Bert Polman

Bert Polman ( is a hymnologist who is a professor and chair of the music department at Calvin College, Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Articles by this author:

  • Reading and hearing the biblical narratives leading up to the birth of Christ seems countercultural these days. Commercial establishments begin celebrating an “instant” Christmas the day after Halloween. But when there’s no room for Advent celebration, there’s no “prepare the way of the Lord,” no waiting and working for Christ’s kingdom.

  • "You are holding an unusual hymnal! The texts here are not grouped by theme, season of the year, or order of worship. Rather, they are presented in chronological order by text, beginning with a sampling of Old Testament psalms and continuing right up to songs written in the past few years. Paging through this book, then, is like taking a 3,000-year journey through the songs of God’s people.”

  • . . . And Peace on Earth

    Many hymnals have a large section devoted to Christmas. In actual practice, this section gets used throughout Advent (thereby shortchanging the character of Advent). If you take a few moments to page through the Christmas carols and hymns in almost any hymnal, you’ll find that narrative and folksy, sentimental lyrics easily outweigh songs with a theological treatment of the meaning of Christ’s incarnation.

  • A Service of Light

    All the readings and music in this service intentionally focus on light; the service is appropriate for Christmas Eve, Christmas, or Epiphany. Multiple songs are listed; we encourage you to choose songs that would work best in your worship setting.




  • What's in a Name?

    In RW 80 the column “Songs for the Season” featured the song “Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah,” which has been changed in some hymnals to “Guide Me, O My Great Redeemer.” The fact that RW on this occasion did not change the text prompted Bert Polman to write this challenging and informative essay.

  • Celebrating Emily

    How shall I honor my colleague Emily Brink upon her retirement from editing Reformed Worship these past twenty years? What is the literary equivalent of a bouquet of flowers and a gold watch? I’m not sure! However, when I contemplate Emily’s contribution to RW, I think of three descriptive nouns:

  • After many years at Redeemer University College in Ancaster, Ontario, Bert Polman (bdp5@ recently joined the staff at Calvin College, Grand Rapids, Michigan, as chair of the music department and professor of music. He is also a senior research fellow at the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship. He is currently writing two books, one on contemporary Praise and Worship songs, the other on musical settings of the Magnificat.

  • Some weddings are primarily a dialogue between the wedding couple and the presiding minister, but it needn’t be so. Inviting the gathered wedding guests to sing “psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs” provides a corporate opportunity to express musical praise for God’s love to us, to offer sung prayers for the wedding couple, and to encourage everyone to practice the Christian virtues of faith, hope, and love.

  • After ten years of research and writing, the Psalter Hymnal Handbook is finally available. Though many people contributed to this large volume (900+pages!), Bert Polman did by far the lion's share of the research and writing. Professor of music at Redeemer College in Ancaster, Ontario, Polman worked on the handbook every summer and countless evenings and weekends for the past ten years. Here Bert provides some basic information about handbooks and about the new Psalter Hymnal Handbook.


    RW: Just what is a hymnal handbook?

  • Brink and Polman are coeditors of the forthcoming Psalter Hymnal Handbook.

    Again in this issue of Reformed Worship, we offer a preview of the forthcoming Psalter Hymnal Handbook, a collection of essays on the history of music in the church as well as entries on every song and author and composer in the 1987 Psalter Hymnal. This ten-year-long project is now in production and is scheduled for release in Spring 1998.

  • We usually provide three hymns in "Songs for the Season" (formerly "Hymn of the Month"). But for this issue we've asked Bert Polman to introduce us to Graham Kendrick, the composer of "Shine, Jesus, Shine," a hymn that has become enormously popular since Kendrick wrote it less than ten years ago.

    Who is Graham Kendrick, and what else has he written?

  • Louisville, KY: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1993; 427 pp., $22.99.

    This volume is Lindajo McKim's handbook to The Presbyterian Hymnal [a.k.a., Hymns, Psalms, and Spiritual Songs] (1990). As editor of the hymnal, McKim had ready access to a variety of sources as she prepared this Companion. She presents mostly the historical background of the texts and music found in the hymnal, though she also offers brief exegeti-cal or interpretive comments on the texts and sometimes a descriptive phrase on the tune or harmonization.

  • Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1593; 940 pp., $39.95.

    Carlton R. Young, primary author of this Companion also served as editor of The United Methodist Hymnal (1989) and previously as editor of The Methodist Hymnal (1966) and coedited its handbook, Companion to the Hymnal (1970) with Fred Gealy and Austin Lovelace.

  • Nashville, TN: United Methodist Publishing House, 1992; 754 pp., $24.95.

    This new book begins by affirming that although the Anglican, Evangelical United Brethren, and Methodist heritages all are evident in United Methodist worship, services find their unity through "the basic pattern of worship: Entrance, Proclamation & Response, Thanksgiving & Communion, and Sending Forth" (pp. 13-15).

  • Hymn of the Month


    Child So Lovely/ Nino Lindo

    One of the most pervasive Christmas folk traditions is the singing of lullabies. The Austrian "Silent Night" the Polish "Infant Holy" and the North American 'Away in a Manger" are some common examples of Christmas carols that often function as lullabies in Christmas season tableaux, church school programs, and carol services.

  • I-to Loh, general editor. Manila; The Christian Conference of Asia and The Asian Institute for Liturgy and Music, 1990. 280 hymns, 442 pp.

    Sound the Bamboo is the trial edition of the new hymnal of The Christian Conference of Asia (formerly the East Asia Christian Conference). It is to be the successor to the 1963 EACC Hymnal, prepared by D.T. Niles, which was internationally respected, especially in Western ecumenical circles, but which has had little impact on the worship of local Asian congregations.

