In most churches September is the start of a new church school year. The children of the church will again gather every Sunday morning to sing praise and to learn about God and his people. Adults will meet to study God's Word and to discover new ways of living their faith. Even in churches that hold church school all year long, September is often a time of beginnings—new classes, new students, new teachers.
Articles in this issue:
Whenever he went out, Rev. Meersinkwore a beret-that was the problem.Oh, it wasn't the beret really, Marlenethought. The beret was merely asymbol of Meersink's inability to outgrowthe sixties: he always had to be different.
When it came to music, for example, Meersink wasn't content with the books in the pews. He kept running off new hymns and handing them out with the bulletin, giving the impression that he'd spent hours treasure-hunting through a hundred flashy books from Texas, looking for some new ditty that would bring on a revival single-handedly.
May we change "Deck Thyself, My Soul with Gladness" to "Clothe Yourself…" or "Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah" to "Guide Me, O My Great Redeemer" or "Faith of Our Fathers" to "Faith of Our Parents"? May we revise old hymns because they offend us theologically? May we alter them because they include exclusive language or concepts children cannot understand ("What does 'Here I raise my Ebenezer' mean?") And if we do start altering and revising, how far may we go? What are the poetic rights of the original author?
If you do all these things, you are pretty busy. Now here's my question. When is the best time I can talk to you. I know you are always listening, but when will you be listening hard in Troy, New York?
Church is alright but you could sure use better music. I hope this does not hurt your feelings.
Can you write some new songs?
I began writing hymn tunes the same year that I began directing my first church choir. I was looking for hymns that would serve as choral closings for a service, and I grew frustrated. Although I found some excellent evening hymns, they were set to some very disappointing tunes. So I brashly decided to do something about it: I composed my first hymn tune for "The Day Is Past and Over," a song I found in The English Hymnal.
Versifying a psalm might sound simple. After all, psalms are poetry—how much effort can it take to make them singable? But as anyone who has tried can tell you, versifying a particular psalm in an appealing, singable, and authentic way is actually a very complex assignment.
A hymn is an expression of worship—our glad and grateful acknowledgement of the "worth-ship" of Almighty God, our confession of our own creatureliness before our Creator, our bowing before his transcendence. Hymns are a celebration of who and what God is and of what he has done— songs of praise, thanksgiving, and joy in God. Christians sing hymns because our God is worthy to be praised.
During the next year or two many congregations will open new hymnals. They'll admire the binding and the crisp new pages. They'll learn new songs and wonder what happened to some of the old ones. They'll learn new words for old, familiar tunes and some fresh tunes for old, familiar words.
Some will accept the new hymnals eagerly, grateful for the change. Others will be more cautious, analyzing changes in language and tone, questioning the need for Genevan Psalms or black spirituals.
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.
John Ferguson. New York: American Guild of Organists. 815 Second Avenue, Suite 318, $20.00.