Archive for June, 2012

Mini-Psalters!

In his absence, Michael asked me to write a post about the phenomenon known as “Mini-Psalters.”  I don’t really know what else to call them, and the prefix “mini-” implies all sorts of fun, kind of like mini-marshmallows or mini-golf.  And indeed these Psalters are fun.  They measure about 3.5 x 5 inches, with a depth of about 1 inch.  They are the “fun size” candy bar of the world of psalmody and can easily be tucked away into a purse, backpack, or glove compartment.

Publication history: Published in 1959, these little guys are complete reproductions (including confessions and liturgies in the back) of the Centennial Edition of the blue Psalter Hymnal of the CRC (which is identical in musical content to the commonly used 1976 edition).  They feature the same classic “stained glass” logo on the cover with “Psalter Hymnal” written in gold Gothic script.

Seen here alongside its big brother

There also exist black “mini-” versions of the earlier 1934 Psalter Hymnal, as well as the 1987 gray Psalter Hymnal.  I’m sure many other hymnals and Psalters come in “fun size” as well.  For instance, in my daily worship, I always use the “mini-” version of The Book of Psalms for Worship of the RPCNA.

Thoughts: The very existence of the “mini-Psalter” format points to a thriving tradition of singing in the church during the twentieth century.  They wanted to sing the psalms and hymns.  They wanted to carry around with them the worship of God they experienced on Sunday.  A Psalter Hymnal was something that everybody wanted to carry around with them, a beloved and cherished book of the people of God.

In my experience exhorting at various congregations in the URC, OPC, and RPCNA, one of the most uplifting comments I get is when someone will say that a psalm or hymn that we sang in church really spoke to them, and that he or she followed up on the service by meditating on the words of that psalm, praying through the words of that hymn, or just singing that psalm or hymn every day.  Witnessing that act of carrying worship throughout the week is a special delight.  Seeing people take the words of the Psalter and hymnal on their lips (and into their hearts) not just in church, but in their everyday lives, is such a boon.  And that’s the spirit that I think the “mini-Psalters” capture – the heartfelt desire to carry the worship of God with you every day.

These hymnals were meant to function as “tag-alongs,” to carry, like I said above, in your car, your purse, your backpack, etc.  From experience, I can say that these hymnals are perfect for road trips, camping trips, airports, etc.

“Mini-Psalters” are excellent tools for pastors.  I know several pastors who keep one handy in their car or briefcase, ready for hospital visits, family visitation, or any emergency situation that might come up.  In addition to a Bible, this is the item they’d never leave home without.  The “mini-Psalter” provides a quick way to reference the confessions, the liturgies, and the beautiful prayer forms in the back.  It also would enable the pastor to quote well-known psalms and hymns during his shepherding ministry.

The 1934 incarnation of the “Mini-Psalter”

“Mini-Psalters” are also excellent tools for family worship (the importance of singing in family worship was briefly discussed when Michael interviewed me, and I’m sure it can be further discussed at a later date).  Of course, this can be easily accomplished by normal-sized Psalters as well (but there is something overwhelmingly “adorable” about seeing a toddler carrying around an appropriately sized hymnal).  I’ve seen several families cultivate a love for the Psalter Hymnal by having their young children bring their personal “mini-Psalter” to and from corporate worship every Sunday.  In this way, the children see a connection between what they sing at home and what they sing in church.

“Mini-Psalters” are a good way to “interlock” your private worship with the corporate worship on Sundays.  It’s a declaration that these words, the words of the psalms and hymns of the people of God, are not just for Sunday, but belong to your everyday life as well.  Additionally, using the same Psalter or hymnal during the week as you do in church on Sunday encourages a solidarity among the congregation.  It develops a repertoire for worship, a common set of words, phrases, and stanzas with which to express our Christian community, our common experience of union with Christ.  It gives us a tangible vocabulary with which we can join together our disparate (and desperate) personal stories into one great narrative of salvation.  Can a “mini-Psalter” do all that?  Not on its own, but it sure can help willing and excited hearts.

Questions for discussion:

  1. Do you own, or have you ever owned, a “mini-Psalter?”  How do/did you use it?
  2. If mini forms of the blue Psalter Hymnal were republished, how much interest do you think there would be?  Would you order some?  How would you use them?
  3. When the new URC/OPC collaboration hymnal comes out, should a mini version be made available?  Would you use one?  Why?
  4. Finally, is anyone aware of a secret supply of “mini-Psalters” for sale?  I know that at Mid-America Reformed Seminary, for instance, they’re always a hot commodity, and I’m sure there’s a thriving “black market” for them elsewhere in the URC as well.  So if anyone has information, feel free to post about it in the comments below.  I can usually find one or two tucked away in various Grand Rapids used bookstores, but if anyone is aware of other suppliers, let us know.

