Report from the URCNA Psalter Hymnal Committee

The URCNA Psalter Hymnal Committee, together with representatives from the Orthodox Presbyterian Church’s Psalter Hymnal Committee, completed a very productive and comprehensive meeting from November 6–8, 2012, at the facilities of Lynwood URC in Lynwood, Illinois. The committees worked primarily on the new psalm proposal and related matters.

The committee has dedicated much of the last two years or more choosing psalm songs. Psalm renditions have now been tentatively chosen for the entire psalter (Psalms 1–150), though some finishing touches remain. The bulk of this November meeting consisted of working with the OPC on Psalms 1–119, noting the concurring selections, working through some differences in selections, and revisiting unfinished psalm songs.

Throughout its work, one of the committee’s ongoing priorities has been to choose complete psalm texts that are faithful to the words of Scripture and set to singable, appropriate, and beautiful music. In keeping with synod’s mandate, the full text of each psalm is included at least once in the proposal, with many psalms also having additional familiar and excellent partial texts or paraphrased versions. One exception is that Psalm 119 has been split into each section represented by a Hebrew letter as found in Scripture, instead of having one song selection with all 176 verses included.

Two brief examples of partial or paraphrased settings (out of many) are Psalms 23 and 51, which each have several well-known selections. Familiar partial or paraphrased versions have mostly come from the blue Psalter Hymnal or the 1912 Psalter, as the committee is especially sensitive to maintain important continuity with the blue Psalter Hymnal. That is, the committee’s psalm proposal has sought to retain the best and most familiar of previous psalm collections while also bolstering these familiar partial-psalm renditions with faithful, singable, full psalm texts. By retaining many traditional and well-loved tunes as well as adding some excellent new ones, the churches will be able to robustly sing all of the psalms in the collection and not only the very familiar ones.

To give you, our churches, more of a glimpse into the thought process of these meetings, here is one small example of a frequently discussed topic, and one that is a synodically-mandated guideline. One of the challenges in building a psalm collection is to match the affect, or mood, of a psalm text with music that corresponds to and matches that affect. A scripturally faithful text merely paired with any metered tune does not automatically create a good match. One example of this is Psalm 83 in the blue Psalter Hymnal. Psalm 83 is a Psalm of lament, calling for God’s swift judgment on Israel’s enemies. The tune with which it is paired in the Psalter Hymnal is Ralph Vaughan Williams’ excellent FOREST GREEN, an uplifting arrangement of a joyful English folk melody. This, however, presents a disconnect with the psalm text. The psalm’s dark lamenting affect needs a more fitting minor tune like EIFIONYDD or SALVUM FAC, which are the tunes being considered by the URCNA and OPC committees for this psalm in the proposal.

We look forward to sharing more examples of the committee’s work and thought process as well as updates in our work with the OPC committee. We are convinced that working with the OPC already is, and will continue to be, a welcome benefit to the committee and the URCNA. This ecumenical relationship will help produce a great collection of psalms and hymns to be used for the worship of our triune God, for the love and edification of the church, and for the glory of Christ. As with all relationships, working in this partnership will necessitate some give and take, but we have already been humbled by the OPC representatives’ respect of the deep-rooted tradition of psalm singing in the URCNA. Together, we look forward to presenting a collection that exhibits both continuity and excellence.

The committees have agreed on a tentative schedule for the completion of this project. Lord willing, a psalm proposal will be mutually agreed upon by each committee in March, 2013. In the spring of 2013, both committees are planning to jointly release the psalm proposal digitally while also setting up an online system for consistories/sessions to submit feedback. We hope to have the psalm section ready for recommendation in 2014 to both the URCNA Synod and the OPC General Assembly. In 2014 or early 2015, both committees hope to release a new and improved joint hymn proposal, with the goal of recommending it for approval to synod and general assembly in 2016. Final editing, publishing, and printing of the entire collection can then commence in the fall of 2016.
We realize this is an ambitious timeline, but we want to be sensitive to the wishes and patience of the churches, to the lengthy process it already has been, and to being good stewards of the finite resources graciously given to us.

Please look for more updates and communications in the near future, and, more importantly, please keep each of our committees in your earnest prayers.

Respectfully submitted by the URCNA Psalter Hymnal Committee:

Rev. Randal Lankheet, Chairman (Classis Southwest Ontario)

Mrs. Angeline Vanderboom, Secretary (member-at-large)

Mr. David Buursma (Classis Central U.S.)

Dr. Scott Finch (Classis Western Canada)

Rev. Christopher Folkerts (Classis Pacific Northwest)

Mrs. Denise Marcusse (Classis Michigan)

Mr. Joel Pearce (Classis Eastern U.S.)

Rev. Derrick Vander Meulen (Classis Southwest U.S.)

Rev. Harry Zekveld (Classis Ontario East)

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