Hymnal favors singing traditions, innovations
    March 15 2010 by Bob Allen, Associated Baptist Press

    ATLANTA — Bucking a trend in many churches to eschew four-part harmonies for praise choruses projected on a screen, a new hymnal released March 8 seeks to introduce both old favorites and lesser-known new compositions to a new generation of Baptist congregations.

    “We were trying to create a hymnal for churches that use hymnals,” said Stanley Roberts, a Mercer University professor and member of the editorial team that planned the Celebrating Grace Hymnal, “to provide a resource that our current generation and future generations could use for worship in the local church.”

    Tom McAfee, a Georgia layman who conceived of the idea for and oversaw development of the hymnal, said the new song book seeks to embrace a denominational identity broader than battle lines that divided Baptists in the United States in the latter decades of the 20th century.

    “One of the things we did in the beginning was to intentionally be inclusive,” said McAfee, chairman of a health-care company and member of First Baptist Church in Macon, Ga. “I think it’s one of the things that make our hymnal unique.” 

    Starting at the grassroots level, McAfee said, editors and board members sought input from individuals and churches affiliated with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, African-American Baptists, Canadian Baptists and the Southern Baptist Convention.

    Thomas McAfee, center, introduces members of the editorial board.

    “If you had a Baptist badge, we wanted you to be involved,” McAfee said. “We also wanted to incorporate some Methodist traditions, Presbyterian traditions. We wanted to be something that is, yes, Baptist, and is built by Baptists with Baptists in mind, but we also wanted to be able to bring in these other traditions so that others can use the book as well.”

    “It’s not just a book for Cooperative Baptists or Southern Baptists or the other brands of Baptists,” said McAfee, “We’ve got materials there that will meet the needs of a number of different denominations.”

    Mark Edwards, vice president of music and worship resources who oversaw the music side of the project, said Celebrating Grace was already in the works and unrelated to a new Baptist Hymnal that LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention released in 2008.

    “We are doing hymnals that are to different markets,” said Edwards, who was minister of music at First Baptist Church in Nashville, Tenn., for 30 years. “I think they’ve done a good job,” he said of the new Southern Baptist hymnal. “It’s a good book for what it is. They’re just doing a different thing from what we are doing.”

    In addition to the 700-page printed hymnal, the Celebrating Grace Hymnal includes online support for extra features including orchestration, piano and organ music, hand bells and “congregational anthems” that arrange hymns in ways that treat the congregation like a choir instead of singing four stanzas by rote.

    “In times gone by you could publish a hymnal and just do a book, and that was enough,” Edwards said. “These days it’s not enough. There are other things that have to go along with a hymnal if it’s going to be used in a church effectively. So part of this whole process was building a body of materials to go along with the hymnal.”

    The project also includes a component of interactive, online worship planning trademarked by David Bolin, minister of music at First Baptist Church in Waco, Texas, who said he developed the concept over three decades as a local-church worship leader “never dreaming this would some day be used by anybody other than myself.”  

    Originally conceived in 2005 as a contribution to Baptist worship by Mercer University Press in Macon, Ga., McAfee said, the project grew into a new not-for-profit corporation. Early conversations, McAfee said, included: “Is there a market for a hymnal today?”

    “That became very evident very quick that there was a strong need for a hymnal today,” he said. Other problems involved: “How to repackage some of the hymns to make them fresh, taking old hymns and giving them new treatment, and to give training materials for some of the younger generations who may not have been exposed to hymnody the way that my generation has been exposed.”

    One major challenge, McAfee said, was “how to get the book out into the churches.”

    “The old model from SBC days was that you had state music reps in each of the states, and those were your salespeople,” he said. “That model doesn’t exist today.”

    McAfee declined to discuss specific finances but described pre-sales of the new hymnal as “exceptionally good.”

    “Our first printing was around 25,000 copies,” he said. “We’re in the process of getting the second printing running. We’ll expect to have those in hand in the middle of April.” McAfee said sales have performed surprisingly well in an otherwise-poor economy.

    “For the most part we are finding it is a gift that is given in honor of, and those types of gifts are reasonably small,” he said. “If a church wants to go out and solicit from its congregants to do a memorial in honor of one person buying one hymnal, $20 by that individual is doable by just about everybody.”

    “We’ve had situations where families have stepped up and they’ve given the entire congregation hymnals,” he said.

    (EDITOR’S NOTE — Allen is senior writer for Associated Baptist Press.)
    3/15/2010 5:46:00 AM by Bob Allen, Associated Baptist Press | with 2 comments

Jack Carver
I'm a boomer nearing retirement age, and I've got to question the prospect of hefting a 700 page hymnal to viewing position on a Sunday morning. The projection of songs, hymns, and choruses up on a screen does an amazing thing for singing. The chin is lifted off of the throat, and the vocal cords are free to let loose with a joyful sound. Of course, if you hold the hymnal at an appropriate level you can lift your chin up; but how long can you hold up a 700 page hymnal? Maybe that's why I grew up singing just the 1st, 2nd, and last verses of most hymns.

Seriously, the Lord will be worshipped this coming Sunday with songs viewed in a hymnal, on a screen, or in a printed bulletin. Music will be played on pianos, organs, drum kits, guitars, and maybe a loud clanging cymbal or two. I've got to believe that the Lord will be pleased with every act of sincere worship by those who love him. I know I can hardly wait to experience it!
3/16/2010 5:25:25 PM

Well, thanks be to God.
3/15/2010 3:13:58 PM

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