New Hymns and Hymnals

With this fourth issue of RW we complete our first year of publication and introduce our first theme issue: Introducing New Hymns and Hymnals. Because hymns express emotions as well as faith, few things in the church are more challenging than introducing a new hymnal or new hymns. Such introductions call for sensitive planning and the cooperative efforts of all the church's leaders.

That sensitivity and cooperation begin already with the hymnal committee. Writing new songs and selecting hymns that will shape the worship of God's people for a generation is an awesome task. The articles by Clarkson, Ten Harmsel, and Hopp; the panel discussion on language change; and the reminiscences of some hymnal committee members provide glimpses into that development phase. With the publication of Rejoice in the Lord in 1985, the expected fall release of the Psalter Hymnal, the projected 1988 release of the Trinity Hymnal, and the ongoing work on the new Presbyterian and Methodist hymnals—not to mention the growing number of commercial hymnals—many congregations have either just bought new books or are contemplating a purchase. And in that process the ball moves from the committee or publisher's court to the congregational court and stays there. How the game is played from then on depends on local leadership. The articles by De Young and Fox offer many helpful ideas and suggestions.

Unfortunately, many church leaders are not prepared for introducing a new hymnal. That problem has implications both for the local church and for our educational institutions.

A hymnal is first of all a confession of faith and should be treated as such. The time has come for seminaries to recognize that any curriculum to prepare pastors is incomplete without systematic study of the confession of faith most active in the lives of their parishioners: the hymnal.

The time has also come for music departments of Christian colleges to study hymnody seriously. Organists still spend most of their energies in preparing preludes, offertories, and postludes; choral conductors learn the great literature of the Western church. Such competence is to be encouraged, but so is the more humble but even more important task of leading God's people in song. The church is not so much in need of performers as it is of humble servants who answer the high calling of helping the congregation lose themselves in wonder, praise, and awe while raising their voices to God. To fulfill that calling, musicians need more background in theology, poetry, and church history. A hymn is much more than music!

However, seminaries and colleges alone cannot solve the problems of leadership in church music. They need to discover what qualifications churches are looking for in worship leaders. Churches who are large enough to have a musician sometimes bypass church music majors in favor of those who have less musical preparation but who are gifted in using music as a tool for congregational witness, growth, and fellowship. It is high time for music and religion departments to get together with pastors and musicians out in the trenches to analyze what kind of church music program would best serve the church.

In smaller churches people often step into a leadership vacuum and do their best; pianists become organists, organists become choir directors, and someone who loves music and children starts a children's music program. Somehow those called into unexpected avenues of service are given grace to fulfill that task. Usually their rewards are few and their critics are many.

But selecting and introducing a new hymnal demands more than individual efforts. The new hymnal creates one of those junctures in congregational life when coordinated efforts are essential. We hope that this issue of RW will encourage ministers, musicians, and worship committees to carefully consider together ways of leading God's people in singing new songs to the Lord.

Emily R. Brink (embrink@calvin.edu) is Senior Research Fellow for the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship and former editor of Reformed Worship.