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September 2004

Permission to Pray

When I first started editing the Psalter Hymnal in the early 1980s, the story then making the rounds was that permission for including the song “How Great Thou Art” in the 1978 Lutheran Book of Worship was finally granted with a handshake at a cost that would remain secret.

Book: Discerning the Spirits: A Guide to Thinking About Christian Worship Today

Cornelius Plantinga Jr. and Sue A. Rozeboom. Eerdmans, 2003. 170 pp. $18.00.

What? I Have to Preach the Christmas Story Again?: Fresh approaches to planning

It’s December. Shoppers and worshipers alike greet each other: “Merry Christmas!” “Happy holidays!” Maybe even (on Sunday): “Peace and joy!”

Building a Band: Putting together people, players, and parts

Some years ago, I was leading a Master Class workshop at a local church with some of the LOFT gang. We arrived to discover that the church’s “band” was a rather odd assemblage of musical talent. Accompanying the vocalists was an electronic keyboard. And a piano. And an organ. I listened to a couple songs, and then asked, “Are you all playing the same music, the same notes?” When they responded affirmatively, I blurted out, “Well, stop it! Don’t do that any more!

Through the Narrow Gate: Celebrating Christmas in China

Araw, gritty wind swirls through the dark night as I lock my bike on the crowded sidewalk. Turning around, I step toward a cordoned-off area, behind which policemen, their hats pulled down and collars pulled up, bark at the jostling crowds, urging them to stop pushing and stand back. Several thousand people form a line snaking along the sidewalk, funneling down to one person at the narrow gate.

How to Choose a New Hymnal

Since music is such an integral part of worship, selecting a hymnal that will meet a congregation’s needs is an awesome responsibility. But it doesn’t have to become a nightmare.

Following the steps of the process described below can help a committee choose a hymnal that will serve its congregation well for years to come.

What to Expect When You're Expecting: Six service plans for Advent and Christmas

Our Advent series was prepared by a group of Christian Reformed pastors and others from five different congregations in and around Listowel, Ontario. This peer mentoring group, which calls itself “The Preaching Group,” is also part of the Sustaining Pastoral Excellence program sponsored by the Christian Reformed Church and funded by the Lilly Foundation.

Hymnal: A House of Praise: Collected Hymns 1961-2001

Timothy Dudley-Smith. Carol Stream, Ill.: Hope Publishing Co., 2003. 562 pp. $24.95. ISBN 0-916642-74-7.

And Mary Pondered All These Things: An Advent monologue

The following monologue was written for a candlelight service at New Era Christian Reformed Church. It is an interpretation of Scripture passages from Mary’s perspective. She becomes the narrator of the gospel story from the first Advent of Christ’s birth to the anticipation of the next Advent, Christ’s second coming. You will want to add the other elements of your worship service such as greeting, offering, benediction, and so on, to what is found below.

Resource: Sing Glory: Hymns, Psalms, and Songs for a New Century

Edited for Jubilate Hymns Ltd. by Michael Baughen (general editor), Michael Saward (chair for hymn texts), David Illiff (chair for hymn music), and David Peacock (chair for songs). Stowmarket, Suffolk, UK: Kevin Mayhew, Ltd., 1999. Full music edition $29.95 (ISBN 1 84003 419 X); words only $5.95 (ISBN 1 84003 450 5). Available in North America from

When Hearts Are Troubled: A service embracing those who grieve during holidays

Sometimes God uses things like this to strengthen the whole church,” Ruth said to me, shortly after my father died.

Advent Projections

In past issues, I’ve encouraged visual artists to involve themselves–because it’s unlikely that anyone is going to go out of their way to invite them–with the video projections your church may be planning for its worship services. Here are a couple of guidelines to make sure that these projections enhance worship instead of detract from it. I’ll use a series of Advent and Christmas visuals as examples.

