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New hymnal proposed for United Methodist Church

Staff members Blanca Longhurst (right) and Alma Perez sing during the opening worship service of a directors meeting of the United Methodist Board of Discipleship. Directors voted to ask the 2008 General Conference to form a committee to develop a new hymnal for The United Methodist Church. UMNS photos by Maile Bradfield.

By Andrew J. Schleicher*
Aug. 29, 2007 | NASHVILLE, Tenn. (UMNS)

The United Methodist Church could have a new hymnal by 2013 under plans endorsed by the denomination's Board of Discipleship.

Directors of the board, meeting August 22-25, voted to ask the 2008 General Conference to form a hymnal creation committee next year to begin developing a new hymnal.

If the committee's work is approved by the denomination's top legislative body in 2012, the new resource would replace The United Methodist Hymnal published in 1989. It would be the second official revision since the merger of the Evangelical United Brethren and Methodist churches in 1968, not including new songbooks for specific racial/ethnic or language communities.

The Rev. Karen Greenwaldt, chief staff executive of the Board of Discipleship, pointed out that the current hymnal would be almost 25 years old-"normally the life of a hymnal"-by the time a new one could be ready for distribution.

The Rev. Karen Greenwaldt highlights accomplishments by the United Methodist Board of Discipleship during her opening address to directors and staff. 

"What is the message being sent to young people who come to church and see a hymnal from 1989-a hymnal that is older than they are?" Greenwaldt said in an interview with United Methodist News Service. "We need a new hymnal that picks up new hymns, new texts, new melodies, new words to old tunes that are being created and being sung in our churches. It is time to engage the General Conference in this question."

The United Methodist Publishing House already has endorsed the project.

"Our research shows that The United Methodist Hymnal is widely used in all membership-size churches, but that there is also the strong desire for additional and new hymns and tunes to augment worship in a variety of styles and settings," said Neil Alexander, publisher of the church's publishing agency.

Alexander suggested a new hymnal would include musical styles such as jazz, spirituals and contemporary harmonies and a greater variety of accompaniment settings for guitars, keyboards and percussion instruments. It also would draw more music from racial/ethnic communities and would better serve contemplative settings such as Taize worship and special services for baptism and communion.

Emerging needs

The denomination recognized the need for new music amidst widening worship styles in 2004 when General Conference formed a committee to study:

  • Trends and measurement of congregational singing;
  • Psalter, services, ritual and service music;
  • Texts and tunes (including global and ethnic music);
  • Implications of digital and other emerging technologies for worship and congregational singing;
  • The Wesley hymns

The committee, with membership from the Board of Discipleship and the Publishing House, conducted research and listed 19 needs that include "new UM worship and music resources; … providing resources in a variety of ethnic and cultural styles; … (and) new UM resources for ethnic, global, praise, and contemporary music."

While the committee agreed on the needs, it opted not to make recommendations to the 2008 General Conference and instead referred its findings to Greenwaldt and Alexander, who then proposed the development of a new hymnal to their respective agencies.

Dean McIntyre, staff member of the Board of Discipleship and a member of the music study committee, said a key reason that no recommendations came out of the panel's work was a lack of consensus over which new resource should get first priority. McIntyre said all agreed about the need for a new hymnal eventually.

Hymnal committee

Under the resolution endorsed by the Board of Discipleship, General Conference will be asked to create a committee to develop "a single volume hymn and worship book with provisions for supporting resources in multiple media for adoption as an official hymnal of The United Methodist Church and for congregational use in The United States of America."

The hymnal committee also would be instructed to use non-discriminatory language guidelines developed by the 1989 hymnal revision committee.

Expenses for the project would be borne by the Publishing House, though the agency has not yet developed a business plan with estimated costs.

“What is the message being sent to young people who come to church and see a hymnal from 1989 - a hymnal that is older than they are?”
–The Rev. Karen Greenwaldt

The Board of Discipleship also is sending General Conference a separate resolution to establish a study committee to examine the need for "an official United Methodist hymnal for North American Christians of African descent in the Wesleyan heritage."

A new Africana hymnal would be developed to complement other official worship resources listed in the denomination's Book of Discipline. In addition to the 1989 hymnal and the Book of Worship, these include the Spanish-language Mil Voces Para Celebrar: Himnario Metodista and Come, Let Us Worship: The Korean-English United Methodist Hymnal.

Alexander pointed to the recently published songbook Zion Still Sings! as a way that the Publishing House is addressing this need. "UMPH will continue to actively listen, learn and work with others to hear from a cross-section of African-American leaders and envision additional resources for the future that help churches grow in faithful witness and vitality," Alexander said.

Other business

The Board of Discipleship supported much General Conference legislation proposed by its Division on Ministries with Young People. Luke Wetzel, a young adult director from Kansas, encouraged board members not to send petitions deferring action out of the Global Young People's Convocation and Legislative Assembly. The 2004 General Conference enabled the young people's event to send legislation directly to General Conference.

The board struggled with how to structure its meeting times to benefit from interaction with young people. During the current four-year cycle, the board's meeting only once overlapped the meeting of the young people's division. Directors approved a schedule for 2008-2011 providing for more joint meetings, including possibly one outside the United States.

The agency used its Aug. 22-25 meeting
to prepare legislation for the 2008
General Conference.

Directors reconsidered legislation that the board supported in the spring that addresses the effectiveness of ordained elders. It was replaced with a new version also being submitted by the United Methodist Board of Higher Education and Ministry and the Council of Bishops. Among other changes, the new proposal provides options for addressing an elder who does not meet his or her professional responsibilities.

The board approved a request by the Upper Room Division to develop a bookstore and coffee shop near its offices in Nashville. Directors also agreed to create a "Fresh Air" book imprint and a new edition of The Upper Room daily devotional to be distributed through newsstands and grocery stores.

Planting and watering

Greenwaldt reported on ministries planted by the Board of Discipleship since the 2004 General Conference, citing the beginnings of the Division on Ministries with Young People, the youth worker movement, a young adult network and Discipleship University, which launches in October in Nashville to instruct teams of pastors and lay members on ways to revitalize their local congregations.

In addition, Greenwaldt cited expansion of Africa Upper Room and the agency's efforts to renew congregations and start new churches in the United States. It launched a new branding strategy and redesigned its Web site.

"You have planted and you have watered," Greenwaldt told directors at their final meeting before a new board is named. She thanked them for holding the agency accountable to "make sure your decisions are founded and grounded in God."

*Schleicher, former editor of "The United Methodist Newscope," is a freelance writer in Nashville, Tenn.

News media contact: Linda Green, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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Board of Discipleship

United Methodist Publishing House

African Worship and Liturgy

Division on Ministries with Young People

Upper Room Ministries

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