Frequently Asked Questions
1. It seems that that Hymn Proposal (hereafter, HP) is inconsistent in how it deals with archaic language (for example, “thee” and “thou” changed to “you” and “your”). In some traditional hymns the older language is retained but not in others. Why is that?
The Committee’s general policy in dealing with archaic language is to replace as much of it as we can with ordinary, contemporary English. This is in line with Guideline #5, namely, to sing God’s praises using “intelligible” words. We think that using understood, modern language is especially important for our children and young people in our churches. It also helps those who are new to the Christian faith.
However, sometimes older, archaic words are so rooted in a hymn that to change those words would be to lose something of the richness of that hymn. For example, “Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah” would sound very strange if we were to sing, “Guide me, O Great Lord God.” In that hymn (HP #176), and a several others like it, we are recommend retaining the traditional text. The Trinity Hymnal used a similar way of proceeding as well as the newer (grey-covered) Psalter Hymnal.
In other cases, some lines in some hymns end with a “thee” or “thou” or another more archaic word and are necessary for the rhyming of the next line(s). To change these words would require rewriting an entire line. In those instances we recommend retaining the traditional wording. Some examples are “My Jesus I Love Thee” (HP #207), “Ah, Dearest Jesus, How Hast Thou Offended” (HP #131), etc.
2. At certain places the songs in the “HP” seem out of order. Why is that?
For the purposes of the HP we have chosen to organize the hymns by topical sections and within these topical sections to arrange the hymns alphabetically.
When the new songbook is actually published, the order of many hymns will be rearranged. For example, two-line hymns will probably be fit on the same page with other two-line songs. And within some sections, certain sub-sections will be arranged or re-arranged. Take the section on Jesus’ birth, as an example. In the published songbook, the advent-related hymns will be grouped together and hymns about Jesus’ birth will follow after that. This matter has more to do with the actual publishing of the new songbook than it does with approving the songs in it.
We are seeking, however, synodical approval of the general order of the sections and the sub-sections found in the HP.
3. We notice that the HP has changed some of the notes and the keys in which some hymns are written in the blue Psalter Hymnal (bPH). Why is that?
In many instances, we believe the bPH sets hymns at an unnecessarily high key. We know of many organists and other musicians who typically lower the key when they are playing the hymn in a worship service. So we have adjusted many songs to a lower key. Our preference is that the notes of a hymn would go no higher than a high D and no lower than the A below middle C.
In other cases, we are recommending the traditional melody of a classic hymn, but with a more interesting musical notation. Some of this enhanced music we are borrowing from the grey-covered Psalter Hymnal and we will seek their permission for use in our new songbook. See, for example, “Come, All You People, Praise Our God” (HP #5) and “Comfort, Comfort Now My People” (HP #109; note that this musical rendition is actually closer to the original version, written in 1551).
4. Speaking of that last example, HP #109, why does the HP include some selections from the bPH psalm section? Isn’t this supposed to be a hymn-only proposal?
Many of the psalm-songs found in the bPH do not follow the biblical-psalm line for line, or even verse for verse. Some of them are paraphrases. HP #5 is an example of this. In our report to Synod 2010 we mentioned how our Committee probably will find other psalm-songs in the bPH to be paraphrases. Rather than omitting a well-known psalm-song altogether, we think some of these can be easily incorporated in the hymn section of the new songbook.
As our Committee looks at the 310 psalm-songs in the bPH, there will be other well-known psalms songs we will be recommending to be included in the hymn section of the new songbook. We might also strengthen certain thematic sections in the HP. For example, “The Law” (HP #26-30) and “Word of God” (HP #34-38) sections might be enhanced by moving some of the current bPH songs which are paraphrases of parts of Psalm 119.
5. Why are some children’s songs included in the HP?
As a Committee, we believe that young children are part of the worshipping church, and, therefore, we should include songs which children can more easily grasp. Additionally, we would hope that this new songbook will be used at home and in family worship.
6. Must a consistory follow the synodically-approved process (i.e. to send an overture to classis, with classis to approve the overture) for every little suggestion or improvement we might suggest for the HP? May we contact the Songbook Committee directly on such minor or simple matters?
Yes, indeed, for editorial suggestions, minor changes, etc. please send us an email addressed to email@example.com . Questions about the musical score and notation should also be referred to us directly. It is not necessary to take up time at classis and synod meetings about such details.