–JDO

Psalm 54

Behold, God is my helper;
the Lord is the upholder of my life.

–Psalm 54:4 (ESV)

David wrote Psalm 54 in the context of great personal danger.  He had just been betrayed by the Ziphites among whom he had been hiding (I Samuel 23).  Saul, who had actively been trying to kill David for some time now, was hot on his trail.  Understanding the personal context of David’s life as he wrote this psalm makes this psalm’s bold declaration of confidence all the more striking.  Betrayed by his foreign allies (“strangers,” verse 3), pursued by Saul and the army of Israel (“ruthless men,” verse 3), David still expresses courage and hope.

The psalm is divided into two sections by the selah after verse 3.  I’ve heard/read many theories about what the selahs in the book of Psalms are, but the one that I prefer (at least, it makes the most sense) is that the selah is a musical interlude between different sections of the psalm, an instrumental bridge.

Before the selah, in verses 1-3, David pleads his case to God, asking Him to “vindicate” and “save” him (verse 1-2), laying his situation before the Lord (verse 3).  His situation may seem hopeless, but David has full confidence that God will hear his prayer because of His Name (verse 1), which He has placed on David (I Samuel 16).

After the selah, in verses 4-7, there is a marked difference in tone.  Instead of pleading his case, David expresses his confidence, speaking of the defeat of his enemies as if it’s already a “done deal” (verse 5, 7).  The reason for this confidence is founded in the character of God – God is described as a helper, an upholder, as a deliverer (verses 4, 7).  The key adjectives used to describe God are “faithful” and “good” (verses 5, 6).

Verses 6-7 express David’s thankfulness to God, the response of a grateful heart to a great deliverance.  David is not bargaining with God (“if You deliver me from Saul, I will sacrifice to You”); rather he is expressing the natural result of salvation, a thankful heart freely offered (verse 6).

This psalm is applicable in a variety of contexts.  This psalm can provide fruitful meditation on the Passion of Christ, when He who is the Greater David was viciously betrayed by Judas (Hebrews 12:3) and yet went forward in confidence.  Jesus, assured of His final vindication, “endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:2).

It would also be well-suited for the believer to pray/sing with respect to our own struggles in this life.  The confidence of David is our confidence as well – and even more so because of Christ.  We may not struggle with pursuing armies or deadly betrayal, yet we daily fight against “the schemes of the devil… and spiritual forces of evil” (Ephesians 6:11-12).  Our daily battle with sin and temptation can be greatly aided by the confidence of this psalm.

Finally, this is a beautiful psalm to pray regarding those Christians who are being physically assaulted for their faith.  We can use this psalm on their behalf as we uphold them in our prayers.

99, “O Save Me by Thy Name”

Psalm 54 has only one selection in the blue Psalter Hymnal, paraphrased in 1832 by Lowell Mason (of “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross” fame).  The words do a good job of reflecting the content of the psalm (although the somewhat archaic use of “judge me in Thy might” in stanza 1 might need a bit of explanation to the congregation–“judge” here reflecting the concept of “vindicate me” in the psalm).  Stanzas 1 and 2 reflect verses 1-3 and stanzas 3-5 reflect verses 4-7.

The tune (BOYLSTON) is good, but probably unfamiliar to most congregations.  This is unfortunate, since this is our only selection of Psalm 54.  However, since the tune is Short Meter (SM), there are a variety of tunes to which these words can be sung.

Because of the dramatic change in mood between verses 1-3 and 4-7, the choice of tune should be determined by what aspect of the psalm you wish to reflect.  If one wishes to reflect the suppliant pleading of a distressed soul (verses 1-3), then GORTON (152, “Remember Not, O God”) would be a good fit.  If one wishes to reflect the bombastic confidence and thanksgiving of verses 4-7, then perhaps ST. THOMAS (479, “I Love Thy Kingdom, Lord”) would be an appropriate substitution.

If accompanying this psalm, try to reflect the change of mood.  Perhaps use a quieter, prayerful organ stop for stanzas 1-2, and then switch to a confident, brighter stop for the last three stanzas.  Maybe even include a selah of your own – a key change or short interlude – between stanzas 2 and 3, to reflect the change in mood.  If you’re arranging this song for a choir (or have an especially versatile congregation), maybe you could get really creative and arrange the first two stanzas in a minor key before switching to major for stanzas 3-4.

