Time for a New Adventist Hymnal?

I doubt there is a more ecumenical or inclusive book in general use in modern Adventism than the 1985 Seventh-day Adventist Church Hymnal. Its tunes are both ancient and modern, and its authors and composers hail from denominations across the spectrum. (For example, there are conservative Adventist websites on which can be found laments about the alleged Catholic influences in our hymnal, demonstrating my point about its ecumenism.) I also question whether the worship fragmentation in our denomination in the past 35 years would ever again allow for the widespread dissemination or adoption of a single official hymnal. The 1985 hymnal was probably our last. Still, I raise the question: is it time for a new hymnal?

I was in law school when the 1985 Seventh-day Adventist Church Hymnal was published and part of a circle of 20-something friends attending the North Austin Seventh‑day Adventist Church. Some of us were in graduate school at University of Texas, some were in college, and some were just embarking on careers. On Friday evenings, we would often come together at the church and laugh, visit, pray and sing through some of the hymns in that book, especially those that were newer to us. There were enough amateur musicians in our group that we could enjoy the challenges of new tunes, and the 1985 hymnal has many beautiful tunes and texts that were not in the 1941 Church Hymnal, with which we had grown up.

The 1985 hymnal was a fresh breeze blowing across congregational worship. First, it included many new contributions by living Seventh-day Adventist hymnwriters such as Allen Foster, Eurydice Osterman, John Read, James Bingham, Wayne Hooper, Mel West, and Ottilie Stafford. Their contributions joined those from earlier Adventist hymnwriters — Uriah Smith, Annie Smith, Fannie Bolton, F.E. Belden, Henry de Flutier, Roswell Cottrell and L.E. Froom. Second, it brought back into circulation some older traditional Adventist-centric songs. Third, there were new hymns about the Sabbath. Fourth, it introduced us to many new, grand hymns from the British tradition. It was accompanied by Wayne Hooper’s very informative and useful “Companion.”

Back then, it could not have been known whether many of these newer contributions in that book would take root in our congregations. Judging only by my own observations since then, sadly, few have become part of our worship vocabulary. What happened? First, learning new hymns requires persistent and intentional musical leadership in a church congregation. That resource is found only in random patterns across our denomination. Second, the persons who select the music each week — often pastors — must have a vision for the possibilities of freshened congregational song. If hymn selection is something of an afterthought, the mind will naturally revert to familiar patterns and safe choices. Third, the congregation must have an accompanist who can or is willing to learn new music. I am convinced that any failure of the 1985 Hymnal to reach its full potential was generally not due to our congregations themselves. Too often have I seen willing, eager learners in our pews, if they are properly led. Of course, in recent years, the hymn form itself is under stress and, in some congregations, going the way of the dodo bird, replaced by praise bands and praise songs.

In the face of all these experiences and trends, I nevertheless believe it is time for the Adventist Church to consider publishing a new hymnal. Why?

1. The 1941 Church Hymnal was 44 years old when replaced in 1985. That hymnal, in turn, had replaced the 1908 Christ in Song hymnal after a tenure of 33 years. This year, the 1985 Hymnal is 34 years old. It could well take several years to select and convene the appropriate hymnal committee and for that committee to do its work and publish a replacement that could gain wide, even if not universal, acceptance. Time to get started.

2. Notwithstanding the strong praise music trend, in the past three decades, hymnody has continued to advance impressively. Beautiful new tunes have been composed with an eye towards whether the modern congregation can easily sing them. Modern lyrics, reflecting life, loss, joy, and spirituality in our 21st century communities are available.

3. If we don’t get serious about refreshing our hymnal, there is a growing risk that it will be seen as archaic, and this will be given as justification for its abandonment in many congregations as worship styles continue to evolve. Perhaps that view already has taken root in many quarters.

4. Aside from some wonderful “Negro” spirituals, beautifully arranged by the Adventist musician Alma Blackmon, the 1985 hymnal did not include musical contributions from the broader range of cultures where our church has particularly grown in the past decades. These gaps could be filled with a new book.

5. The explosion in praise music is entirely unrecognized in our current hymnal. That style is not particularly my cup of tea, but other, newer hymnals have found ways to be inclusive of praise songs. Some of them are moving into the mainstream of hymnody. Our new hymnal should make the same attempt.

6. A new hymnal would let us sort through the “winners” among the newer contributions in the 1985 book and carry them forward, while setting aside (with great sorrow for some of us) the hidden gems that never came out of hiding. Hopefully we could carry forward some of these hidden gems into a new book for a second try.

7. A new book could contain a broader scope of worship aids than even the 1985 book attempted. In many of our congregations, worship needs to be revitalized, and we need an accessible, compelling resource to guide and support this transformation. Space for new aids could be found by slightly reducing the total number of hymns included.

