Posts Tagged 'Classis'

Overture Overview: #5 on Hymn Changes

Here is my synopsis of the content of Classis Southwest US’s overture on Hymn Changes in the provisional agenda for Synod 2012.

Summary: Classis Southwest United States overtures Synod 2012 to remove 11 hymns from the hymn section of the proposed URC Psalter Hymnal, remove individual stanzas from 2 more, add 4 songs, relocate 2 songs within the hymnal, and add an alternate tune for one hymn.

Grounds: Just as in the previous overture, each recommendation is thoroughly documented with accompanying grounds.  The overture appeals almost entirely to the synodically-approved Principles and Guidelines for Selecting Church Music.  It interprets these rules strictly, including for deletion many popular hymns such as “For the Beauty of the Earth” and “God of Our Fathers” as well as some of the theologically lighter contemporary selections of the Hymn Proposal.

Possible drawbacks: It seems that this overture lacks organization in several ways.  First, I’m not aware of the reason for this overture (along with #4 and #6) coming before synod, rather than proceeding directly to the songbook committee as has been done in other classes.  With regard to the overture itself, four recommendations for removal are duplicates of similar requests in Overture #4 (from the same classis), and two more items conflict with recommendations from this former overture (one requests individual verses to be removed, whereas the other requests entire hymns to be removed).  The recommended additions pertain to unfamiliar songs that may be hard to evaluate on the floor of synod.  One suggested addition has to do with the psalm section of the proposed Psalter Hymnal, which hasn’t yet been released for consideration.  I fear that these structural flaws in Overture #5 will unnecessarily confuse the delegates and “gum up the works” of synod with tedious discussion.

My thoughts: Undeniably, the recommendations of this overture are backed up with excellent grounds.  If the URCNA had no previous musical background and was constructing the first hymnbook for its congregations, these suggestions would help ensure the excellence of the finished product.  But does this overture take into account the decades of singing from the blue Psalter Hymnal in our churches?  Familiarity, though always subordinate to Scriptural faithfulness, is a powerful factor.  As is evident from Overtures #8 and #9, many churches are concerned about the Songbook Committee’s deviation from the contents of the traditional Psalter Hymnal.  So where should we yield for the sake of unity, and where should we stand firm for the sake of textual and musical excellence?  That’s the difficult question Synod 2012 will have to answer.

See pp. 51-55 of the Provisional Agenda for the entirety of this overture.

Your thoughts are welcome,


Overture Overview: #4 on Hymn Selection

The URCNA Hymn Proposal

The URCNA Hymn Proposal

Below is my synopsis of the content of Classis Southwest US’s overture on Hymn Selection in the provisional agenda for Synod 2012.

Summary: Classis Southwest United States overtures Synod 2012 to remove about 70 hymns from the hymn section of the proposed URC Psalter Hymnal.

Key ideas: “We are concerned that the committee may have selected too many Hymns”; “our Church Order calls for the psalms to have principal place in public worship”; “book size may well require the elimination of some songs.”

Grounds: All proposed removals are accompanied by grounds.  Two songs (Hymn Proposal #20 and #21) are said to be “excessively repetitive”; 12 more are recommended for removal since “they paraphrase Psalms and thus would detract from the use of the Psalms themselves”; 20 are listed as “having poor or rather wooden poetry”; 8 are said to reflect “the excessive emphasis on Christmas in our society”; 7 are considered theologically unsound; and 22 are said to be “not very Christocentric and redundant of themes fully covered in the Psalms.”

My questions: The majority of these removals seem reasonable and well-grounded.  But do psalm paraphrases really detract from psalm singing, or do paraphrases help “bridge the gap” between the familiar hymns and the not-so-familiar psalms?  Good, literal psalm settings are extremely important in a Psalter Hymnal, but could there be a place for paraphrases as well?  (Where these paraphrases should be placed within the hymnbook—in the hymn section or in the psalm section—is another matter altogether.)  Also, the rationale that non-Christocentric hymns should be removed excludes quite a few beloved and Biblically sound selections (such as “All Creatures of Our God and King” and “Praise to the Lord, the Almighty”).  Should the fact that these songs repeat themes found in the psalms really prevent them from being included in the new songbook?

See pp. 47-49 of the Provisional Agenda for the entirety of this overture.


The Church’s Renewal

Classis Report

Today I’m going to deviate a little bit from the topic of music, and share with you my reaction to the most recent meeting of one of the classes of the URC.  It’s a long story, but I hope you find some encouragement in it.

It was dark and damp on Long Island as five of us piled into a minivan on a Friday morning at five o’clock and set out on a journey for Middletown, New York.  Four other men and I were heading to the spring 2012 meeting of Classis Eastern US at the Hudson Valley URC.  On the agenda for the meeting was a variety of topics, but the main focus of the session was on one theme: church planting.

The ride was quick and uneventful.  Leaving the Island on a weekday morning is risky; the only routes of exit are through New York City, and arriving in the city any later than 7 am would inevitably land us in heavy traffic.  We had worked out our plans to a pretty exact science, however, and by leaving at five o’clock instead of seven, we managed to complete the 120-mile trip in almost exactly two hours—and, as a bonus, we had time for conversation over a leisurely breakfast at a Middletown diner once we arrived.

