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.
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.
“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:
- Do you own, or have you ever owned, a “mini-Psalter?” How do/did you use it?
- 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?
- When the new URC/OPC collaboration hymnal comes out, should a mini version be made available? Would you use one? Why?
- 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.