Our New Church Hymnal

A new church hymnal is in the making! Here's what to expect.

By CHARLES E. WENIGER, Professor of Speech, Pacific Union College

A new church hymnal is in the making! Indeed, the last hymns to be included are being chosen, and the completion of the task is actually in sight. On Sunday and Monday evening, July 16 and 17, about a hundred sing­ers met in the Takoma Park Seventh-day Ad­ventist church under new and strange circum­stances. They had been invited to spend an hour singing new hymns, and were asked to register their approval or disapproval of each hymn, as it was sung, with reference to its inclusion in the forthcoming hymnal. These were significant meetings—perhaps the most significant thus far in the music history of this denomination. But before we speak fur­ther about these happy occasions, let us tell how it has all come about.

Since the publication of "Hymns and Tunes" in 1886, as almost every Seventh-day Adventist must know, this time-worn volume has been the authorized hymnal of the church. However, the book has generally fallen into disuse, and gradually its place has been taken by song and hymn collections of varying types. Con­sequently, for a long time it has been agreed by many of our brethren that we need a new hymnal. The recognition of this fact and the desire to encourage the use of the best wor­ship music in all our services led the General Conference of 1936 to recommend study of the need and advisability of publishing a new church hymnal. The committee of eighteen appointed to study the problem reviewed the question, and, in its report to the Fall Council of 1937, pointed out that "Christ in Song" and "Gospel in Song" had almost superseded "Hymns and Tunes" in our churches in North America, although these books contain a num­ber of songs not suited to church worship.

Sensing the inadequacy of these and simi­lar collections, the committee recommended the publication of a new hymnal, which should include the best songs in our older hymnals, together with a variety of new songs selected to suit the needs of the various services of the church and of the Sabbath school. The com­mittee further recommended that this new hymnal should contain between six and seven hundred pages, sell for approximately $1.50, and take the place of "Christ in Song."

The Fall Council accepted these recom­mendations, and the original committee pro­ceeded to organize its work. Actual study of selections for the prospective volume was dele­gated to two working committees: (1) a com­mittee on hymns in general (I. H. Evans, chairman, with sixteen other members), and (2) a committee on new music (C. L. Bond, chairman, L. E. Froom, M. E. Dawson, G. W. Greer, J. W. Osborn, and Miss Thelma Well­man, secretary). "Hymns and Tunes" and "Christ in Song" were adopted as a founda­tion for the new hymnal, plans for selecting old hymns and adding, new ones were laid, the Review and Herald' Publishing Association was chosen to publish the new hymnal, and the task gradually began to take form. Mean­while, in response to Elder Evans' invitation published in the Review and Herald of Febru­ary 4, 1937, suggestions and new hymns began to come in from our people the world round.

From week to week through the year 1938 the committees met and considered the trying problems of hymn selection. In March, Elder Bond reported that they had already examined more than five hundred new compositions. It seemed, however, that the work had just begun. New music kept pouring in. In November the chairman of the new music committee reported that they had tentatively selected 206 compo­sitions, some in manuscript form, some from a compilation by H. B. Hannum, and some from other good hymnals. The difficulties of final choice were becoming more and more apparent. The extent of the problems involved led to the appointment of a small committee whose task was to reexamine the lists already submitted, and make further recommendations from other sources, such as "The British Advent Hymnal."

Thus the work continued into the present year, until those eventful Sunday and Monday evenings in the Takoma Park church. C. L. Bond and G. W. Greer had been authorized to invite a list of singers to try the new hymns submitted for selection. H. B. Hannum was at the console of the organ. The A Cappella Choir of Washington Missionary College and the choir of the Takoma Park church formed the nucleus of the singers, and a number of interested auditors were scattered here and there about the church auditorium. After a few words of introduction and an earnest prayer, the pleasant task of singing and hear­ing new hymns for the first time began. The room was darkened, and the new hymns were projected on a screen in manuscript form. Nearly one hundred people joined in singing and registering straw votes. Frequently ex­pressions of satisfaction were heard as singers and auditors discovered some new hymn of reverent worship, or a new song breathing the distinctive faith of Seventh-day Advent­ists.

Encouraged by the hearty response of those two evenings of trial, the committee has con­tinued its work from day to day' until the collection is almost complete. Music and literary editors have also been faithfully at work in the endeavor to finish their tasks so that the goal of publishing the new hymnal before the next quadrennial General Confer­ence session may be reached.

Everything possible is being done to make the hymnal attractive and usable. It will be easy to find a desired number, since a comprehen­sive topical index is included. There will be a section for use by choirs in our churches, and in this a number of sentences, invocations, offertories, and benedictions will be of interest. Some of the early advent hymns which breathe the spirit of the pioneers will be a valuable feature. Additional indexes which will aid the user of the hymnal are a first-line index, an index of composers and authors, a metrical, and an alphabetical index of tunes. A care­fully chosen selection of scripture readings will enhance the value of this new volume.

Yes, a new church hymnal is in the making. Soon we shall rejoice to sing the grand old hymns of the church in the setting of a new book, while we discover here and there among its pages a collection of choice new hymns that will mean a rich contribution to our worship in song. A hearty "thank-you" to the tire­less committees and to all contributors who have made, this much-needed volume possible.

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By CHARLES E. WENIGER, Professor of Speech, Pacific Union College

October 1939

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