Psalm 54 is important, for it teaches us how to pray in desperate times, and also demonstrates the joy and confidence Christians may hold on to in those very times.  It covers a large range of the Christian experience in its seven verses – distress, deliverance, and delight (could one say an echo of “sin, salvation, and service?”), culminating in the gratitude of the redeemed heart:

My sacrifice of praise
to Thee I freely bring;
My thanks, O Lord, to Thee I raise
and of Thy goodness sing.

–JDO

And Now, Please Welcome…

The summer of 2012 will prove to be an exciting season of change for URC Psalmody.  Maybe you’ve already noticed some modifications in the layout and content of the site.  Or maybe you’ve discovered URC Psalmody’s new YouTube channel, where I’ve begun uploading a variety of Psalter Hymnal selections.

But the most exciting news I’d like to announce to you today is that I’ve been joined by a new contributor here on URC Psalmody.  I’d like you all to meet James Oord.

James is a graduate of Grove City College and a student at Mid-America Reformed Seminary.  I first met him online—through this blog’s Contact Me form, of all places.  Jim shared with me his deep and growing appreciation of the psalms, his like-mindedness with regard to Reformed worship, and his great love for the church.  Needless to say, we hit it off excellently.  Just a few weeks ago, by providential coincidence, I learned that Jim would be visiting our church here in West Sayville to preach.  Over the weekend we had some great conversations, but it wasn’t until our two-hour session of piano-organ duets improvised from Psalter Hymnal tunes that I started to realize the possibility of a musical partnership of sorts.  Having Jim join the blog as an author was simply a logical step, and I look forward as much as you do to reading his contributions on URC Psalmody.

For your interest, here’s an introductory interview with James on his life and his thoughts about the church.

MRK: James, did you grow up in the Reformed tradition?  What was your first exposure to the life of the church?

JDO: One of my professors, when asked to give his testimony, simply responds, “Well, I was baptized.”  Of course he goes on to elaborate, as will I.  But that’s where I’ll start: I was baptized as an infant and raised as a covenant child in a Christian family.  My parents took seriously the promises they made at baptism, to raise me up in the nurture and admonition of the LORD, and they also took seriously their responsibility to make clear the covenant promises that God made to me to be my Father, my Savior, and my Friend.

I was raised in the Christian Reformed Church and then the United Reformed Church.  I went to Christian school from preschool through high school, attended catechism classes, and made profession of faith in junior high.  Throughout my life, I was blessed with good teachers, godly elders, wise mentors, good friends, and of course my loving parents, all of whom taught me to cherish the truths of Scripture.

MRK: How did you first become involved with the church’s music?

JDO: It all starts with Liberace.  I was watching the Muppet Show one day and Liberace was their special guest.  From that moment on, I decided that I wanted to play the piano.  So in first grade, I started taking lessons from a wonderful godly woman from our church.  She wasn’t a professional teacher, just a church pianist/organist, but I’ll always be thankful for her because she really taught me to love the music of the church.  Even early on, she would incorporate hymns and hymn arrangements into the lessons.  She was really an influential figure in my early life.  I remember her talking about letting the words of the hymns guide your playing, which is a lesson I think is vitally important for young accompanists to learn.

When I was just starting high school I started regularly accompanying church services on the piano, and then later on I took organ lessons (just enough to be able to play hymns and very simple arrangements).

MRK: When did you sense that God was calling you to the ministry?

JDO: I never know how to answer that question.  I think to some extent, as a pastor’s son, it’s always in the back of your mind, kind of a function of the “I want to grow up to be like daddy” thought process.  I would say there were hints of it in high school, but that I didn’t really seriously consider it until I was at Grove City College.  I started out as a math major, with the intention to teach or do something mildly math-related, but as I progressed through my studies and got more and more involved with my church there, I really felt the Lord’s leading.  I had some excellent professors at Grove City who really charged me up about the Gospel and my pastor in college invested a lot of time in mentoring me.  I read a lot of books by Edmund Clowney and Dale Ralph Davis (most of my professors studied under those men, and a lot of the classes reflected that), which did much to excite me for Christ-centered preaching and ministry.  I think it was the end of my sophomore year that I really felt that God was leading me to some form of full-time service in His Kingdom.  So I started leading Bible studies and getting involved in various ministries and my local church, all of which really cemented the fact that this was where God was leading me.

MRK: What are your goals for your eventual ministry?

