Introduction to Glory To God, the new Presbyterian Hymnal

Posted by Tinsley.Silcox on July 28, 2014

Singing in Worship: A Brief History of Presbyterian Hymnody and an Introduction to Glory To God, the new Presbyterian Hymnal

Our new hymnal, which will be introduced in worship on August 24 is entitled Glory to God, and replaces both the blue Presbyterian Hymnal published in 1990 and our supplemental hymnal Sing the Faith. The Presbyterian Church has generally developed a new hymnal once a generation.

Producing a new hymnal is no small task, and our new hymnal was first envisioned in 2006, when the 217th General Assembly authorized the Presbyterian Publishing Corporation to research, develop, and produce a new hymnal.

In the early days of the American colonies, the governing bodies of Presbyterians left all decisions about whether to sing hymns or psalms as part of worship up to the individual congregation. As a result, a variety of Psalters and hymnals were used by the young congregations. Most of these hymn collections contained no music, but text only, as few people were musically literate. In an attempt to correct this situation, singing schools were established from which a desire for new tunes and new music grew. By 1800 there were over 130 different collections of tune books in print. This meant that worshipers needed to hold two books: one for the music, the other for the text. Hymnals as we know them today with text and tune printed together, did not appear until after the Civil War.

Presbyterians resisted efforts at publishing an official denominational hymnal until 1819. Psalms and Hymns Adapted to the Public Worship, which was first printed in 1830, became the first official American Presbyterian hymnal in 1831. This first hymnal still contained text without music. It also contained instructions for worship. Here is an excerpt: When the time appointed for public worship is come, let the people enter the church, and take their seats in a decent, grave, and reverent manner. In time of Public worship, let all the people attend with gravity and reverence; forbearing to read any thing, except what the minister is then reading or reciting; abstaining from all whisperings, from salutations of persons present, or coming in; and from gazing about, sleeping, smiling, and all other indecent behaviours.

A schism in the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America known as The Old School-New School Controversy began to erupt in 1837. In time issues related to slavery brought about the further division of both the Old School and New School into north and south. In 1865 after three decades of separate operation, the two sides of the controversy merged in the south and in 1870 in the north, to form united Presbyterian churches. The north and south divisions would remain until the 1980s. Here is a timeline of our denomination’s published hymnody:

In 1874 The Presbyterian Hymnal was published by the newly reunited "Old" and "New" schools under the direction of a committee of five headed by Joseph T. Duryea, a, Presbyterian minister who also wrote "An Oration Commemorative of the Restoration of the Union."

In 1895 Louis Benson, one of the foremost hymnologists in America, editedThe Hymnal, published by authority of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America. This hymnal was revised in 1911.

In 1933 the General Assembly of the PCUSA authorized a new hymnal. Clarence Dickinson was the Editor of The Hymnal that is still in use in some Presbyterian churches in the United States.

In 1950 the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the United States appointed a committee for the production of the new hymnal. Five American denominations of the Presbyterian-Reformed tradition joined in the production of what became The Hymnbook, published in 1955. I am certain many of you remember this hymnal and it's deep red cover.

In 1972 The Worshipbook: Services and Hymns was published as a joint project of the Presbyterian Church in the United States, the Cumberland Presbyterian Church, and the United Presbyterian Church in the United States of America. The hymns in this hymnal were unwisely placed in alphabetical order instead of by liturgical season or some other logical arrangement, and it was never well received. 

1983 saw the merger of the former Presbyterian Church in the United States, whose churches were located in the Southern and border states, with the United Presbyterian Church in the United States of America, whose congregations could be found in every state, forming The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), or PCUSA. The General Assemblies of 1980 and 1983 directed that a hymnal be developed "using inclusive language and sensitive to the diverse nature" of the church. Work began in 1985 on this, the first hymnal of the newly united denomination. The result of the project was The Presbyterian Hymnal, the blue hymnal we have used for many years. 