It may be asked whether, in this digital age, a hard copy song book is passé. I hope not. For one thing, a book offers notes and thus harmonies that enrich congregational edification and sound. We — a singing people at our roots — should row hard against the musical illiteracy that will grow in a words-only singing culture. Because the culture of many congregations now insists on projected words, there should, however, be a digital supplement that could be used with projected words. Appropriate visual backgrounds that might actually complement the projected words instead of appearing as random scenes from a slide show could be included in such a resource. For example, a friend of mine who is a noted congregational worship leader tells of a hymnal offering for purchase a full orchestration. This can be obtained online and such parts as are needed can be printed off immediately. Another feature allows him to readily transpose a song, and then print the transposed parts.

I do not doubt that there are counterarguments to my suggestion here. There also undoubtedly are additional supportive points that I have missed. Maybe this conversation has already begun unbeknownst to me. If so, bravo, may it grow in volume. If not, let it begin.

Jeffrey S. Bromme, Esq. is the Executive Vice President and Chief Legal Officer for the AdventHealth.

Photo by Michael Maasen on Unsplash

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/9686
2 Likes

Yes, a new Hymnal. At 94 I recall old timers objecting. I think the voice should be the active generation. But I plan to keep mine current edition. I neither play nor sing, but I still Read and enjoy.

4 Likes

Not sure I agree we need a new hymnal.
Most churches have their “favorite” few hymns and those
are ALL they sing out of the 674 hymns.
Many SDA congregations DO NOT use the hymnal.
Perhaps we only need a supplemental Hymn book for the
modern one and two line songs [ that are repeated over and
over] and which many congregations place on a screen to be
seen.
Yes. Music in the SDA church has changed, is changing.
We have come a LONG way from Hymns and Tunes, Christ in
Song, 1940’s Church Hymnal. We even gave up Gospel Melodies,
Singing Youth [which had great hymns in THEM.]
I do find great enjoyment in my Sunday 1982 Episcopalian hymn
book and the 2 supplements. I enjoy singing psalms to God by and with the
early Church Fathers, the ones by the Reformers, the ones penned during the
Great Awakening, the newer ones by Black Slaves and those in the Black
churches in our great land and overseas. I enjoy the Taize hymns from France.
BUT my Sunday church sings 5-6 hymns each service, NOT the 2 that we get
to sing on Sabbath.
So my Sunday church REQUIRES a variety of music to go along with the Liturgical
Year of Bible Readings.
And it is NOT AFRAID to sing New Hymns with New Tunes from its 707 songs.
Even some gospel hymns and Spirituals during the year.

4 Likes

In my youth ( admittedly seventy years ago ) we sang melodic choruses around youth camp bonfires like TURN YOUR EYES UPON JESUS, LOOK FULL ON HIS WONDERFUL FACE— the tune not only singable but the lyrics poetic.

Modern day “ praise music “ has been dubbed SEVEN ELEVEN MUSIC —
— nothing to do with the mini mart chain stores,
but because seven words are repeated monotonously eleven times
—-all to a non melodic, non harmonious, non lyrical dirge like tune.

It does have syncopation and rhythm , as evidenced by its frequent accompaniment to drum beats…

I find it tuneless, monotonous and tasteless but evidently the younger crowd
are addicted to it .

I would move my membership if my local church incorporated it into their worship hour.

4 Likes

I agree with your 7/11 sentiments Robin, although
there a some quality exceptions.

3 Likes

Steve, just remember that Hymnals are SOLD. Do I need to say more?.. :wink:

1 Like

I was one of the friends that worshiped with Jeff on those Friday nights. I agree that we should start working on a new hymnal. I especially agree with points #4 and #5. We need to expand the culture of our hymnal.

5 Likes

What? I am shocked! You don’t like those so-called songs that repeat 17 times the same short sentence with absolutely no melody? And then when you are ready to sit down (finally!!!), the music leader yells into the mic, “Let’s do it 3 more times!”… I don’t know why they classify it as “music”…

The most ridiculous thing that happens is keeping the congregation standing during those unending performances on stage. I already quit, I just stay sitting, who cares? I like a good, melodic, vibrant gospel music, something that has harmony and the lyrics have meaning. I also like all sort of traditional hymns, but not those that are too slow. But the stuff many churches are using now is just that, “stuff”…

2 Likes

Yes, it is high time to be planning for a new hymnal. There are many qualified, excellent musicians in the church at this time who would add much to the process. To all of you composers out there: Do your thing!

2 Likes

I chuckle at the sentiments of the article and the various comments… :slight_smile: In Germany we had a new hymnal a couple of years ago … after (felt) 20 years of expert work on it. The result is: never has the church in Germany been divided about an issue more than about this hymnal. It is diverse and broad in musical styles (old and very old hymns, 19th century, Taizee, Hillsong - you can find it all). Now we have to deal with secret (and rather public) lists of songs that are attributed to the devil, we have churches who refuse to use the hymnal altogether (prefering the hymnal of a Reform Adventist Church) as well as time consuming debates in all social media. Yes, “sing a new song” will elicit a LOT of controversy.
Oh … and at the same time a neighbouring Baptist church is considering using the Adventist Hymnal for its high quality and broad selection of music…

12 Likes

Andreas –
How funny! A hymnal prepared by Adventists which may find its way into the
Baptist pew book holders.
Maybe Baptists in Germany have more fun worshiping God than SDAs do.
LOL!

