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?
Articles in this issue:
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.
The Mara ADA Church deep in the valley needed new hymnals. The old ones were battered and worn. Pages were missing. Everyone knew the need. One Sunday new hymnals were in the pews. No one had talked about them or planned for them or expected them. But there they were. Rev. Notsing had selected three new hymns from the new book for the morning service, and the people stumbled through them. By the time they were half way through the second hymn some of the congregation were muttering about how much better the old hymnbooks were.
Robin A. Leaver, James H. Litton, and Carlton R. Young, editors. Carol Stream, Illinois: Hope Publishing Company, 1985, 310 pp., $18.50.