However, if after an evaluation using the “Principles and Guidelines” (see the preface to the HP), your consistory thinks that a particular hymn should be removed from the HP, that must come to us by way of overture to your classis. Likewise, if your consistory thinks a hymn meeting the “Principles and Guidelines” and not found in the HP should be added, this, too, must come to us by way of overture.
7. What is that process of writing an overture which recommends subtracting or adding a hymn to the HP?
This is the process approved by synod:
a. That each consistory evaluate the proposed hymn section in light of the synodically-approved ‘Principles and Guidelines’ … and send their recommended changes in the form of an overture to its classis. The overtures should follow this format: ‘The consistory of ____ Church overtures Classis _____ to approve the following changes to the proposed hymn section and communicate its decision to the Psalter Hymnal Committee….’ The overture should include grounds. (Note: The consistory may appoint musically gifted and theologically astute members of their congregation to help evaluate the hymns.)
b. That the classis deliberate the merits of the overture in light of the synodically-approved ‘Principles and Guidelines.’ If classis agrees with the overture or a portion thereof, classis shall send an official communication regarding the recommended changes to the Songbook Committee for its consideration and written response.
c. That the Songbook Committee categorize and print these communications, along with the written response, in a ‘master report.’ This ‘master report’ will also include the final proposed hymn section and be distributed to all the consistories at least six months before the next meeting of synod.
d. That the synod which will decide upon the hymn section for the new songbook shall not consider other hymns or changes to the hymns beyond those contained in the previously submitted communications or ‘master report.’
The reasons our Committee gave for this process are also very important, namely:
-This process will allow for individuals, churches and classes to have a voice;
-This process ensures that the discussions will be directed by the objective criteria of the synodically-approved principles and guidelines;
-This process allows for the Songbook Committee to give due consideration to the communications, understanding that such communications have the approval of both a consistory and a classis;
-This process will ensure that all things are done decently and in good order (I Corinthians 14:40), avoiding the chaos which would result if delegates make motions from the floor to include or exclude a particular hymn. With this recommended process, we are confident that most of the discussion and deliberation about the hymn proposal will be objective and professional.
8. When it’s all said and done, the countless hours and thousands of dollars, wouldn’t it have been better to let each church choose its own songbook from the several songbooks in print? Or, couldn’t each church publish its own supplemental songbook?
It was Synod Hudsonville (1999) which formed our Committee. That synod gave our Committee our mandate to produce a new songbook for our churches. Ever since that time, synods have upheld and reaffirmed that original decision. Synods have had many opportunities to reverse that decision but they have not. On the contrary, by a strong majority the delegates at our most recent in London, Ontario (2010) specifically approved the publication of a new, official songbook for our churches.
While that should be reason enough, there are other good reasons for publishing an official songbook, instead of having churches printing their own collections of songs. Here’s the reasoning found in part of our report to Synod London:
“Please note that when we speak of adopting an ‘official songbook,’ we are not raising the matter of using additional songbooks, or a supplemental collections of songs. As things currently stand, Article 39 of our Church Order allows for consistories to approve hymns not found in the official Psalter Hymnal. In this section of our report [to Synod London] we are simply discussing whether all our churches must have at least one songbook as their official songbook, the songbook that all URCNA churches will use in common.
….[About this matter] we spoke with Dr. Bert Polman of the ‘Calvin Institute for Christian Worship.’ He concludes that the absence of any formal rationale for an official songbook probably reflects the unspoken assumption among Reformed churches that having an official songbook needed no argumentation. In other words, in the past it was simply assumed that Reformed churches, as well as many other federations, would develop and use an official songbook. Each federation would choose songs representing its own history, theology, and liturgical principles, and would collect those songs in their official songbook. So we find official songbooks of the ‘Methodist Church’ and the ‘Lutheran Church’ and the ‘Presbyterian Church.’ So also, the Christian Reformed Church always had her own official songbook throughout her entire history. This is simply the way it was, and no rationale for an official songbook was needed.
Some may conclude from the ‘silence of history’ on this issue that there is no sufficient argument for the necessity of synodical approval of an official songbook. We would urge you to consider the opposite conclusion: that the very fact that Reformed churches in the past needed no formal rationale to persuade them to adopt an official songbook suggests that it belongs to the unity, the identity, and the wellbeing of the federation to have such a songbook.