Children's Messiah: A musical feast based on a classic

Imagine the magnificent words and strains of Handel’s Messiah combined with the exuberance and creativity of children’s artwork, photography, music, and movement. The result makes for a memorable and worship-filled Christmas program for all ages.


RW Receives Awards

Arise, Shine! A service based on Isaiah 60

During January 2004, worship at Calvin College, Grand Rapids, Michigan, focused on the message of Isaiah 60 (see also p. 22), in light of provocative discussion of this text in Richard Mouw’s When the Kings Come Marching In: Isaiah and the New Jerusalem, (rev. ed. Eerdmans, 2002). The following service was prepared by a Symposium planning team for morning worship in the Calvin College Chapel during the Calvin Symposium on Worship and the Arts.

On Supporting Worship Staff, Ponderous Planning Meetings, and Sloped Floors

Q Our congregation has almost no musical talent, and so we had to hire a music director from beyond our fellowship. The challenge is that both this director and the congregation are frustrated with things they see as both problematic and fixable, but have no good forum for dealing with them in ways that won’t cause all kinds of hurt. Do you have any advice for us?


For All the Saints: A service using sixteenth-century reformation practices

This order of service was prepared for Reformation Sunday 2003 at First Presbyterian Church, Royal Oak, Michigan. It includes several liturgical elements from the Protestant Reformation of the sixteenth century, including contributions from Luther in Germany, Bucer in Strassbourg, Calvin in Geneva, Zwingli in Zurich, Knox in Scotland, and from the English Reformation. The songs include a psalm, canticle, and hymns from these traditions; they can be found in the Presbyterian Hymnal as well as in many other hymnals.

Call to Worship

Come, All You People: A service for World Communion Sunday

This service was prepared for World Communion Sunday, the first Sunday in October, at Blythefield Christian Reformed Church. The service included songs from around the world sung by the congregation and/or choir, with several instrumentalists, and also a procession of flags of countries from around the world.

Songs of Hope, Glory, and Joy

The three songs chosen for this column all come from England and are found in a new hymnal, Sing Glory, produced by Jubilate Hymns, Ltd., the publishing arm of a group of about sixty British clergy, authors, and musicians that have been active in preparing new songs for the church since the 1960s (see box on p. 31 and a review of Sing Glory on p. 47). The first song predates the formation of the Jubilate Group; the other two are by active members of the group.


Hope at the Corner of Fairmont and Monticello: New City Kids' Church, Jersey City, New Jersey

It’s 102 degrees Fahrenheit outside and you’re feeling every degree. Another car alarm goes off across the narrow, pothole-ridden street; you pay no mind and neither does the police unit that’s just rolled by. The inhabitants of row houses lined block after block spill out onto their front porch stoops because it’s hotter inside than out. A mother, too young to vote, cradles her infant as she watches her nieces and nephews joyously splash in the opened fire hydrant offering cool relief.

Treasure Hunt: A service modeling youth leadership development

We can never find enough musicians for our worship band or enough leaders for our worship committee.”

“Our church is dying. Once the kids turn sixteen or seventeen they leave the church and never come back.”

Comments like these represent two major crises in churches across the country, in both urban and suburban contexts:

Articulating a Reformed Identity: What do you say when someone asks what it means to be Reformed?

Some models of campus ministry center around student worship. Many do not. Regardless, articulating a Reformed identity does give rise to some thoughts about what characterizes distinctively Reformed worship. Here are a few thoughts on Reformed worship from the “back door” of campus ministry.

Palm Power: PDA programs for pastors

Iappreciate a good gadget. Many times a day, I reach into my pocket for my personal digital assistant (PDA) in order to look up a phone number, schedule an appointment, or update my to do list. When I do, no one around me looks twice. However, if I pull out my Palm Pilot (one brand of PDA) to do a pastor-specific task—look up a Bible verse, write out the melody to a new song I’ve just heard, review my prayer list, or brush up on my Greek at the bus stop—peers and passersby rubberneck without shame.