Is it time for a new hymnal?

The current Church Hymnal was published forty years ago, in 1941. In June, 1980, the editor asked, "Do We Need a New Hymnal?" Several readers responded——almost all answering in the affirmative. The following reactions set forth the reasons two readers feel a new hymnal is needed and what we can do meanwhile to use the present one to better advantage.

Wayne Hooper, recently retired from the Voice of Prophecy, is well known as an arranger, composer, and conductor.

Yes—for several reasons.

1. Some of the hymns in our present hymnal are passed over because they are not singable because of such problems as (a) awkward melodic leaps, (b) difficult rhythmic patterns, (c) no place to breathe, (d) sophisticated melodic patterns, (e) harmonic changes that seem unnatural, and (f) poem meters that do not fit the music.

An example is No. 187, "The Lord Is Coming." Every word makes one excited about the Second Coming. Unfortunately, the tune to which it is wedded in our book is not very singable. (Try using this poem with the music of No. 581, "My Hope Is Built on Nothing Less." With a little repetition to fit the chorus, the whole thing comes alive!)

2. Many of the hymns are pitched too high. No. 566, "There Is a Stranger at the Door," is an example of this problem. When most of us attempt to screech out the three high Fs in this hymn, I'm sure the ' 'Stranger'' would be frightened away!

3. Changes in musical culture must be reflected in our hymnal. In recent years the resurgence of folk singing has brought about a new appreciation of this gentle art. As a result, a whole treasure of Early American folk hymns has been dusted off and brought to new life. Many of these are delightful, have meaningful words, and deserve a place in our praise language.

4. A new awareness of the contributions of the black heritage deserves recognition. There is not a single Negro spiritual in our hymnal; yet, since the Civil War and the world tours of the Fisk Jubilee Singers, these unique and powerful songs have won a place in the programs of all the great singers and choirs—and in our hearts. When a congregation sings such spirituals as "Trampin' " and "Lord, I Want to Be a Christian," it can be a moving experience.

5. We need some hymns written of and about the concerns of our time. We cannot expect young people to get excited about a book of songs all of which were written before they were born, and most of which were written before their parents were born! The Hymn Society of America holds hymnwriting contests regularly that produce out standing winners. One recent subject was "Hymns for the Space Age," and another was "Hymns of Concern for the Cities."

6. We need more hymns about our unique beliefs. The Sabbath, Second Coming, judgment, sanctuary, and the priesthood of Christ are some of the subjects we need to sing more about. We could have our own hymn-writing contests and print the winners in the next hymnal.

7. We should enjoy singing some of the hymns other denominations have used for years and found a blessing. Examples of these are "Be Thou My Vision" and "Turn Back, O Man" from the 1966 Methodist Hymnal, and Samuel Longfellow' s "God of the Earth, the Sky, the Sea" from the Congregational Pilgrim Hymnal of 1962.

Of course, even if we needed and wanted a new hymnal now, we could not have one. It takes four to seven years to edit and print a major denominational hymnal. So the work needs to be started now by leaders with vision. A hymnal committee should be selected with a chairman who would be the editor. The work of collecting, sifting, choosing, holding polls, and getting input from all sections of the church should begin immediately. By the time their work was done, many years from now, everyone would see the need and be ready to sing and rejoice.

Until we do get a new hymnal, we can encourage a better use of the one we have. I have found that people will accept and sing a new hymn if an effort is made to teach it to them. I tell them why I think it deserves their attention and try to make the author and composer come alive as real people. Just as we introduce a guest speaker, we should introduce authors and composers, especially of' 'new'' hymns. To help with this, we could make available E. E. White's Singing With Understanding. It is a handbook to our hymnal and has explanatory notes for every hymn. It was published in 1968 by the Signs Publishing Company of Australia, but it is now out of print. Let's reprint it, and see that every minister, choir director, and organist has a copy.

And while we're waiting for a.new hymnal to be prepared, let's use the many hymns in our hymnal that have gone largely unexplored. Look at No. 350, "We Have Not Known Thee.'' This was written by a Church of England minister, Thomas Pollock, in 1889. Each of the first four stanzas begins with a contrite confession and ends with a sincere prayer for help in correcting that fault.

Stanza 3 says:

We have not loved Thee as we ought,

Nor cared that we are loved by Thee;

Thy presence we have coldly sought,

And feebly longed Thy face to see.

Lord, give a pure and loving heart

To feel and own the love Thou art.

This is a hymn everyone can identify with, and the music by Joseph Barnby is lovely and singable.

A new hymnal? Yes. Let's begin the process right away!


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Wayne Hooper, recently retired from the Voice of Prophecy, is well known as an arranger, composer, and conductor.

April 1981

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