  • James Rawlings Sydnor. Chicago: GIA Publications, 1989.132 pages. $12.95.

    Sydnor is a respected Presbyterian hymnologist who earlier wrote the helpful Hymns & Their Uses and Hymns: a Congregational Study (both published by Agape). Part One of his new book focuses on how to introduce a new hymnal to a congregation, how to understand the resources of a new hymnal, and how to thrive on "readiness, gradualness, repetition, and perseverance."

  • This dramatic reading of the Emmaus story from Luke's gospel is intended to be incorporated into an evening service on Easter Sunday, It requires the following voices:

    Evangelist (Narrator)
    A Woman
    A Choir

    This saipt follows the NTV text of Luke 24:13-35, and incorporates Old Testament passages, as indicated. Small changes were made in the biblical text to encourage greater clarity in this dramatic reading.

  • Gabe Huck. Chicago: Liturgy Training Publications, 1989.101 pages. $5.95.

    This booklet features a Roman Catholic priest's "thoughts about liturgy for musicians." In a simple but provoking conversational style, Huck muses on such things as what it is we do when we engage in worship, how we do things musically "by heart" in Christian rituals, how the Psalms should be central to our experience, how important silence is, and what kinds of texts and music(s) we should use in contemporary worship.

  • The following brief song services were prepared for the Sundays after Epiphany in 1993; the topics were chosen to correspond with the Revised Common Lectionary (Year A) for that season. These song services could be used in the morning service during this portion of the church year, as part or all of a second-service hymnsing, or at any other time in Christian worship (independent from the use of the Lectionary). Selections not in your hymnal could be sung by a small group taught by rote and sung from memory, or printed in the bulletin (with proper copyright permission).

  • This service focuses on the gospel narrative of Thomas' journey from doubt to faith; it is intended for an evening service on the Sunday after Easter. The service incorporates a dramatic reading prepared by Bert Polman, associate professor of music at Redeemer College. It was first held at the Ministers and Spouses Conference held at Redeemer College on March 28,1989.

    Our Worship Begins

    Hymn: "Christ the Lord Is Risen Today" (1)
    [PH 113, PsH 388, RL 325, TH 277]

  • The Passion of Our Lord

    This dramatic reading of John's passion narrative uses the NIV text of John 18-19; small changes were made in the biblical text to encourage greater clarity in this script.

    The following roles are necessary:

    Evangelist (Narrator)
    A Servant Girl
    An Official
    A Bystander
    A Servant
    A Chorus of Priests
    Several Soldiers
    The Crowd


    Words of Welcome and Introduction

    Tonight we rejoice and give thanks for the arrival of summer. We celebrate God's glorious creation, we express gratitude for a season of accomplishments in school and at work, and we offer thanks to God for his gift of leisure that we will enjoy in the vacation days ahead.

    Call to Worship

    God's Greeting

    Psalm 148: Praise the Lord, Sing Hallelujah (PH 188, TH 105)
    [with organ and trumpet]

    Prayer for the Service

  • Celebrating the worldwide church of Christ


    Introit: "In the Presence of Your People"1

    PsH 160

    Text from Psalm 22 and 145
    Tune with characteristics of the hora, a Jewish circle dance
    Psalm 96 [responsively]
    Hymn: "All Creatures of Our God and King "2

    PsH 431

  • A Wesley Hymn Festival

    A service in honor of the 250th anniversary of the conversion of Charles and John Wesley (1738) and the 200th anniversary of the death of Charles Wesley (1788).

    *Everyone who is able, please stand.

    *Call to Worship


    *Hymn: "Rejoice, the Lord Is King"
    (PH 408; RIL 596)

  • The following liturgy was submitted by Rev. Herman Praamsma, pastor of the Fellowship CRC ofRexdale, Ontario. The liturgy was adapted by Dr. Bert Polman from a form prepared by the Liturgical Committee of the Christian Reformed Church for use during an Easter Service; this liturgy can be used for all Sundays in Eastertide. The season of the church year called Eastertide lasts fifty days and includes Ascension, the day when we rejoice in the reign of Christ at God's right hand.

    *If you are able, please stand

  • Hymn of the Month

    Easter: This Joyful Eastertide

    While most of us know many Christmas carols, we may be less familiar with carols for other times of the year. One of the finest Easter carols is "This Joyful Eastertide." The tune, which originated in a seventeenth-century Dutch love song, came into church use in Joachim Oudaen's David's Psalmen (1685) as the melody for "Hoe Grootde Vreuchten Zijn" ("How Great the Fruits Are")—hence, the tune title VRUCHTEN.

  • The "hymn festival" is rapidly growing in popularity. With the explosion of new songs for worship, the rediscovery of old gems, as well as the joy of singing familiar favorites, the hymn festival provides an opportunity for congregations, choirs, and instruments to join in varied ways of singing hymns together. A hymn festival can celebrate the hymns of a season or of a given tradition, author, composer, or theme. Any good reason will do!

  • Our Worship Begins(1)

    Words of Welcome

    *Processional: Psalm 24(2)

    Pastor: People of God, receive the greeting from our God, the King of glory: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, through the working of the Holy Spirit.
    People: Amen!
    The people greet each other.

    *Hymn: Rejoice, the Lord Is King

    We Hear the Word of the Lord

    Prayer for Illumination

    Scripture Reading: Acts 1:1—11

    Word for the Children

  • During the last several decades the Christian community has witnessed a vast explosion of hymnody. Some of these new songs are produced by gifted authors, people like Timothy Dudley-Smith or Margaret Clarkson, who write hymns that build on the heritage of Christian hymnody. But a larger part of this "hymn explosion" is Scripture songs—actual scriptural texts or paraphrases of Scripture set to music, often in a popular style.

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