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Reviews

Three New Song Collections

Of the making of hymnal supplements there is no end, it seems. Actually, the term “hymnal supplement” is hardly an appropriate name anymore. The old pattern of hymnals being replaced in about a generation by a new hardbound hymnal has all but disappeared.

Instead, church publishing houses and commercial publishers are releasing many smaller collections in order to make newer songs available more quickly and to try them out before deciding whether to include them later in larger collections. Many of these smaller collections are not even intended for the pews, but instead are used as resource collections for worship planners and hymnal planning committees.

Here are brief snapshots of three recent collections that merit consideration for your worship planning bookshelf.

More Voices, United Church Publishing House and Wood Lake Publishing House, 2007. Paper, spiral. 225 songs (www.morevoices.ca)

More Voices is clearly related to Voices United, the official hymnal of the United Church of Canada published in 1996. The committee’s goal was to provide diversity in styles and genres and to draw from a wide range of global and contemporary song. Most of the songs were composed in the last twenty years, and a large number are published here for the first time.

The quality and balance is a bit uneven—textually, musically, theologically, and liturgically, but the energy created by encouraging new song writers across Canada to submit entries has been rewarding, especially at the grassroots level. There are also plenty of examples of recent songs composed or arranged by such well-known songwriters as John Bell (14), Carl Daw (3), Ruth Duck (10), and Marty Haugen (3), as well as from the Community of Taizé (9) and many other places around the world.

Indexes include scriptural references and an index for “Liturgical Use, Topics, and Categories.” This collection should be of interest especially to our Canadian readers.

New Wine in Old Wineskins: A Contemporary Congregational Song Supplement, GIA Publications, Inc., 2007. 71 songs.

This small supplement bears the stamp of one of the most gifted church musicians in North America today. James Abbington is a bridge-builder who is passionate about strengthening congregational song in every communion. He is at home playing Bach on the organ and playing Black Gospel; he has edited large hymnals such as the African American Heritage Hymnal as well as many African American choral works. In this richly diverse little collection he brings together his passion for congregational song and his desire for congregations to try new things, often taking newer texts and placing them with older texts that have not been so combined before (hence the title).

The songs are arranged in alphabetical order, not thematically, and singing/playing through them provides an eclectic feast of song. And for the first time, many songs by pioneering African American composers are made easily available, including songs by Harry T. Burleigh, Charles A. Tindley, and Margaret Pleasant Douroux, “the reigning queen of African American gospel hymnody,” as Abbington writes in an informative introductory article.

Zion Still Sings: For Every Generation. Abingdon Press, 2007, Nashville. Pew and Accompaniment Editions. 321 songs.

This is a sequel to one of the first modern African American congregational song supplements, the influential 1981 Abingdon supplement Songs of Zion. The similarity in name and cover design brings instant recognition to those who used the 1981 collection. This one similarly offers a resource “that captures the best musical practice and tradition in African American churches today,” as the foreword states. Each includes spirituals, Gospel, and traditional hymns that have been particularly meaningful in African American churches. However, in the new collection many of the keyboard arrangements take on a distinctly vibrant African American flavor, so be sure to get the accompaniment edition!

—Reviewed by Emily R. Brink, former editor of Reformed Worship and senior research fellow for the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship.

Principled Worship

Principled Worship: Biblical Guidelines for Emerging Liturgies by Sam Hamstra, Jr. (Wipf & Stock, 2006.) 124 pp.

Sam Hamstra, a pastor in the Christian Reformed Church, has written a helpful introduction to many topics in worship and liturgy, both theoretical and practical. The book outlines twenty-nine principles organized in the following areas:

  • The Regulative Principle
  • Our Triune God and Worship
  • The Person Who Worships
  • The People Who Worship
  • The Content of Worship
  • The Music of Worship
  • The Context for Worship
  • On Daily Worship
  • The Future of Worship
  • I’ll highlight a few of them.

Principle 1, “The Regulative Principle” will surprise some readers, especially traditional Presbyterians who have used this designation for worship as stipulated in the Westminster Confession. They hold that we are to worship God only in the manner commanded or practiced in Scripture (some limit the restriction to the New Testament). Hamstra’s use of the term is very different. He observes that though the Bible does not give us a specific order of worship, we still should shape our worship according to general biblical principles.

Thus, since worship is initiated and called by God, we begin a worship service with a biblical call to worship, rather than greeting worshipers with “Good morning!” (p. 4). The Spirit plays a major role in worship, including the granting of the charismata such as speaking in tongues.

I appreciate the emphasis in Principle 5: “The praise of God leads to confession of sin.” In many denominations and congregations the prayer of confession was traditionally included in the congregational prayer—sometimes called the “long prayer.” Hamstra makes a good case for confessing our sins as a separate prayer, followed by the assurance of forgiveness.

Principle 6 stresses the total involvement of the worshiper—mind, body, and heart. At the same time, we need to practice tolerance and charity toward those whose worship involvement differs from others.

The author borrows from Henry Nouwen’s writing, especially Nouwen’s discussion on distinguishing friendliness from hospitality (Principle 12). Principle 16 contains a brief but helpful discussion of the sacraments, in which Hamstra observes that weekly celebration of the Lord’s Supper has more scriptural support than the more traditional four times a year.

Principles 20 and 21, “The Music of Worship,” enters potentially controversial territory, but Hamstra provides good judgment. Although he does not often use the term “blended worship,” that is, in effect, what he intends for a musical repertoire.

For Principle 27 Hamstra relies heavily on Quentin Schultze’s views on the use of technology. Neither Schultze nor Hamstra are opposed to technology in worship, but they wisely urge caution since technology is not a neutral tool but creates its own influence.

Much as I appreciate Hamstra’s work, it is not without flaws. He usually is charitable to those whose positions on worship differ from his, so I was startled by his judgment of those who reject any attempts at liturgical renewal—“After all, why should the spiritual dead want a living liturgy?” (p. 37). And in chapter 6 he probably spends too much time criticizing churches that do not conduct services on Christmas Day, even when it falls on a Sunday.

The book also suffers from careless copy editing or proofreading, as evidenced by misspelled words, missing words, wrong use of words, and creative punctuation.

Although Hamstra writes primarily out of his experience as a pastor in the Christian Reformed Church and the Reformed Church in America, other churches too can benefit from this book. Worship committees will find the book especially helpful as it covers many issues they face. Perhaps your committee would want to have each member read the book once a year—either as an introduction or a refresher.

—Reviewed by Harry Boonstra, Theological Librarian emeritus from Calvin College and Seminary and past theological editor of RW