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.


5 Responses to “And Now, Please Welcome…”

  1. 1 Barbara Kearney June 23, 2012 at 9:21 am

    Welcome James and I’m looking forward to reading your contributions to this blog!

  2. 2 Reita Julien June 23, 2012 at 10:42 am

    Good job, “Guys”! Keep up the good work, Michael. I understand you met the men from our church at Synod. They told me about you right away and what a great job you did on the organ.

    I was thinking of you this week as I was playing “In Doubt and Temptation” on the piano. What a great song! Words depict the Psalm really well and the music is a little bit “hymn style” which the people in the pew always seem to like. That song, for me, goes back a long time. I remember the old Psalter Hymnal (which we sang out of when I was very young ;-)) and the ministers loved some of those songs back then already. The problem at that time was that the Psalms were all sung soooo slow that the people did not like to sing them. Another one, that did not get in the blue Psalter, was “Most Perfect Is the Law Of God”. My husband will suggest I play that one sometimes in connection with the sermons on the Law. Most people, however, don’t know that one.

    When we came to Dunnville church, the people did not know a lot of the Psalms because over the yrs the ministers only chose the ones they knew. My husband was from the RCA and when he went into the CRC did not know very many and only picked out the ones that went with the sermons. It did not take long for any congregation to learn them. If I knew it was not familiar, I would play melody with both hands and feet, with a good full organ. I would do that on the first stanza, for sure, and one more if I thought they did not quite get it. (Still do that today if the first stanza feels like they don’t know) My husband keeps the dates on the top of each song and that way he knows how often we have sung it.

    I don’t know if you read Scott Lindeboom’s letter in Christian Renewal recently, but he is an organist in our church. His letter “hit the nail on the head”. Hope you agree with what he wrote. My feeling is that they should have started with the blue PH and taken out some and then pulled in some of the Hymms that are not in it that are solidly Reformed and well written and gone form there.

    I got a bit long here, hope you don’t mind. Tomorrow we are “celebrating” my husband having been in the miinistry 50 yrs–two sermons, Sola Gratia AM and Soli Deo Gloria PM– and I will be playing the organ in the AM. (had my 50 yr celebration of playing organ in church back in ’06) Trully God has blessed us to be able to be part of the worship services all these yrs. Keep up the good work!!

    • 3 Michael Kearney June 23, 2012 at 12:05 pm

      Thanks Mrs. Julien! I met the delegates from your church in the elevator that first night, and told them to send you their greetings. Playing on the organ at synod was such a blast–sometimes literally. Now I understand why you enjoyed it so much.

      “In Doubt and Temptation” is one of my favorites! It’s very singable and, as you said, very hymn-like. The collection I bought from Dale Grotenhuis has this tune in it. And while it’s good on the organ, it’s great on the piano!

      One of the organists from Pompton Plains generously gave me a box of his old church music. Among the hymnbooks was a 1934 red Psalter Hymnal (yay!) and the blue Psalter of the Netherlands Reformed Churches. It will be good to familiarize myself with both. In fact, I’ve already looked at the 1934 book a bit, and “Most Perfect Is the Law of God” definitely struck me with its simplicity and beauty. Perhaps that one would have been better placed in the hymn section (since it’s bits of Psalm 19 mixed with bits of Psalm 119), but still–a great song, the kind that quickly imprints itself on the singer.

      “When we came to Dunnville church, the people did not know a lot of the Psalms because over the yrs the ministers only chose the ones they knew.” How I can sympathize with that! Our church’s psalm repertoire over at least the past 12 years (as long as I’ve been there) has consisted of only about 10 of the most familiar songs. These days we are trying to re-introduce them to a wider range of psalms, but the congregation really has a hard time following the tunes. Your organ tips are very helpful. I think we may also need a more orderly method for learning them–your ideas in that regard would be appreciated.

      I did read Scott Lindeboom’s letter! While I don’t have it in front of me at the moment, I believe he does have a good point. Like Rev. Wybren Oord (Jim’s father) mentioned in his Outlook article, we need to consider our congregations’ familiarity with the old songs before we chuck them all and bring in new ones. One of the best and most frequently-mentioned opinions at synod was this: We need to work on implementing the new Psalter Hymnal pastorally and tactfully. In many people’s minds, the Hymn Proposal offers us too much, too soon. Looking at the practical considerations, we should really try to minimize the changes to the old psalms and hymns. I think it’s a great idea.

      Congratulations on your husband’s ministerial anniversary! Fifty years of ministry is quite a testimony, as is fifty years of organ playing. I’m so grateful for the opportunity to get to know Christians like you, with so many years of wisdom and experience behind them. They show me in a very tangible way God’s faithfulness to every generation. So, really–I don’t mind the length a bit. 🙂

      God bless,


  3. 4 Drew June 23, 2012 at 10:45 am

    I look forward to many more harmonious postings…

  1. 1 Mini-Psalters! « URC Psalmody Trackback on July 4, 2012 at 8:12 pm

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