After three years of meetings, the Presbyterian Committee on Congregational Song culled more than 10,000 submissions down to around 800 that will soon rest in pew racks across the land. We asked Austin Seminary alumni David Gambrell and Michael Waschevski, who served on the committee, to reflect on the process:
How is Glory to God organized?
DAVID: The shape of this new hymnal reflects what I have come to think of as a two-part rhythm, the very heartbeat of Christian faith, life, and worship. We believe that all things begin with God's gracious initiative; Christian faith, life, and worship comprise our grateful response for what God has done, above all in Jesus Christ. Accordingly, the first half of the hymnal is titled "God's Mighty Acts"; the second, "Our Response to God."
What were some of the criteria in choosing hymns for the new hymnal?
MICHAEL: We sought to include a wide variety: "traditional hymns," spirituals, gospel songs, psalms, global music, contemporary praise and worship, liturgical folk, Taize, etc. Perhaps our most subjective criteria was, Is it singable? Every hymn or song went through review groups before coming to the full committee for a vote, and we sang each and every one of them!
What are some of the changes in style, theology, & music?
MICHAEL: Since the last hymnal, the wide use of praise and worship choruses and songs has become a reality in many congregations. The new hymnal reflects the increasing breadth and variety in the contemporary church, but we also included several older hymns and songs not in the last hymnal.
Where are the psalms?
DAVID: Metrical paraphrases of the psalms are one of the distinctive musical contributions of the Reformed tradition. They are spread throughout the book. We believe this will help worshipers and worship planners to find (or recover) connections between the psalms and the various events and seasons of human life and the Christian year.
How will we find them all?
DAVID: Fear not: all of the familiar indexes are here with the addition of an index to the Revised Common Lectionary, with hymn suggestions, based on the lectionary texts, for every Sunday and festival in the Christian year. The biblical indexes are especially robust, including approximately 2500 Old Testament references and 3500 New Testament references, with at least one hymn for every book in the Bible (and in most cases many, many more).
What do you say to a church that may be deciding to buy the new hymnal?
MICHAEL: Churches considering the new hymnal will find a rich resource for congregational singing. All styles and genres are present, which allows traditional as well as more blended congregations to be well resourced. The liturgical material at the front of the hymnal will be a very helpful resource.
What other developments are you excited about?
DAVID: I'm pleased that the sections on Baptism and the Lord's Supper have doubled in size. This reflects the season of sacramental renewal we have experienced in the Presbyterian Church over the past decade. There are nearly enough eucharistic hymns for a congregation to sing a different one every Sunday of the year. As some churches move toward weekly celebrations of the Lord's Supper, these will be a valuable resource.
Did you discover any new personal favorites?
MICHAEL: Three that come to mind for me are "Where Shepherds Lately Knelt" (a beautiful new Christmas hymn), "God Be the Love to Search and Keep Me" (a paraphrase of St. Patrick's Breastplate composed by my college roommate!), and "Somos el Cuerpo/We Are the Body of Christ" (a wonderfully energetic Latin American song). Of course, "My Life Flows On in Endless Song/How Can I Keep From Singing" is another—and describes the whole five-year experience for me! It has been and continues to be the experience of a lifetime.