The Psalter Hymnal Project

URCNA Synod 2012After several weeks of traversing topics remotely related to the proposed URCNA Psalter Hymnal, today’s glance at the provisional agenda for Synod 2012 brings us right to the center of activity: the report of the Psalter Hymnal Committee itself.  The committee relates:

Since Synod 2010 (London) we have been busy with psalm evaluation and dealing with the communications sent to our committee from the various classes. We have also been in communication and met with the Psalter Hymnal Committee of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church and are making a recommendation to Synod Nyack concerning this below.

With this report we seek to provide you with an update of our work and seek your direction on an important and exciting development. We submit this report with 3 main headings: History and Mandates; Summary of Activities; and Recommendations.

In this summary we’ll look at each section of the report individually.

I.  History and Mandates

A short history is helpful in understanding the situation and progress of the Psalter Hymnal Committee.  For this background information I’ll refer you to the page regarding the URC Psalter Hymnal here on URC Psalmody, as well as the report itself (pp. 215-223 of the Provisional Agenda).   As you might expect, Glenda Mathes has also composed a great overview of the history of the Psalter Hymnal project (“URCNA Synod 2012: Songbook,” ascribelog, June 6th, 2012).  But for the sake of review, I’ll simply list the decisions of Synod 2010 with regard to the Psalter Hymnal Committee here:

  1. Synod affirmed “the production of an official songbook which will be purchased and used by all URCNA churches.”  This has branched off into a tangential discussion regarding the authority of synod over local congregations.  (See “A New Hymnbook: Voluntary or Mandatory?”, URC Psalmody, May 25th, 2012.)
  2. Synod approved a process for evaluation and approval of the Hymn Proposal (released in 2010).  This evaluation process is now complete.
  3. Synod concluded the mandate of the Songbook Committee to produce a common songbook with the Canadian Reformed Churches.
  4. But synod also reminded the Committee to continue “dialogue with the Canadian Reformed Churches in a manner consistent with Phase 2 [ecumenical] relations.”

II.  Summary of Activities

After this overview, the Songbook Committee devotes the next section of their report to their progress since Synod 2010.

A.  Hymns

The committee has removed 33 of the most criticized selections from the Hymn Proposal, adding, “We will continue to work through the communications from the classes and inform the churches of more changes to come.  These changes will likely include further deletions of songs as well as additions.”  Regrettably, they have not yet concluded their modifications to the Hymn Proposal; thus they are not prepared to offer a “master report” on the hymn section as they had initially planned.

B.  Psalms

If any of you were hoping (as I was) to get a first glimpse at the Psalm Proposal at Synod 2012, you’ll be disappointed.  However, the Songbook Committee’s report does contain a few pieces of good news, especially for those who would like to see a finished Psalter Hymnal that aligns closely with the familiar blue book: First, the psalm section of the songbook will not be limited to one versification per psalm; and second, paraphrases of psalms will be included in the psalm section of the Psalter Hymnal.*  Their decision “that at least one rendition of each psalm will be that psalm in its entirety” will hopefully satisfy concerns about the completeness of the versifications.  The committee concludes this section by informing synod that “as of March 31st, 2012, we have evaluated and chosen recommended songs for Psalms 1-104.”

C.  Ecumenical Contact

The most important alteration to the Songbook Committee’s mandate in 2010 was a shift in focus from a joint songbook with the Canadian Reformed Churches to an independent songbook for the URCNA alone.  As of next week, that mandate may change—again.  The Orthodox Presbyterian Church has extended “an official invitation to the URCNA synod…to work together to produce a Psalter Hymnal for use in a wide range of confessional Presbyterian and Reformed churches.”  The URC Psalter Hymnal Committee also shares their reaction to this news: they believe “that all of this is according to God’s good providence and His wonderful timing and are therefore recommending that Synod Nyack accept this invitation from the OPC.”

III.  Recommendations

The Songbook Committee presents four recommendations to Synod 2012, but three of these are merely procedural.  The only significant recommendation is number 2: “That synod accept the invitation from the Orthodox Presbyterian Church’s Seventy-eighth General Assembly…with the intent that this would be the official songbook of the URCNA.”  Grounds are included for this recommendation, some of which are summarized below:

  1. “Working together with the OPC…would be practical and discernible evidence of our ecumenicity.”
  2. A combined URC/OPC Psalter Hymnal could be a blessing to a wide range of Reformed and Presbyterian denominations.
  3. The OPC’s Psalter Hymnal Committee could complement the URC’s committee with the expertise of their members, and vice versa.
  4. The OPC is affiliated with Great Commission Publications“This close relationship will greatly aid in obtaining copyright permissions and licensing, and should prove to be a great help when publication begins.”
  5. The financial burden of the Psalter Hymnal project would be considerably lessened by combining the efforts of the two denominations.

To me at least, the encouraging news of this possible collaboration considerably brightens the otherwise mundane content of the URC Psalter Hymnal Committee’s report.  I’m immensely thankful for each of the members of the committee and the countless hours of work they have continued to pour into this project.  As the prospect of a successfully completed collection of psalms and hymns begins to gleam on the horizon, I’m confident that the URCNA is on the right path towards musical excellence.

Readers, what do you think?  Is the proposed collaboration between the OPC and the URCNA a good idea?  What are some advantages or disadvantages of this combined effort that may not have been mentioned here?  If the recommendation carries, how can a new Psalter Hymnal for the OPC and URCNA proceed most quickly and smoothly?  As always, your comments are welcome.


*These updates are merely implied in the Songbook Committee’s report to Synod 2012, but are stated explicitly in an earlier report dated April, 2012: “Many well-known psalm-songs that do not closely adhere to the Biblical text have been retained as secondary selections and could be noted in the final songbook proposal as paraphrases or partial versions.”

2 Responses to “The Psalter Hymnal Project”

  1. 1 Pamela June 8, 2012 at 12:16 am

    The first time I read the “Ecumenical Contact” paragraph, I thought it said “altercation” instead of “alteration”….LOL!

    I have much respect for the OPC’s Trinity Hymnal (we use it weekly at Christ Reformed in Anaheim), and thus I have high hopes that collaboration with the OPC will be of great benefit to the URC’s Psalter Hymnal.

    Thanks for another fine summary, Michael.

    • 2 Michael Kearney June 8, 2012 at 9:38 am

      I agree. Sadly, we’ve never used the Trinity Hymnal here at West Sayville, but a friend gave me a copy and I’ve referred to it often over the past few years. It has good psalm settings and many great hymns, although it’s disappointing that they make it hard to “separate out” the psalms from the other songs. I’m sure that won’t be an issue in the URC/OPC Psalter Hymnal though.

      In general the OPC seems to have a high respect for the importance of music in worship. The current issue of their New Horizons magazine, in fact, focuses specifically on church music. In a few weeks I think there will be a more detailed post about the articles in this issue! 🙂


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