….Consider also the action of Synod 1996. At that synod the churches adopted ‘the liturgical forms printed in the Psalter Hymnal, Centennial Edition (1976) for use among the churches’ (Acts of Synod 1996, Article 24, point L). The liturgical forms are not, strictly speaking, confessional documents. They are definitely doctrinal, but they are not, in the narrow sense of the word, confessional. Yet our churches without hesitation committed themselves to using the adopted forms in all of the churches across the federation. We consider the adopting of an ‘official songbook’ consistent with the adopting of ‘official liturgical forms.’
In addition to these fundamental arguments for the adoption of an official songbook, we would ask you to consider an important practical matter. As soon as we have a synodically approved collection of psalms and hymns, the work of publishing the songbook will begin. At that point, the financial costs will escalate dramatically. Copyright permission has to be obtained, sometimes at a cost. An editor or editors will have to be hired to ensure consistency in capitalization, punctuation, notation, typeface, etc. Decisions will have to be made about paper, book cover, ink, etc. One of the biggest factors in estimating printing costs to be able to estimate how many copies of the songbook will be sold. Selling only 1000 books might mean a per copy cost of $75-85, whereas selling 10,000 books could bring the cost down to $25-35 per copy, depending on other factors. And the cost per book drops exponentially, for every 500 or 1000 more copies printed….”
Q. 9. In addition to the printed copy of the HP, may we obtain a digital copy of it, without the “Sample Only—Do Not Copy” watermark?
Yes, indeed. Through the Stated Clerk of the URCNA we sent an email to each consistory. Here’s what we wrote, in part, on September 21, 2010:
“A few churches have asked our committee to send them the entire hymn proposal in digital format (without the watermark) in order to make copies for congregational use. After some discussion relating to copyright laws, we have determined that it would be appropriate to do so under certain conditions. If your church desires the entire collection in digital form, please contact our committee secretary, Mrs. Angeline VanderBoom (firstname.lastname@example.org ), and provide her with your church’s CCLI license number … Only then will she send the files via email in .pdf format. We also want to stress that any legal copies of the music may not be distributed or used beyond that of your local congregation. It is your responsibility to ensure that you are following the copyright laws of your country (Canada or USA). The CCLI website (www.ccli.com) is a valuable resource with information on whether and under what circumstances a particular song may be copied.”
We should add that simply obtaining a CCLI license is not sufficient for gaining permission to duplicate any song in the HP. You must check the CCLI website and find whether or not a particular song is found on their list. We currently are seeking a volunteer or volunteers to do this on behalf of our churches, so we can together be informed about each song. But in the meantime, please check the CCLI list to ensure the legality of duplicating a particular song. CCLI has other requirements, for example, you must keep track of each song in the CCLI listing which your church has duplicated. Please read the licensing agreement carefully and, if you are in doubt about anything, call or email the CCLI organization.
Q. 10. Why is the name “Jehovah” replaced by some other name for God in some of the hymns in the HP?
The Songbook Committee, along with the Canadian Reformed “Book of Praise” committee, requested advice about the best rendering of the covenant name of “Yahweh” (YHWH) from several Old Testament (Hebrew) scholars. We received responses from Dr. Cornelis Van Dam of the Theological College of the Canadian Reformed Churches, and from Prof. Mark Vander Hart of Mid-America Reformed Seminary. Both of these scholars encouraged us to avoid the term “Jehovah” as much as possible.
The term “Jehovah” first appears in the medieval church and arises out of a misunderstanding of the Hebrew text. Here’s what happened: When reading the Torah, the Hebrew name of God, YHWH, was not pronounced by the Jews and so when they came across the name, they would automatically say “Adonai” (meaning “Lord”) or sometimes “Elohim.” Later, when vowel markings were placed under the Hebrew letters, the ancient vocalizers put the vowels of “Adonai” under YHWH in order to remind the reader to say “Adonai.” What happened in the medieval context was to take the consonants YHWH of the written text and read this with the vowels of “Adonai” – thus “Jehovah” or the alternate spelling “Iehoua”.
This means that “Jehovah” is actually a phonetic corruption of God’s name. Further, the pronunciation “Jehovah” sounds blasphemous to Jews today. They still highly reverence the covenant name YHWH, and we would do well not to cause unnecessary offence.
Based on the advice of the scholars we consulted, our committee thinks it best to find replacements for “Jehovah” wherever possible. In this we are also following the practice of the “Trinity Hymnal” (1990 edition), the “Book of Praise,” and other songbooks used by most confessionally-orthodox Reformed churches.
[Revised 20 Nov. 2010: added Q. 8 – Q. 10]