On Rally Day, August 24th, we will first use the new hymnal of our denomination, Glory to God. Here is a brief history of the process:

Presbyterian Committee on Congregational Song (PCOCS)
• Examined tunes' singability, theological questions were raised and debated, and textual clarity was emphasized.
• There were 10,000 submissions for inclusion; PCOCS met for 3 years (not continuously...)
• All submissions were discussed by the committee
• All author of text and composer information was hidden to encourage honest dialogue
• 2/3 majority vote was required to move a song forward in the process
• Hymns and songs were examined by task forces before coming to the full committee
• PCOCS spent their final meeting examining and singing through the complete contents in proposed order.

The Committee's Procedure
• Following denominational practice, the PCOCS used "inclusive language with reference to the people of God, and expansive language with reference to God."
• Some pronouns referring to people were updated from "men" to more common words such as "people" or "folk."
• In some cases, original language was restored; for example, the final verse of Be thou My Vision summoning the "High King of Heaven" is included.
• An effort was made to include hymns from the global church: Korean, Mandarin Chinese, Arabic, Hebrew, Spanish, Latin, French, Sotho, and Swahili are included.

The Process
• Organized according to the history of salvation, beginning with creation and finishing with the Church's hope for the Lord's return.
• Holy, Holy, Holy! Lord, God Almighty is the first hymn.
• The Psalms are not in a separate section like the current hymnal; they are dispersed throughout the hymnal in topical sections.
• There are 30 pages of liturgy in the front of the book. The orders follow traditional Reformed worship practices.
• Making triumphant returns to this hymnal are Rock of Ages, Cleft for Me and Judge Eternal, Throned in Splendor from the 1955 Hymnbook.
• Notable new selections include Lamb of God by Twila Paris in the contemporary praise and worship canon--sung as a favorite anthem by our choir for many services.
• 21 pieces from the Taize community are included.

Our New Hymnal…
• Features more than 850 songs; the current hymnal has 600.
• Thanks to innovations in printing techniques, paper and ink, the new book will be about the same size and weight as the 1990 hymnal.
• Arranged with services of worship coming first, followed by the hymns.
• Hymns are grouped by categories; here are the categories and the first hymn in each section:

The Triune God 
Holy, Holy, Holy

Creation and Providence 
Immortal, Invisible

God’s Covenant with Israel 
The God of Abraham Praise

Gift of the Holy Spirit 
Come, Holy Ghost, Our Souls Inspire

The Church 
Go to the World!

The Life of the Nations 
From All That Dwell Below the Skies

A New Heaven & A New Earth 
This is my Father’s World

All People That on Earth Do Dwell

Come, Ye Sinners, Poor and Needy

There’s a Wideness in God’s Mercy

The Word 
Be Thou My Vision

Our Father, Which Art in Heaven

Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing

Lord’s Supper 
Jesus, Thou Joy of Loving Hearts

We Will Go Out with Joy

Service Music 
Lord, Have Mercy

Praising the Triune God 
O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing

Now Thank We All Our God

Celebrating Time 
Christ, Whose Glory Fills the Skies

Dedication and Stewardship 
Spirit of God, Descend upon My Heart 

Discipleship and Mission 
Take Up Your Cross, the Savior Said

Justice and Reconciliation 
Come! Live in the Light!

Lament and Longing for Healing 
As Pants the Deer for Living Streams

Living and Dying in Christ 
I Want Jesus to Walk with Me

Trusting in the Promises of God 
In Silence My Soul Thirsts

This new hymnal brings together many musical traditions and eras successfully, with the goal of imparting the salvation history of the Christian faith, and with inclusive language when it comes to talking about people -- and with appropriate theological language when it comes to talking about God and Jesus and the Holy Spirit. It affirms the use of Father, Son and Holy Spirit in appropriate context, along with other images used in the Bible: mother hen and female prophet for example.

In conclusion, and after a thorough examination, Glory to God seems to have hit all the right notes (pun intended).

I look forward to many years of lively and uplifting singing together.


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