnology.

A temporary physical exhibit of McElrath’s hymns shown in the online exhibit will be available for viewing during the January 2024 intensive session in the IWS Library.

The IWS Library Special Collections feature a broad range of publishers and denominations, with books and hymnals related to Christian worship from the 20th century. Our Special Collections seek to preserve and share the rich history of Christian worship through the lives of individuals with significant Christian worship book collections, especially those related to IWS and ecumenical worship.

The IWS Library Special Collections are available to be viewed in person by appointment only. Visitors may make an appointment by email at or by phone (904-264-2172).