An early header design
At this time last year, plans were just starting to come together in my head for some sort of website about the Psalter Hymnal. As my interest in Reformed worship deepened and broadened, I had begun to search the internet for a source of online information on the intersection between the United Reformed Churches in North America, the Biblical principles for worship, and the songs of our Psalter Hymnal. My quest wasn’t futile, but it was rather disappointing; the results were quite scanty. That’s when I encountered the idea of starting a blog—an online discussion forum with the freedom to focus specifically on these topics, as well as the flexibility to branch out into a wide variety of arenas.
By December 31st, the deed was done. I had set up a WordPress account and begun playing around with my blog-to-be, titled, for lack of a better name, “URC Psalmody.” My first post was a meditation on the Psalter Hymnal’s versifications of Psalm 103, followed by a not-too-successful survey on “Instruments in Worship” and an article on “Paraphrasing the Psalms”. When the blog actually went public on January 10th, I guess I expected something dramatic—an immediate and enthusiastic response from the world of Reformed churches, a shower of comments from new readers across the continent, an excited group of eager followers.
What I got was nothing. And nothing. And more nothing. Days when the blog got three hits were outstanding; days with zero hits were more typical. I was so eager for participation that I rejoiced to find spam in my trash bin. I had given out links to as many URC pastors and musicians as I knew, including the Songbook Committee, but I wasn’t getting any results. Although I plugged away at new posts, the eerie hush continued until the middle of February.
Then, on the afternoon of February 20th, I got an email from Rev. Derrick Vander Meulen of the URC Psalter Hymnal Committee. He had received my email (which I thought was long lost) and promised to spread the word about the blog. And did he ever! The page views on URC Psalmody shot up from 1 on February 19th to 203 on February 20th. Sixty-six of the 68 referrals were from Facebook. At least four new followers joined the blog that same day, and seven comments were posted! While our daily blog views, even now, are nowhere near this initial peak, since then we’ve enjoyed a pretty steady stream of new readers, comments, and discussions.
The meeting place of Classis Eastern US
March and April were fairly ordinary months for blogging. I published a three-part series entitled “Meet the Psalm-Hymn,” examining some of the important differences between literal psalm settings and the paraphrases common to the Psalter Hymnal. Then came another three-part series on exclusive and inclusive psalmody, followed by a two-part series on the controversy surrounding the name “Jehovah.” I also enjoyed the opportunity to attend the spring meeting of Classis Eastern US of the URCNA, and published my enthusiastic reaction to this assembly. I rounded out April with a “Resource Roundup” post containing the highlights of my first four months of blogging.
Grace Reformed Church, where the URC plant meets
Then came May, and with it a buzz of activity and anticipation. At the classis meeting in March I had volunteered as a helper for Synod 2012 of the URCNA, which would be convened by Pompton Plains Reformed Bible Church in June at Nyack College, less than two hours from my home. The Lord’s providential hand was abundantly clear in this case, as I quickly received word that I would be recruited not only as a volunteer, but also as the synodical organist. Along with these obligations came the opportunity to attend synod’s open sessions and advisory committee meetings. With overwhelming excitement I began preparing URC Psalmody as a relay point for important synodical news and decisions, especially those pertaining to the proposed URC Psalter Hymnal. Meanwhile I visited Christ Reformed Church, the URC church plant in Washington, DC, and accompanied the worship service on their 1930 Möller pipe organ.
Synod 2012 photo by Glenda Mathes
Before I knew it, June had arrived, and Synod 2012 with it. I had one of the best weeks of my life in Nyack, from accompanying the attendees at the opening prayer service with two other young musicians (Shannon Murphy and J. P. Galib) to hearing the delegates sing “The Lord’s My Shepherd” and the Doxology as the closing music of synod. Spiritually, I grew immensely from witnessing the matters before synod approached with humility, love, and a surpassing desire to glorify God—and I got to learn a thing or two about the United Reformed Churches in North America in the process. Along the way, URC Psalmody enjoyed one of its busiest weeks with regard to site hits—an extra blessing.
But synod wasn’t the only important event for URC Psalmody during the month of June. Back in April I had been contacted by a Mid-America Reformed Seminary student named James Oord, who described himself as an avid follower of the blog and shared an almost eerie percentage of my interests and thoughts. The fruit of our correspondence was that Jim eventually joined URC Psalmody as my co-author. While I participated in West Sayville Reformed Bible Church’s first TASC (Teens All Serving Christ) mission trip (another time of great spiritual growth), Jim shared a meditation on Psalm 54 and published a highly popular introduction to the world of mini Psalter Hymnals.
1934 Mini Psalter Hymnal
As July rolled around, we tried to fall back into some semblance of a regular schedule on URC Psalmody. Jim’s excellent pieces on “Contemplating the Covenanters” and “The Book of Psalms for Worship” generated another spike in blog views, mostly from our enthusiastic Reformed Presbyterian brothers and sisters. Along with several hundred other youth from every corner of the continent, I attended the 2012 Reformed Youth Services convention at Covenant College in Lookout Mountain, GA, while Jim spent an entire week meditating on the various themes of Psalm 119.
August was a fairly quiet blogging month, containing a typical assortment of articles, plus a seven-part series on psalm/hymn tunes and a special post commemorating the life of Dale Grotenhuis. We wrapped up another four months of blogging with another “Resource Roundup.”
In September, Jim and I embarked on a new mission: to summarize and discuss, chapter-by-chapter, a recently-released book on psalm-singing entitled Sing a New Song. These weekly discussions took us from then until just two weeks ago!
October brought yet another trip for me; this one began with the fall meeting of Classis Eastern US at Preakness Valley URC in Wayne, NJ, and ended at Mid-America Reformed Seminary in Dyer, IN. Along the way I got to spend a weekend with Jim, and he even made arrangements for me to lead a Sunday school class at his home church, Community URC in Schererville. Again the Lord providentially guided this vacation for his purposes, and I returned home physically tired but spiritually refreshed.
November saw most of my blogging plans crumpled up and thrown in the wastebasket as Hurricane Sandy pummeled the Northeast. Thankfully, however, God preserved my family and church from any significant damage, and once our power was restored I was once again able to re-join Jim in some seasonal meditations. And that brought us right into December for URC Psalmody’s special Christmas “programming.”
For the few remaining days in the year 2012 I hope to be publishing a few more retrospective posts. All in all, though, as I look back on God’s providential hand throughout the short history of URC Psalmody, I cannot help but exclaim with the psalmist, “What shall I render to the Lord for all his benefits to me?”
Through all we do here on URC Psalmody, may his Name continue to be praised.