Hudson Valley URC Exterior

The exterior of the Hudson Valley URC

The Hudson Valley United Reformed Church is only a few minutes out of town, surrounded by orchards and old farm buildings on quiet County Route 12.  The church building is only about five years old—so new that its lower level, which will contain spacious classrooms and a fellowship hall, is still under construction.  The architecture of the church is beautiful.  Upon arrival, despite the gloomy, misty weather, our group spent the remaining half-hour before classis taking pictures of the building and its scenic location.

At 9 am, the meeting began.  Rev. Steve Arrick, pastor of the Zeltenreich URC in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, led opening devotions on Matthew 9:37, 38, where Jesus instructs his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.  Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”  (ESV)  Relating this passage to the pertinent topic of church planting, Rev. Arrick urged all the elders and pastors not only to be constant in prayer for the growth of God’s Church, but to be actively working to further that growth.  Following the opening prayer, the delegates sang a Psalter Hymnal selection.  There couldn’t have been a more applicable hymn than number 405.

Far and near the fields are teeming
With the waves of ripened grain;
Far and near their gold is gleaming
O’er the sunny slope and plain.

Send them forth with morn’s first beaming,
Send them in the noon-tide’s glare;
When the sun’s last rays are gleaming,
Bid them gather everywhere.

Thou whom Christ the Lord is sending,
Gather now the sheaves of gold;
Heavenward then at evening wending,
Thou shalt come with joy untold.

Lord of harvest, send forth reapers,

Hear us, Lord, to Thee we cry;
Send them now the sheaves to gather,
Ere the harvest-time pass by.

Hudson Valley URC Sanctuary

The sanctuary of the Hudson Valley URC

The opening devotions having been concluded, the official meeting began.  During the classis session, we heard a great deal of encouraging news.  Throughout the federation, the United Reformed Churches are making concrete steps to further church planting in a steady and orderly fashion.  Seminarians like Mr. Sam Perez from Messiah’s Reformed Fellowship (URC) in New York City are eager to become involved in planting more churches in the heavily populated parts of the East Coast.  Some funds are already in place for these projects.  Churches such as an independent Reformed congregation in Pennsylvania are looking to join our federation.  Visiting the classis meeting were three fraternal delegates from the OPC (Orthodox Presbyterian Church), who heard the URC’s reports with joy and shared their desire to see greater fellowship between the two denominations.  By God’s grace, the United Reformed Churches are continuing to grow—slowly but steadily.

God’s faithfulness in the past was another focal point at the meeting.  Last year, the URC in Lancaster had the unique opportunity to merge with an old German Reformed church in the same area of Pennsylvania, doubling the size of their congregation and obtaining a permanent worship location in the process.  Messiah’s Reformed Fellowship in New York City recently joined the URC as an official, independent congregation, and not only are they making plans to establish a church plant of their own, but God has also provided the means for them to worship in a real church building for the first time in their existence.  The elders of the Newton URC in New Jersey reported the recent growth of their own church with thankfulness: although their services were poorly attended just a few years ago, their sanctuary is now filled to overflowing on Sunday mornings.  Office-bearers led the classis in prayers of thanksgiving after each of these reports.  The delegates’ joy was tangible at witnessing God’s lasting faithfulness to his Church, in old and young congregations alike.

Hudson Valley Landscape

The view from the church

During the fellowship breaks that split up the meeting, I met a few new faces and caught up with some of the office-bearers I already knew.  We talked about many different things, but a single thread ran through all the conversations: a fresh, revitalized perspective and a hopeful eye on the future of our churches.  One of the elders encouraged me to keep coming to classis meetings, adding that he loved the fellowship himself and hoped his own children would also come in the future.  I spoke to multiple people about the immense benefit of these sessions, especially for me as a young URC member, and our display of the heavenly unity we enjoy as God’s family—regardless of geographical separation.  And even among the older elders I met, not one had a discouraged outlook on our federation; all were optimistic and forward-looking, rejoicing in the gracious providence of God.

The only part of the day that approached sadness was the moments right before everyone’s departure.  The old hymn describes it well: “When we asunder part,/It gives us inward pain,/But we shall still be joined in heart/And hope to meet again” (number 447).  As we piled into our car again and headed back to Long Island, the sun had just broken through the clouds and was illuminating the foothills in awe-inspiring light.

Two words come to mind as I reflect on this classis session: innovation and renovation.  Innovation is the creation of new things; renovation is the restoration of old things—making them as good as new.  Both ideas were abundantly evident at this meeting.  Maybe the drastic change in the day’s weather, from dark gloom to radiant light, is an appropriate picture of the lesson I learned.  It’s so easy to let ourselves be deceived into hopelessness regarding Christ’s Church.  Evil is everywhere, sin is rampant, and our world is becoming increasingly hostile to Christianity.  Within the orthodox Reformed community, our congregations appear wracked with low attendance and decreasing funds, with outward pressures and inward strife.  What does God have to say about this?  Should we jump ship while we can?  No—Jesus said, “On this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18).  We need not doubt.  Yes, in our sin-cursed world, God’s people will endure trouble and affliction.  But we can have faith that right up to the end, though the earth be removed and the mountains cast into the sea, our steadfast God will preserve and increase his glorious Church.

Lord of harvest, send forth reapers,
Hear us, Lord, to Thee we cry;
Send them now the sheaves to gather,
Ere the harvest-time pass by.


Hudson Valley URC Sanctuary Detail

The commission above the rear doors of the Hudson Valley URC sanctuary

(Thanks to Elder Steve Wetmore of the URC in Cape Coral, Fla., for the photos.)

URC Psalmody on YouTube

Geneva College Benefit Concert

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