Personalizing the Hymnal: Educating the Congregation Through Bulletin Notes

It's not easy to accept a new hymnal. We become attached to old favorites—to their rhythms, phrases, and tunes—and find it difficult to accept the new and unknown in our worship.

My congregation of European immigrants in the Telkwa Christian Reformed Church understand this difficulty better than most. Many of them grew up on the Genevan tunes in their Dutch psalters. When they immigrated to North America, they had to adapt to the new tunes and words of the 1934 (red) Psalter Hymnal. And a few years after they made that adjustment, they were asked to make still another change—this time to the 1959 (blue) Psalter Hymnal.

One of our organists, Joe Boonstra, told me that, surprisingly, the people did not resist the change to this new hymnal. In fact, their enthusiasm to learn the songs in the new book was so great that often church members clustered around the organ after church in a spontaneous, educational hymnsing. The children of the 1960s and 70s learned to sing from that "blue book"; it occupied the same place in their affections—in many cases—as the Dutch psalter had for their parents.

Then came the gray book—the 1987 Psalter Hymnal. For some members of our church this was the fourth hymn-book in forty years. Is it any wonder that they were just a bit reluctant to accept it?

Because the congregation's music committee was concerned about some resistance to the new hymnal, they asked me to write a weekly column on the gray book, giving background and commentary on tunes and texts and making the hymnal's contents more familiar to the congregation. Producing this column is a labor of love in two ways: (1) singing, reading about music, and writing about music are personal joys for me; (2) more importantly, I love the people in my congregation, which makes trying to help them adjust to a new hymnal a real pleasure.

Occasionally I also ask other members of the congregation to contribute to this column so that it offers a wider variety of personal perspectives on the music we sing. We use RWand a variety of other resource manuals to find information on the hymns, then interpret this information from our own viewpoint and our understanding of the congregation's needs.

I find that the use of a weekly column such as the one we produce in Telkwa Christian Reformed Church is very valuable. Several other congregations have asked me to lend them these columns, but I've told them no. It seems to me that it's best for a local congregation to produce its own hymn notes so that the information is tailored to fit the congregation. If our experience is any indication, producing a music education column is certainly rewarding for both writer and reader.

The samples here are intended primarily to prompt other congregations to "go and do likewise."

Curtis Gesch is a teacher at Bulkley Valley Christian School in Smithers, B.C., and a member of Telkwa Christian Reformed Church.

Hymn Notes: Modern Topics—III

"Earth and All Stars" [#433] uses lots of modern examples in its call for all the creation to praise the Lord—just as Psalm 148 does.

"Trumpet and pipes" (verse 3) reminds me of Keith Griffioen and Mrs. Vanden Berg accompanying hymns in Telkwa CRC. "Engines and steel" and "pounding hammers" (verse 4) make me think of Abe Visser working at a mill, "classrooms and labs" (verse 5) of Anthony Tuininga, and "athlete" (verse 5) of the young peoples' society playing softball.

And I bet you will join in with those mentioned above in the chorus's confession: "I too will praise him with a new song."
—Curt Gesch

Hymn Notes: The Psalms(Attention: children)

Children, did you know that many of our ancestors, whether Scottish,Dutch, or French, did not have a "hymn book"?they only sang psalms.That means that instead of choosing o favorite song by saying, "Let's sing hymn #28" or "#75", they could just say,"Let's sing Psalm 100" and people knew what they meant.Everyone memorized just one version of each psalm and remembered it throughout his or her life.

Today we will start learning some psalms too. Our new Psalter includes versions of all 150 psalms.We hope you memorize them and know them for a long time.(And when you ask the sing one of your favorites, we hope yaou say loudly and clearly PSALM 23__not hymn #23.)
-Curt Gesch

Hymn Notes:Those "Praise Songs"

A sure way to get into an argument is to speak either for or against "praise songs", the term used by some people to describe simple choruses such as "He Is Lord"[#633], "Aleluia"[#640], "Father, I Adore you"[#284], and others like them.Market by short repetitive phrases and/or incremental repetitition and elementary chord structure, these songs are loved by some christians as emotinally and spiritually moving; to others, they seem apiritually and musically shallow.(As you might sense, the arguments get pretty hot.)

