It has been a few years since the release of Glory to God, the new Presbyterian Hymnal. I remember celebrating the release as a final year student at Union, standing around the choir room with my friends and professors. We sang through the hymnal over the course of several hours, laughing and rejoicing the whole way.
Union students, faculty, and staff welcome the arrival of
Glory to God on campus in 2013
Not every church rejoiced with the new hymnal though. Many were not able to afford to replace their current hymnals and others found themselves in deep discussion about whether or not they should purchase the new hymnals. Many congregations were nervous about what the new hymnal would bring – Would they be able to learn these new hymns?
Over the last several weeks I have spent time with many different congregations (and been in touch with several where I plan to visit soon) who are beginning to explore this “new” hymnal at a deeper level. As much as we love singing the hymns we know and love from our childhood, this hymnal encourages us to stretch our voices and praise with brand new, and new to us, hymns.
As a musician, I eagerly search the pages for the perfect hymn to follow my sermon, but I also realize that I am in the minority. As congregations begin to branch out though, I am both surprised and proud at the many ways these new hymns are being introduced and taught.
As a music education major, I learned a concept called “scaffolding” in which the teacher uses a previously learned concept to build upon, one step at a time. I saw this wonderful practice played out recently as a choir director paired the words of the new hymn with a familiar tune. Soon they will return to this hymn and pair the now familiar words with the new tune.
I have heard choirs rehearse and share beautiful anthems straight out of “Glory to God” rather than purchasing new music each week. Not only are the choir members learning these hymns, but the congregation is invited to follow along in their own hymnal so that they might learn the hymn as well. Soon they will sing these anthems with one another and praise God with their unified voices.
A final way that I have heard hymns introduced is through building blocks. The first week of each month brings the first verse of a new hymn, and one verse is added each week following until the hymn is sung in its completeness at the close of the month.
Not everyone in our congregations is a musician, and fewer have formally studied music. We should not allow this to bring our praise only to a certain point though. As we learn together, as we laugh together, as we lift our voices together, God celebrates our joyful noise and our understanding of scripture broadens with each new verse.
How do you introduce new hymns to your congregation? Share your stories!
Rev. Jordan B. Davis
Church Relations Officer