Maybe this means the powers that be are listening!

As I posted earlier, the news that the work on a new United Methodist Hymnal has been postponed generated many ideas about what might spring up in the meantime, including a couple of great discussions over on the facebook group for the new hymnal.

This morning, Dean McIntyre from the General Board of Discipleship emailed that group and asked us (all 1800 of us!) what our ideas are. I hope this means they’re willing to take some of ours into account! Here’s my response to his question:

Dean, I am so glad you asked!

A member of this group named Steve has a great post about what he dreams the hymnal might be here: Likewise, Jeremy has another thread about how we might proceed here:

Combining these two, I want to strongly suggest that the hymnal go super-digital. Using open source technology like Wikipedia does, you could have Methodists from all around the world suggest new songs for review, post alternative lyrics to classic tunes (or gender and ethnically sensitive lyrics for classic hymns), submit alternate psalter settings or uses, and write prayers for inclusion in an online-only hymnal supplement, and so much more! Imagine a truly global hymnal for a truly global church! People could tag hymns with keywords for faster indexing (still no index for The Faith We Sing, which is a huge hindrance, and whatever mind put together the 89 Hymnal didn’t use the keywords I want– where do I find hymns about ‘inclusiveness,’ or ‘diversity,’ or ‘mother’s day’ or ‘Native American heritage’ or a slew of other ideas? If I could add keywords or tags, and so could everyone else, suddenly we’d have many more ideas about which hymns might best fit the Word of the day.

As we build an online coalition of ideas and resources, available as it becomes ready, perhaps for an annual or one-time access key fee but produced at very minimal cost, this material could be culled, refined, and gathered for use in a printed hymnal in the future. Churches like mine would purchase probably half as many hardbound hymnals no matter what’s available online (we have probably 200 UMHs but found we only needed 60 FWSs since we use the projector screen now), but would regularly access the digital online hymnal for lyrics to paste into PowerPoint, prayer ideas, to listen to alternate tunes, and to search the ever-expanding index and find a beloved song that fits perfectly with the message that the worship team is trying to communicate through the service. At the same time, nothing would prevent a church from remaining with the hard-bound hymnal, and using the new paper hymnal when it comes out, never needing to spend the extra for the online resources if they weren’t planning on using them. I think you’ll find that even though the median age of this facebook group and other online United Methodist communities is relatively young (compared to, say, the median age of United Methodists in the U.S.), many if not all of us are still very sensitive to the needs of older print-based generations to keep the hymns, tunes, and media formats (i.e. books) that move and shape them in their faith. So while I personally cringe at “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” I would by no means recommend striking it from the Hymnal– although I hear there are some lovely alternative lyrics out there that might interest me.

And ditch the hymnal on cdrom. That Folio view format used for the UMH&FWS, as well as for the NIB is just horrendous and unhelpful. Again, better to have it online and ask for an access fee. Then glitches and typos (o so many typos in the FWS!) can be fixed quickly, and the user interface can be improved in terms of searchability, bookmarking, and so on. All of this for the cost of a couple of web developers and some moderators (many of whom might be hanging around this group just waiting for an opportunity to moderate a conversation about sacred music).

While the print version of the hymnal may be becoming less cost-effective and less frequently used in worship, United Methodists are still people who sing in large part so that we can express and grow in our faith. Sacred music is alive and well–hymnody is alive and well–and you have literally thousands (almost 1800 right on this group) of people who are willing to help and share their creative ideas about how best to do that in an ever-changing context. The Gospel the Wesley brothers brought to bar music, I’m betting we can bring to the web database, the iPod, and the mp3 archive.

Blessings to you and your colleagues in this important work, and thank you again for asking. We hope you’re listening to our ideas here. It gives me tremendous hope and excitement about our church and its musical gifts to the world.

Becca Clark
pastor, Troy Annual Conference
Trinity UMC, Montpelier & Grace UMC, Plainfield VT

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