Since we have several of these "praise songs" in our Psalter Hymnal, wouldn't it be better to think about how to use such songs than to fight over them?In Reformed Worship, Bert Polman suggest using these short choruses to precede and/or follow a more complex hymn.He suggests, for example, using "Aleluia"[#640] as a "frame" around "In the Quiet Consecration"[#302].If you can think of other combinations of "praise song" and hymns, please show them to the music committee.
-Curt Gesch

Hymn Notes: Psalm 109

This is one of the psalm of imprecation or cursing.the psalmist has been oppressed by his enemies and so we ask God to heap curses upon their heads.This sounds awful to us.

How can this sort of thing be in the Bible?

There era several possibilities: (1) the psalmists were more concerned with the holiness of God than we are today; (2) the psalmists knew that evil had be utterly overthrown, not just "wished out of existence."(Of course, if an Israelite__or Telkwan__gloats over his enemy's misfortune or wishes vengeance, he does not witness to the spirit of Christ.)

Upon what occasions does one sing such a psalm? Perhaps the oppressed Christian peasants in Central America, those Christians who suffered under Idi Amin in Uganda, or those innocents caught in the midst of power struggles in Zambia or Angola wouldn't be as puzzled as we are.
-Curt Gesch

Hymn Notes: "Out of Need and Out of Custom" (#259)

There is an interesting story behind the composition of this refreshingly honest song written by Ken Medema, whom many of you know for his "Tree Song":

I was visiting a church in Baltimore, Maryland. One of my responsibilities … was to help the youth group plan a worship service. The young people… were very uninvolved. On Saturday we were all hanging around somebody's swimming pool. "What do you want to say to your parents in this service?" I asked them. "Well, we want to say this is boring. We want to say that church is a drag." After they offered me a bunch of similar gripes, I wrote the first verse. "Does this represent what you want to say?" I asked the group … So the song grew out of these disillusioned kids who said, "We want to say that church is boring."
—Curt Gesch

Hymn Notes: "This Is the Day"

"This Is the Day" has been a popular chorus for over twenty years. Many people might not be aware, however, that this song is based on the same psalm that the crowds sang on Palm Sunday (see Ps. 118:25-27). When we sing "This Is the Day," we are not just saying, "Have a nice day"; we are confessing that the Lord is our God, that Jesus is King of our lives.

In our new Psalter, "This Is the Day" is #241. A note above the top line says, "May be sung antiphonally," which means "with one group answering the other." For our worship services it would probably be best if the women and children sing the first phrase, and the men sing the "echo." Our song leaders will explain this when they teach us the song.
—Curt Gesch

Hymn notes:
"This Song Is Meaningful to Me Because..." (#179)

When I was twelve years old, my mother had a near-fatal heart attack. I can still recall the waves of loneliness that swept over me during those days when she hovered near death. She recovered slowly, and our home was reorganized for her convalescence. One day, as I was quietly and falteringly playing on our pedal organ, she called from her bed and asked me to play "The glorious gates of righteousness throw open unto me, and I will come to them with praise, and enter thankfully."

It dawned on me then how close my mother had been to entering those gates, and how she wouldn't have minded entering them. To my adolescent heart it was like receiving a glimpse of eternal glory! I can never sing this song without being deeply moved, though I am thankful that my mother lived, and continues to live on as one of those "saints on earth proclaiming his everlasting love."
—Ingrid Visser

Hymn notes: A "Holy Catholic Hymnal?"

Each fall the CRC declares a certain Sunday "All Nations Heritage" Day.Although we don't celebrate this day with a great deal of hoopla in Telkwa, the idea of the day is to celebrate the cultural diversity of our denomination.Have you noticed how our church hymnal is also composed of songs and texts by people of all nations and tribes and languages?(See Rev. 5:9-10.)

For an interesting exercise, look at one section of our hymnal__"Creation and Providence ", #428-461.Below each hymn you will see an acknowledgment of the composer of both text and tune.How many different nationalities, countries, and languages do you see represented? Can you find the English names? Dutch names? German, Slovak, Scots, or American names? Our belief in one holy catholic church is visibly expressed in our hymnal.
—Curt Gesch

Curt Gesch, with his wife Betsey plan and participate in Zoom worship services at which everyone who attends is given opportunity to lead in the readings, prayers, and benedictions, and all craft the “sermons” through sharing comments, questions, and experiences.

Reformed Worship 19 © March 1991 Worship Ministries of the Christian Reformed Church. Used by permission.