New hymnal — a “compact theology” — charges toward publication & spring books

After years of waiting, it’s finally here: the list of hymns that made the cut for the new Presbyterian hymnal, “Glory to God,” is being released.

The list, publicly released on Easter Monday, includes about 830 songs, everything from classic Protestant hymns (“Great is Thy Faithfulness”) to those drawn from world traditions, such as “Heaven Opened to Isaiah,” (“Holy, Holy, You Are Holy”), drawn from a Rwandan tune.

The full list is available beginning April 9 on the hymnal’s website,

I’m just pleased at how well many different styles are represented in the list,” said David Eicher, who edited the new hymnal for the Presbyterian Publishing Corp. “At times, there were so many strains feeding into it you were just thinking, ‘Good Lord, what is the final list going to look like?’ … I’m really excited about it.”

The new hymnal, which is the first hymnal revision for the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) in more than 20 years, will be published in the fall of 2013. The 2006 General Assembly authorized the new hymnal, and a committee — the Presbyterian Committee on Congregational Song — began work in 2008, weighing feedback from across the church and singing its way through all the songs included.

Its work has been interactive, with Presbyterians invited to voice their preferences on the hymnal cover; to follow the committee’s work on its blog; and to participate in a series of denominational hymn sings, in which congregations were invited to sing the same hymn during worship on a series of Sundays starting in the fall of 2011.

Last summer, the Presbyterian Publishing Corporation also invited congregations to order hymn samplers — a taste of the songs under consideration, including some that were not included in the last version of the hymnal, which was released in 1990.

Here are some more details of the new hymnal’s release.

Red and purple. The new hymnal will be produced with two covers — red or purple. The Presbyterian edition will have the title “Glory to God: The Presbyterian Hymnal,” and an ecumenical edition the title “Glory to God: Hymns, Psalms & Spiritual Songs.” Individual congregations can choose which cover and which title they prefer.

Electronic edition. Three electronic editions will be released, to meet the needs of worship leaders and others.

– An online hymnal will be available in the fall of 2013. This will give users the ability to search the hymnal using a variety of criteria, such as keywords, themes, composers and more. Congregations also will be able to track their use of particular hymns and find images related to the hymns (where permissible by copyright) to use in worship bulletins.

– A projection edition, formatted so hymns can be projected in worship, will be available on a CD/DVD starting in the spring of 2014.

– An e-book edition will be available in the fall of 2013 — including the ability to change the font size for those who prefer to read in larger print.

Theological vision. The Presbyterian Committee on Congregational Song issued a statement on its theological vision, describing the collection of songs in a hymnbook as “compact theology” — a phrase used by the late David Allen Hubbard, the former president of Fuller Theological Seminary, to describe how hymns give voice to the church’s core beliefs.

The theological statement points out that the new hymnal is being published in a different era than previous ones were, and will be used “by a church many of whose members have not had life-long formation by Scripture and basic Christian doctrine, much less Reformed theology. It is meant for a church marked by growing diversity in liturgical practice.”

The theme of the new collection “will be God’s powerful acts of creation, redemption and final transformation.”

Language. The committee also released a statement on language, saying “a commitment to inclusive language for the people of God reflects the consensus of the church. When it comes to use of language for God, however, the conversation is still ongoing.”

So the committee leaned towards the idea of a songbook characterized by “inclusive language with reference to the people of God, and expansive language with reference to God,” drawing on “the full reservoir of biblical imagery for God and God’s gracious acts.”

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