A couple of days ago I attended an informational meeting, here at the General Assembly, about the Presbyterian Church's new hymnal project.
To some of us, it's hard to believe the church is putting a new hymnal together already. Some of us remember all too well the skepticism we had to address concerning the last new hymnal project - in 1990. We Presbyterians have been developing new hymnals every 20-25 years on the average, so the timing is about right.
Here are some things I learned about this exciting new project:
About 37% of the hymns in the 1955 hymnal made it into the 1990 hymnal. This is the classic core of our hymnody. Just over 50% of the 1970 Worshipbook hymns made it into the 1990 book.
Based on polling of the committee to date, it's estimated that 90% of the hymns in that classic group that survived the 1955 cut will be in the new book as well, and somewhere around 40% of the hymns that were new in the 1990 book will likewise make it in.
Think of a hymnal, one of the speakers told us, as being like a family album. You'd never say, "We've already got enough wedding photos, we don't need yours." No, you just keep adding the new photos. If you run out of room, you may remove and store some of those older-generation snapshots.
Another analogy is to say it's like moving to a new house. The longer we've lived in a single place, the more accumulated stuff we need to get rid of. Some of the stuff we simply trash, other stuff we put into storage. Some of the stuff in storage will later be reclaimed and cherished later, by the next generation. There will be some hymns like that in the new hymnal. The committee hasn't released any list of hymns yet, but they're sure there will be at least a few rediscovered older hymns in the book.
They anticipate having a small, promotional sampler collection available at the Big Tent Conference next summer, and a larger sampler collection available at the 2012 General Assembly. These samplers will be free.
In the not-so-distant future, we may all be holding something like iPads in worship, although it's too early just now to say what that format will be.