Overture Overview: #5 on Hymn Changes

Here is my synopsis of the content of Classis Southwest US’s overture on Hymn Changes in the provisional agenda for Synod 2012.

Summary: Classis Southwest United States overtures Synod 2012 to remove 11 hymns from the hymn section of the proposed URC Psalter Hymnal, remove individual stanzas from 2 more, add 4 songs, relocate 2 songs within the hymnal, and add an alternate tune for one hymn.

Grounds: Just as in the previous overture, each recommendation is thoroughly documented with accompanying grounds.  The overture appeals almost entirely to the synodically-approved Principles and Guidelines for Selecting Church Music.  It interprets these rules strictly, including for deletion many popular hymns such as “For the Beauty of the Earth” and “God of Our Fathers” as well as some of the theologically lighter contemporary selections of the Hymn Proposal.

Possible drawbacks: It seems that this overture lacks organization in several ways.  First, I’m not aware of the reason for this overture (along with #4 and #6) coming before synod, rather than proceeding directly to the songbook committee as has been done in other classes.  With regard to the overture itself, four recommendations for removal are duplicates of similar requests in Overture #4 (from the same classis), and two more items conflict with recommendations from this former overture (one requests individual verses to be removed, whereas the other requests entire hymns to be removed).  The recommended additions pertain to unfamiliar songs that may be hard to evaluate on the floor of synod.  One suggested addition has to do with the psalm section of the proposed Psalter Hymnal, which hasn’t yet been released for consideration.  I fear that these structural flaws in Overture #5 will unnecessarily confuse the delegates and “gum up the works” of synod with tedious discussion.

My thoughts: Undeniably, the recommendations of this overture are backed up with excellent grounds.  If the URCNA had no previous musical background and was constructing the first hymnbook for its congregations, these suggestions would help ensure the excellence of the finished product.  But does this overture take into account the decades of singing from the blue Psalter Hymnal in our churches?  Familiarity, though always subordinate to Scriptural faithfulness, is a powerful factor.  As is evident from Overtures #8 and #9, many churches are concerned about the Songbook Committee’s deviation from the contents of the traditional Psalter Hymnal.  So where should we yield for the sake of unity, and where should we stand firm for the sake of textual and musical excellence?  That’s the difficult question Synod 2012 will have to answer.

See pp. 51-55 of the Provisional Agenda for the entirety of this overture.

Your thoughts are welcome,

–MRK

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