In 1999, Synod Hudsonville (MI) tasked the Psalter Hymnal Committee to begin the work of producing a new psalter hymnal for the URCNA and to provide a list of songs to be included to a future synod. Synod Hudsonville also instructed the committee to “consult with those churches with whom we have entered into corresponding relations.”
In 2010 the Psalter Hymnal Committee submitted the Hymn Proposal to the churches at Synod London (ON). This synod approved a process of evaluation whereby churches would send an overture to their classis regarding changes to the Hymn Proposal and if that overture (or a portion thereof) was approved, the classis would send a communication to the committee of its desired changes. The committee would then take these communications from the various classes and reevaluate the Hymn Proposal in light of these responses.
In the meantime, while the committee received communications and worked on psalm song evaluations, they discovered that the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC) had also appointed a “Psalter Hymnal Special Committee” to produce an OPC Psalter Hymnal. After some telephone and email conversations, the two committees had opportunity to meet face to face in Lynwood, Illinois, on November 9, 2010.
The OPC committee explained the decision of a past general assembly to produce a new songbook which would contain all 150 psalms as well as hymns with solid biblical content. By that time they had already done much work in tentatively selecting psalm-songs to be included in this songbook.
Upon hearing this report, it became obvious that each committee could benefit from the other’s work. The OPC had already done much with the psalms, and the URC had the Hymn Proposal already in the hands of the churches. While the concept of doing a joint effort was discussed, no decision was made at that point. However, after further discussions and prayer, the URCNA committee determined that a joint project with the OPC would be a blessing to both the federations and to all confessionally Reformed churches in the English-speaking world.
Further communications ensued between the two committees, which resulted in the OPC committee bringing two recommendations to the 78th General Assembly concerning this development. On June 9, 2011, the General Assembly of the OPC, meeting in Sandy Grove, Maryland, overwhelmingly approved these recommendations:
That the Seventy-eighth General Assembly approve the working together of the CCE’s Special Committee on the Psalter-Hymnal with the URCNA’s Psalter Hymnal Committee to produce a Psalter-Hymnal for use in a wide range of confessional Presbyterian and Reformed Churches.
That the Seventy-eighth General Assembly extend an official invitation to the URCNA Synod (2012) to work together to produce a Psalter-Hymnal for use in a wide range of confessional Presbyterian and Reformed Churches.
The URCNA Psalter Hymnal Committee recommended to Synod Nyack that the URCNA accept this invitation. When the matter came to a vote before synod, the delegates accepted the OPC invitation with overwhelming approval.
The two committees have already begun evaluating each other’s work and plan to meet face-to-face in early November, 2012, with psalms on the agenda. Once there is consensus on the psalms, they will work on the hymn collection. URCNA churches can expect that this final hymn collection submitted to synod will be quite different from the Hymn Proposal previously distributed.
The goal is to have a completed psalm and hymn collection to be approved at the 2016 synod and general assembly. If that goal is reached and approval given, the next step will be production and publishing. The OPC will be of great help at that point, due to their close tie with Great Commission Publications. The intent is to have a “URCNA edition” in which URCNA-specific information will be printed in the back pages of the songbook, including liturgical forms, prayers, creeds, and confessions.
The invitation of the OPC and the acceptance of that invitation by the URCNA are great strides toward an evident and discernible ecumenicity. Rather than the church splits, infighting, and navel-gazing that too often characterize confessional Reformed and Presbyterian churches, here is a very practical and visible expression of our unity in Christ. Though we don’t share the same denominational name, we can surely sing the same praises to our sovereign Lord, who alone is worthy!
Rev. Derrick J. Vander Meulen is the pastor and church planter of Kauai United Reformed Church