From the Worldwide Faith News archives

Hymnal event opens up worship possibilities for church leaders

Date 09 Feb 2001 14:22:52

Feb. 9, 2001  News media contact: Tim Tanton·(615)742-5470·Nashville, Tenn.

By Tim Tanton*

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (UMNS) - Take 575 local United Methodist church leaders,
give them a new hymnal and put them in a hotel with the denomination's
foremost musical minds, and you have the ingredients for one arm-waving,
sing-your-heart-out event.

The Feb. 6-8 gathering, titled "The Faith We Sing," was that and more.
Sponsored by the United Methodist Board of Discipleship and United Methodist
Publishing House, both based in Nashville, the event was designed to
introduce the new hymnal supplement, The Faith We Sing, and to give church
worship leaders insights into how to use the book. 

The introductory and training event turned out to be a celebration of the
denomination's diversity in music and worship styles. It also was an
empowering experience for the local church people, who heard the
denomination's guiding lights tell them there is no wrong way to worship,
and that the songs in the new hymnal supplement can be performed and used in
many different ways.

"No single worship expression has a corner on the market to the exclusion of
other expressions," said the Rev. Cynthia A. Wilson, during one of the
event's general assembly sessions. That point was among 19 observations
about worship made by Wilson, minister of music at Ben Hill United Methodist
Church in Atlanta.

She and others described the hymnal supplement as a treasure of the church.

Coming soon to a pew near you, the 284-song supplement reflects a rich
variety of worship traditions. A flip through the pages shows a wide breadth
of global and ethnic music - Asian, African, Native American, Hispanic,
European, African American, praise songs, Taize music, new hymns, and some
oldies but goodies, such as "I'll Fly Away" and "Just A Closer Walk With
Thee." Produced by the Board of Discipleship and the Publishing House, it is
designed for use with the United Methodist Hymnal, published in 1989, and
with other hymnals ecumenically. 

"It's a book that kind of looks forward, but it also celebrates looking
back," said Bill Gnegy, music resources director at the United Methodist
Publishing House.

The first editions of the supplement came out late last fall, and if
response to the training event and initial sales are indicators, the book is
off to a roaring start. More than 150,000 copies have been sold so far,
Gnegy said, and interest in the introductory event was so strong that
registration had to be closed in advance.

The response has exceeded expectations, said Dean McIntyre, music resources
director for the Board of Discipleship. "We have had people from all over,
from every possible church worship and music style, church size (and)
theological sensitivity," he said. The participants have included organists,
dancers, choir directors, pastors, district superintendents, choir members,
spouses and even a couple of children, he said.

All of the workshops and plenaries were recorded, along with some of the
special events and worship, McIntyre said. The Board of Discipleship and
Publishing House will be looking at ways to share the event and its
resources with the rest of the church, he said.

Whatever the agencies do, Gnegy and McIntyre said it would be impossible to
reassemble the caliber of session leaders that the introductory event
offered. The roster read like a who's who of United Methodist hymnody:
Wilson; the Rev. Carlton Young, composer, teacher and editor of the 1966
Methodist Hymnal and the 1989 United Methodist Hymnal; the Rev. Don Saliers,
professor of theology and worship at Candler School of Theology in Atlanta;
C. Michael Hawn, professor of sacred music and theology at Perkins
Theological Seminary in Dallas; the Rev. Hoyt Hickman, editor of the
supplement and former Board of Discipleship staff member; Mark Andrew
Miller, instructor of sacred music at Drew Theological Seminary and music
associate at the Riverside Church in New York; and the Rev. Dan Damon, a
well-known hymn writer with several songs in the new supplement.

"It's hard to recreate this; it's just impossible," Gnegy said. "That's part
of what makes this event so special."

The introductory event offered more than a dozen workshops plus three
general plenary sessions and several worship experiences. The workshops
themselves became worship opportunities as session leaders guided
participants in singing hymns from the new book. Workshops addressed such
topics as introducing The Faith We Sing to congregations; exploring the
theology of the new book; gospel and ethnic music; hymn writing in the 21st
century; Taize and service music; praying and singing globally; Christian
prayer and social witness; planning worship.

Theology in the hymnal

Speakers emphasized that the supplement contains hymns for everyone, but
that doesn't mean everyone will necessarily like every hymn.

"If a congregation isn't ready for hymns that are in here, there are other
hymns that they are ready for," Hickman said, during a workshop on the
theology of the hymnal supplement. 

The hymnal committee tried to be sensitive to theological differences in the
church as it worked on the book, Hickman told United Methodist News Service.
"We tried to stick with the great tradition, broadly interpreted." The
feedback has been very positive, he said.

The different views expressed in the hymnal represent a learning opportunity
for people. "People who have majored in personal holiness and people who
have majored in social holiness can learn from each other," Hickman said.
Both are needed, he said.

During one of Hickman's workshops, a pastor asked how she could explain to a
congregation that the Trinity isn't being changed when she refers to God as

"I think we do it in a context where it is evident that this is not meant to
be taken literally," Hickman replied. Throughout history, such references
have been meant metaphorically, he said.

"They're all either directly from Scripture, or at least they're in harmony
with Scripture," he said.

"There is a theological substance and depth to this collection," said
Saliers, who also led a session on exploring the hymnal's theology. The book
is richly Scriptural; it has a depth of tradition which is "sounded anew"
with the contemporary settings; it's experiential or evangelical "in the
proper sense"; and "it is for the intellect," meaning it has a prophetic
word that engages the world's principalities and powers and that speaks to
deep human hurts and needs, he said.

