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Supplement to 'UM Hymnal' blends old, new praise tunes Barbara Dunlap-Berg, Mar 29, 2011
UMNS PHOTO BY KATHLEEN BARRY
Yvonne Lee and Eun-sang Lee of First United Methodist Church in Salt Lake City, Utah, sing from the new 'Worship & Song' collection during a conference in Nashville, Tenn.
By Barbara Dunlap-Berg United Methodist News Service
NASHVILLE, Tenn.—From the rousing “Jesus, Jesus, Oh, What a Wonderful Child” to the prayerful “Open the Eyes of My Heart,” the newly released Worship & Song supplement to the United Methodist Hymnal offers something for just about everyone.
The supplement, jointly developed by the United Methodist Publishing House and the denomination’s General Board of Discipleship (GBOD), contains 190 hymns and worship songs, including old-time gospel favorites and popular contemporary praise songs. “There is always good, new congregational music being written,” said Gary Alan Smith, senior music editor at Abingdon Press and project director for Worship & Song.
It’s actually two publications in one—a songbook and a collection of prayers, litanies, liturgies and short items for worship planners, pastors, leaders and musicians. The collection “contains a greater number of songs that are currently shaping the future of congregational song, and it represents more contemporary styles and idioms than have previous publications,” said the Rev. Dean McIntyre, the GBOD’s director of music resources.
Musician Bryan Dunn, 30, said he is “really pumped” about the possibilities.
“I like that Worship & Song takes some of the old hymns from Cokesbury and puts a new twist on them,” said Mr. Dunn, director of music ministries at Mullins United Methodist Church, Memphis, Tenn. “This new book has a very eclectic variety of musical styles so it can be used in any church service at any church. [It] makes you want to stand up and clap, and at the same time, it covers the necessity for somber times.”
Best of all, he said, the new resource has the potential to “spice up the interest and keep people coming to church.”
“Methodism was born in song,” said the Rev. Carlton Young, who edited both the 1966 Methodist Hymnal and the 1989 United Methodist Hymnal. Charles Wesley’s lyrics set to the popular tunes of his day led countless people to join the Methodist movement founded by Charles’ older brother, John.
One of the most popular Charles Wesley hymns is “O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing,” which he wrote in 1738 to celebrate his conversion. That classic—with few exceptions—has been the opening hymn of every Methodist song collection worldwide.
It opens Worship & Song as well. But composer Mark Miller’s rendition gives the song a contemporary, can’t-get-the-tune-out-of-one’s-head flavor while retaining the grandeur and beauty of the original hymn.
“One of the byproducts of this new collection is to bridge what I think are really ambiguous terms—‘traditional’ and a so-called ‘contemporary’ music—and to say, ‘This is what it means to be in both camps,’” Dr. Young said.
The Rev. Delores Williamston agrees. The songbook breathes new life into worship by blending old favorites with newer, less familiar songs, she said.
“This is a great tool for a more multicultural . . . as well as multigenerational worship experience,” said Ms. Williamston, an African American whose congregation at First UMC in Independence, Kan., is predominantly white.
Finding a balance
One of the greatest challenges in church music is striking the right balance between the comfortable and the cutting-edge, said the Rev. Charlie Overton. The associate pastor of worship and discipleship at Hillcrest UMC, Nashville Tenn., said he wants to mix songs that get people eagerly singing along with newer texts that inspire people to look at the Christian faith in new ways.
Mr. Overton said he appreciates the inclusion of music from contemporary Christian artists and composers in Worship & Song. Many United Methodist congregations are already using some of these songs, he pointed out. Having them in an official church songbook gives them added legitimacy and authority for use in worship.
General Conference, the denomination’s top lawmaking body, authorized development of a new hymnal and worship book for the church in 2008. However, financial constraints forced cancellation of the new publication.
As part of their regular duties to update the church’s music and worship resources, the Publishing House and the GBOD had started work on a new collection as a follow-up to the worship supplement, The Faith We Sing. That project, which was less costly than a General Conference-sanctioned hymnal, continued. Worship & Song is the result.
Revision of the United Methodist Hymnal requires a vote of the General Conference. Supplementary resources such as Worship & Song augment the official hymnal and do not require formal denominational approval.
Dr. McIntyre at GBOD said reaction to the new collection has been enthusiastic so far. Musicians, liturgists and pastors alike “recognize its value and potential, both as a supplement to existing resources and worship-music style as well as an important tool in reaching out to younger people and helping the church to speak to the present and future,” he said.
He expressed hope that Worship & Song will “provide the church with the musical language, styles and practices to continue to tell and appropriate the timeless truth of the gospel, even in new musical and textual language with theological integrity and faithfulness to our Wesleyan heritage.”
Marcia McFee, who helped direct worship at the 2008 General Conference, said hymnals and supplements are “the tools of [the worship leader’s] trade. The worshipping body is the canvas.”
Before leading worship, Dr. McFee said, she always prays, “Dear Lord, please make something happen in worship today that is not in the bulletin.” She expects Worship & Song to help those surprises occur more often and more easily.