Three scenarios — all of them real — can set the stage to address the question of the “extinction” of hymnals.
A congregation oversubscribes the cost of buying new denominational songbooks that contain a mixture of old hymns and recently-composed songs. The congregation’s minister approaches a pastoral colleague assigned to a smaller, struggling congregation, and offers her the surplus money for a similar purchase. “No, thank you,” she says. “We no longer use books since the lyrics are projected on the screen along with the other texts for worship. Although we are small, this is a forward-looking community. We are not interested in print books that are a relic of the past. Besides, we don’t want to be encumbered with books to hold because we prefer to be free to lift our hands or clap as we sing.”We are all aware of churches where the blue, red, black, or green hymnal remains safely tucked in the pew rack for the duration of the Sunday liturgy. In some instances, denominational leaders have encouraged hymnal-using congregations to lay their books aside in the name of growth and “relevance.” Indeed, some of these churches have experienced growth in numbers after giving up their hymnbooks. Even in Catholic churches, the Gather or equivalent songbook collects dust while the monthly rotation of “missalettes” is used. So it is a bit of a surprise that, in 2013, two new denominational hymnbooks were born: the joint publication of the Christian Reformed Church in North America and the Reformed Church in America presented under the title Lift Up Your Hearts: Psalms, Hymns and Spiritual Songs; and Glory to God, from the Presbyterian Church U.S.A. In response to the trends of the times, both of these books are available in hard-copy and electronic forms. Lift Up Your Hearts comes in multiple digital formats that include schemes for projection, printing, and reading. Glory to God is offered in a web-based electronic edition that is searchable and includes audio clips. What some declare to be a dying life-form has been acclimatized to the digital age. Read More
In speaking about resources for worship, the pastor acknowledges that he never uses the denomination’s hymnbook. “I like having the freedom to choose music from any source. Of course, we have our CCLI [Christian Copyright Licensing International] and onelicense.net licenses. I find songs that best fit the theme of the day and that can get the congregation really ‘in’ to their worship. Hymnals are far too restrictive.”
A student in my introductory worship course, upon learning that the day’s session will focus on music in worship, comments in class: “I hope you aren’t going to talk about hymns and hymnals. They really are irrelevant to today’s worship. The music is old fashioned and the words are often boring. I’d like for us to talk about ‘contemporary’ music and music that is produced individually or collaboratively by people in an emerging-style congregation. That really would be more helpful for us as future pastors.” Although the Masters of Sacred Music students in the room cringe at that remark, they are a minority compared to the heads nodding in affirmation of the student’s request.
Photo credit. C G P Grey