"Not everything in this book is going to be everybody's cup of tea," he

As he led his group through reading and singing the hymn, "Bring Many
Names," Saliers noted that the references to God - as mother, father, young,
old - are metaphorical. The song describes what God does when God is full in
relation with us and fully incarnate, he said. "This is not a substitute for
Trinitarian theology."

Saliers described a discussion he had once with some older people about
their favorite hymns. When he asked them they liked particular songs, one
person said: "When I hear that hymn, I hear my grandfather's voice." Others
said they heard the squeak of the parlor organ, or the beat of their
mother's heart as they laid their head on her chest long ago. Saliers
described the role of hymns as "body memory." "Hymns are the body memory of
our churches' tradition, the body memory of our spirituality," he said.

Leading his workshop participants through several hymns, Saliers at one
point enthused that "This is gorgeous stuff."

"This is what we're in business for: forming people in this deep theology
and spirituality," he said.

Using the book

During the event, the participants spent a great deal of time getting ideas
for using the hymns in a host of ways - as processional songs, for prayer
and meditation, for baptism and communion, to precede Bible readings, or, in
Wilson words, for "setting up the preacher."

The hymnal supplement reflects the changes that have occurred since 1989 in
how churches worship. Young noted that 143 of the supplement's songs are
short forms, while 141 are long selections. In contrast, the United
Methodist Hymnal has 35 short selections, he said.

"It appears that we are returning to a time of memory," Young said. Today's
songs appear to be "moving away from multi-stanza hymns set to musically
challenging tunes," he said.

Young and other session leaders focused on how to introduce the new hymns to
For example, a hymn can be spoken while the tune is played, or read
initially and then sung in the later stanzas. Another helpful technique is
to start the hymn in a lower key. 

"I would urge you to always begin a new piece without an accompaniment.
Always," Young told participants in one of his workshops. 
Although the hymnal committee did its best to offer accompaniment for the
songs, Wilson said, "Don't be married to that." For example, she showed how
some songs that are typically played in an up-tempo style can work well when
performed slowly. 

The main hymnal was not forgotten during the event. "You don't have to feel
like once you move into this supplement that you can't bring together the
old and the new," Wilson said.

Participants were encouraged to be open to other ideas about worship styles
and music. During his remarks in the event's opening plenary, Young took aim
at the barrier posed by "the cultural and stylistic isolation of local

"The fact is we don't worship together, we seldom share our worship spaces,
and it is easy to assume we don't need or want to share each other's music,"
he said. "United Methodism remains as segregated by musical forms, styles
and performance practices as it is by race and language. Perhaps these days
of singing and singing will encourage us to chip away, if not break down,
the musical walls of segregation in our own communities." 

Wilson made similar points the following day and warned participants to be
wary of rejecting other worship expressions. "Worship is not an option, but
how we worship is," she said.

An exciting time

For members of the committee that developed the hymnal, the event was

"It's glorious," Hickman said. "I feel that all the work we put into it is
amply vindicated."

Other hymnal committee members were Gnegy, Gary Alan Smith with the
Publishing House, the Rev. Dan Benedict with the Board of Discipleship, and
the Rev. Anne Burnett Hook, minister of music at Christ United Methodist
Church in Franklin, Tenn., and former board staff member.

Hickman acknowledged that some of the hymns were being performed in ways
that the committee might not have imagined during the workshop. "There've
been a lot of good surprises here. I'm delighted about that."

Participants at the event celebrated the diversity. "The conference lent
itself to all people (and) cultures," said Germaine Tropez, choir member and
worship committee member from Cornerstone United Methodist Church in New
Orleans. "It helped us to share and experience all people" and the universal
nature of the music, she said.

A universal hymn book is important for the United Methodist Church, she
said, considering "how broad and vast the members are." For example, her
church's members include Africans, Vietnamese, Hispanics, blacks and African
Americans, she said. It is important that the hymn book have songs that all
people can relate to, she said.

"The biggest thing is going to be getting the congregations to accept a new
book ... not necessarily to supplant the book we already have but to use it
as a supplement," said her sister, Susanne Tropez-Sims, a choir member of
Clark Memorial United Methodist Church, Nashville.

The women emphasized the importance of pastors and choir directors in
determining how the new hymnal will be received in local churches.  

Said Gnegy: "We need to think of ways to help churches use this music." To
that end, a worship planner edition is being published, and the Publishing
House and Board of Discipleship are putting out a compact disc with the
hymnal's music and arrangements on March 1.

In addition to the worship planner and CD editions, the supplement is or
will be available in seven other incarnations: a pew edition for
congregational use; the accompaniment edition for music leaders and
accompanists; the singer's edition for choirs and worship teams; a CD-ROM
edition; an edition for MIDI, an electronic format that allows the player to
control the key, tempo and other characteristics of the music; a simplified
version, which will have basic keyboard parts and guitar chords; and a
guitar edition. Four print editions are already out, and the remaining two
print editions and three electronic editions will be out by March 1, Gnegy

On the second day of the event, Wilson spoke of the supplement in a larger
context. Saying she believes the United Methodist Church has a handle on
what the kingdom of God looks like, she emphasized the importance of being
committed to "bringing down the walls that divide us." 

"This resource is, I think, another step toward that."
# # #
*Tanton is news editor of United Methodist News Service.

United Methodist News Service
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