3 Likes

G-
I worshiped in an SDA church for several years that traded the older Hymnal
for the Christ And Song hymnbook that Voice of Prophecy reprinted.
When the New Hymnal came out their music committee decided to use the
New Hymnal and still do.
Back in the 50’s that church used Cokesbury Hymnal which had a lot of
great songs in it.

Cokesbury is the Methodist Publishing House, right?

Or maybe it’s a form of evangelism that Andreas invented, to infiltrate the SDA message into the neighbour’s camp. A secret weapon… a thick hymnal with 1844 songs… LOL
@andreas

Indeed, George, I am “infiltrating” one local Baptist church (I simply love their pastor) - and they are blessed by it - and so am I. As for the 1844 songs … well, you won’t find them among our 694 hymns and songs.

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Andreas, I am very sympathetic to the Baptists. Actually, as I said before, it’s with them that I learned about GRACE, what it is and how it works. No wonder the SDAs are so insecure about their salvation process. I spent 3 years with the Baptists while still in Brazil, then 4 years with the 7th Day Baptists here in Riverside. Great people!

I also liked Stuart Tyner’s book on grace, probably the best one in Adventism (available on Amazon.com). He really knew it well. He was my best friend, unfortunately passed away in March, at only 73. I guess this is life, right?..

2 Likes

Great article, Jeff! I particularly like the sentence, “The 1985 hymnal was a fresh breeze blowing across congregational worship.”

I remember in the early 1980s when dad was on the hymnal committee and was traveling to those meetings. My sister and I were given the tedious job of trimming photocopies of hymns, pasting them onto a backing and organizing them in notebooks, so dad could have all the candidate hymns at his fingertips when they were being discussed in committee. He told many stories about what was done and said in the committee; I think it was a great experience for him, and one of the highlights of his long career in Seventh-day Adventist music and music education. He was so proud when the new hymnal came out and he received one that was gold-embossed, “One of the First 100.”

And yes, I remember those Friday evening tours through the new hymnbook at Austin 1st Church (which is not there anymore–it has decamped to Pflugerville), with you, Kelvin Barnes, Phil Brantley and others. You and Kelvin could play piano and organ (and Phil could pitch in on his violin), and I remember we made it a point to try to sing through the new and unfamiliar hymns, many of which were good but a few of which we gave “thumbs-down.” Those were such good times!

Is it time for a new hymnal? I just wish we could get churches to use the hymnal, rather than projecting the words of the insipid 7-11 praise songs on a screen. The problems with praise music are well known, including the lack of musical notation and the missing theology, doctrine and ecclesiology that is concisely present in the great hymns of the church. Praise music is not only shallow, much of it is erotic from the female point of view. Several decades ago, someone (who shall remain nameless), with his typical insight and discernment, aptly referred to this as the “Jesus is good in bed” genre. (This genre is not new; “In the Garden” is a century-old example of it.) Expecting men to sing this drivel is one of the reasons church attendance is 60/40 female in North America.

I would suggest that, instead of creating a new hymnal, we strive to entirely banish praise music from the 11:00 o’clock worship service. It is also time to educate senior pastors and worship pastors regarding how to use the scriptural index and topical index in the hymnal to create a thematic worship service that harmoniously blends the sermon and the hymns to reinforce a unitary message. They need to start using the hymnal intelligently, as it was designed to be used. It is pointless to produce a new hymnal until we have the will and knowledge to use the old one correctly.

1 Like

Last Sabbath at my church the pastor selected an old gospel song which, probably, 50% or more of the congregation had never heard. But it was appropriate for the Father’s Day sermon. However, because there were no printed hymnals to sing from (just words on a screen) many people didn’t sing. Of course that is the challenge I see with contemporary praise music.

Recently the Presbyterian Church USA published a new [printed] hymnal.

If anyone values singing parts on the hymns, that is most feasible when the music is available from a hymnal rather than just the words being projected on a screen.

Not every Adventist congregation worships the same way. Some still conduct traditional worship with traditional hymns and traditional choir music. Others now conduct totally contemporary worship. Some larger churches have on traditional service and one contemporary service. And some worship with a combination of the traditional and contemporary. At my church the organist plays a prelude, offertory, and postlude and two traditional hymns. Then the praise team with piano, guitars, and drums leads “praise time” (strange name to me - haven’t we already been praising God?).

If the denomination wishes to continue supporting those who want any traditional facet to their worship service, then I believe a printed hymnal will still be needed.

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How many realize that there are wonderful, relevant new hymn texts being written (or recently written) that can be sung to hymn tunes we already know? Carolyn Winfrey Gillette is an example. (Google her if you’re interested.)

Yes, Stuart Tyner was a great guy! Grace personified; he lived and preached it.

1 Like