JDO: First, foremost, and most basically, the goal of all ministry is to draw people to see and savor Jesus Christ, to find their ultimate delight in a life centered on Him.  Whether someone’s been in the Church their whole life or has just entered the community as a new convert, that’s the key.

As pastors, our primary function would be the proclamation of the gospel, and so my ultimate desire would be that that gospel would be evident in everything I do.

To go into a few more specifics, I want to encourage people to love their Bibles more.  I would want every congregant to leave a sermon basically saying, in a positive way, “Oh, I could have done that,” and then going home and doing it – reading and learning and memorizing their Bibles and seeing how God’s Word can transform their lives.

More Germaine to this blog, I want to encourage my congregations specifically to love the psalms more.  The book of Psalms is so amazing.  It’s not an overstatement to say that the full range of the Christian experience is explicated and given a voice through the psalms.  My relationship with Christ has been so enriched by the psalms that I would love to be able to show that to fellow Christians.

MRK: What is your view of the importance of singing psalms in worship?

JDO: I think it’s vitally important.  No matter how you translate Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16 (whether all of Paul’s distinctions refer to various genres of “Psalm” or to a wider variety of song), it’s clear that there is a scriptural injunction to sing psalms in worship.  And like I said above, the psalms are just so “handy” for worship since they address the full range of the Christian experience.  There’s also the simple logic that, well, these songs are inspired by God, they’ve been used by the Church for millennia, and historically they’ve blessed God’s people tremendously wherever they’ve been sung.

MRK: In what ways do you think the music of the URCNA is already strong, and what could be done to make it even stronger?

JDO: First of all, to have a group of churches that sing the psalms as much as we already do is tremendous.  Whatever we have to complain about, don’t lose sight of how blessed we are to have a tradition of singing the words of Scripture, and a Church Order that backs it up!

That said, it can always be better.  I would love to see a revival of love for the psalms.  I would love to see people truly treasure the psalms, to take them from their lips and into their hearts, to adopt the language of the psalms into their prayer life.  I think that an updated collection could help a great deal, so I am wholeheartedly excited to see the progress of the Psalter Hymnal Committee (and the results of their collaboration with the OPC).  But a new hymnal isn’t all we need.  I think we need pastors and church musicians who work together to encourage a love for our worship, cultivating a community that cherishes its songs.

MRK: How can the average URCNA member contribute to make their weekly worship in song more meaningful?

JDO: I love it when churches make the bulletin information available prior to Sunday morning.  I know several families who read through the texts for the upcoming sermons and sing all the songs for the upcoming services during the week leading up to Sunday.  Arriving to church expectant, knowledgeable, and prepared can greatly enrich personal worship, especially if any of the songs are unfamiliar (I know that while singing an unfamiliar song, I don’t “hit my rhythm” until about the third verse, meaning I can’t properly give my attention to the words).  That takes a bit of work, but the reward is definitely worth it.

In a more general sense, it would be beautiful to see singing added to regular family devotion time.  Once again, I know many families who do this, to great effect.  Psalter Hymnals aren’t that hard to come by in our circles, so this is a fairly easy way to enrich family worship and prepare for corporate worship.  I’m sure we’ll have much time to further discuss each of these topics, so I won’t go into more detail.

Michael, thank you for this opportunity.  I love this blog and the unique niche it fills.  I pray that God can use this blog and the conversations it sparks to enrich the musical worship of the URCNA.  I’m glad for our friendship and the opportunity to join the discussion.

—–

My heartfelt thanks to Jim for his willingness to join us here on the blog.  Since I’ll be attending a TASC (Teens All Serving Christ) mission trip, he’ll be “holding the fort” at URC Psalmody next week–and after that, Lord willing, we’ll both continue to write new posts!  Thanks be to our providential God for bringing about this friendship, and may he enable us to continue glorifying him through the psalms and songs of the church.

–MRK

Synod Videos (2)

I’ve uploaded four more videos of the singing at Synod 2012.

The first two songs, “Praise Jehovah, All Ye Nations” and “Not What My Hands Have Done,” were chosen by delegates on the spur of the moment Tuesday morning.  While the ballots for synodical officers were being counted, chairman pro tem. Rev. Kuiken directed a quick song service.  “We have some time to kill.  Could I have a number?”  These two songs were the first selections.

231, “Praise Jehovah, All Ye Nations”

389, “Not What My Hands Have Done”

Later on Tuesday, at the beginning of the evening session, Rev. Steve Arrick of the Zeltenreich URC in Lancaster County, PA, led opening devotions with the singing of number 1, “That Man Is Blest.”

For Friday morning’s devotions, Rev. Paul Murphy of Messiah’s Reformed Fellowship in Manhattan gave a pointed and convicting address to the delegates on the need for constant evangelism.  Following his message, the group sang number 36, “The Ends of All the Earth Shall Hear.”

More videos will be coming soon!

–MRK

Synod Wrap-Up

URCNA Synod 2012

During the week of synod, the URCNA’s most significant decisions were easy to spot, but the specifics could sometimes be hard to pin down.  Today, in retrospect, I’d like to review the decisions of Synod 2012 regarding each of the topics we’ve considered over the past few weeks.

Overtures #4-#6

(View articles on Overture #4, Overture #5, and Overture #6 from URC Psalmody.)

Early in the proceedings on Tuesday, synod ruled that overtures #4-#6 should be forwarded directly to the Songbook Committee rather than being addressed on the floor of synod.  Like many other URCNA members, I believe this was exactly what should have been done.  After all, why should the highly musical suggestions contained in overtures #4-#6 be subjected to the opinions of a primarily non-musical body?  Thankfully, synod exercised great wisdom here in the realization that they were “out of their depth.”

Overtures #8 and #9

(View articles on Overture #8 and Overture #9 from URC Psalmody.)

The story of these overtures is a complicated one.  Here’s the best objective summary I can give:

Delegated to address Overtures #8 and #9 as well as the Psalter Hymnal Committee report, Advisory Committee 9 made three recommendations to synod.

  1. That Synod direct the Psalter Hymnal Committee to consider ways by which there may be the least amount of unrest and concern preceding and subsequent to the implementation of a new song book with respect to these three matters: (items 1-3 in Overture #8 without lists of songs).  Two grounds were included (items 4 and 5 from the grounds of Overture #8).
  2. That this be Synod’s answer to Overture #8.
  3. That this as well as our previous report in connection with the Psalter Hymnal Committee’s Report be Synod’s answer to Overture #9.

The advisory committee’s report came before synod late at night, when many of the delegates were simply too weary for a detailed examination of the subject.  Without much debate, all three recommendations were passed.

The next morning, however, the delegates were fully awake.  It was as if synod suddenly asked, “What did we just approve?”  Concerns were raised that the recommendation didn’t actually address many of the concerns of Overture #9; that neither Overture #8 nor Overture #9 contained the background sections required by synodical procedure; and that some of the allegations in the first recommendation were fundamentally false.

As a result, after a more thorough discussion, synod rescinded some of its decisions.  The final determination: The concerns expressed in Overture #8 were referred to the Songbook Committee, while Overture #9 was rejected as irrelevant (given the joint project with the OPC).

Appeal #1

(View article on Appeal #1 from URC Psalmody.)

After some discussion, the chairman eventually ruled that Appeal #1 was out of order, as it should have been submitted as an overture instead.  Unfortunately, there will not be any closure on Living Water’s concerns until at least next synod.  However, I sensed no significant opposition to the content of the appeal—which may be a promising sign for its advocates.

Report of Church Order Committee

(View article on the PJCO from URC Psalmody.)

The Proposed Joint Church Order was received for information and further feedback to the committee.  No specific action was taken with regard to Article 36 on worship music.

Report of Psalter Hymnal Committee

(View article on the Psalter Hymnal Committee report from URC Psalmody.)

Synod asked the committee to recommend a financial plan to Synod 2014 regarding the publication of a songbook.  It also encouraged the churches of the URCNA to contribute to the Psalter Hymnal Fund.  But their most important decision was to approve the Songbook Committee’s second recommendation: “That synod accept the invitation from the Orthodox Presbyterian Church’s Seventy-eighth General Assembly ‘to work together to produce a Psalter-Hymnal for use in a wide range of confessional Presbyterian and Reformed Churches’…”  This is cause for great rejoicing!

Report of CECCA

(View article on the CECCA report from URC Psalmody.)

Nothing related to church music popped up during synod’s treatment of CECCA.

More videos of the delegates’ singing will continue to appear here on URC Psalmody over the next few weeks, but our discussions on Synod 2012 have drawn to a close.  In some ways it seems a shame—I certainly had fun in Nyack last week, and I thoroughly enjoyed reporting all of it back to you.  Not to worry though; I’ll keep the Synod 2012 information page open with links to each of these articles.  And by God’s grace, URC Psalmody will continue; soon, in fact, I hope to be sharing with you some exciting new developments.  So keep reading!

Blessings,

–MRK


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