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A new hymnal project

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Technology and tradition

We love hymns. You can read more about that hereWhen we meet together as a church family, we sing hymns – lots of them. Some are old, some are new, but all are filled with truths about the glory of God in the gospel of Jesus Christ. And because we feel the urgency of corporate worship and the brevity of our time here on earth, we’re careful to avoid lyrics that are superficial.

Our church has sung from projection for more than a decade. The benefits of projection are obvious: people’s heads are up, the words are clear and readable, the medium is flexible, and the message of the lyrics is emphasized. It’s for all these reasons that we’re going to continue to use projection as a valuable tool in the corporate praise of the church.

But what projection lacks is any sense of permanence. Of course it’s true that every generation produces music that won’t last. That’s not something we should lament, nor avoid at all costs. Songs that come and go are a reminder that, while culture and creative expressions are perpetually changing, Christ’s plans for His church will never fade away. And yet the church should seek out, as much as possible, those musical expressions of adoration and doctrine that are enduring. When we mingle new songs with ancient ones, we’re recognizing that our local church is just a small notch in the history of God’s people. We acknowledge that every saint of old who penned these lofty texts was someone “with a nature like ours” (James 5:17), prone to weakness and needing to be strengthened in their faith. There’s no substitute for hymn lyrics that have worn well, like these from a paraphrase of Psalm 23 by Henry Baker:

Perverse and foolish, oft I strayed,
but yet in love he sought me;
and on his shoulder gently laid,
and home, rejoicing, brought me!

Although projection is a helpful vehicle for prompting song lyrics in real-time, it’s fleeting. The words flash on the screen, and then they’re gone. Projection alone can’t aid in the process of settling these texts deep into our hearts, letting them take root until they become a familiar language of daily worship. The spread of recorded music has helped immensely, of course, and its expansion into the digital age has made it easier than ever for us to commit songs to heart through repeated listening.

But print media is also a valuable tool. When e-books first enjoyed their meteoric ascent, the internet prophets predicted that printed books would diminish to a niche market. And yet, five years later, e-book sales have come to a grinding halt… while print sales are once again on the rise. It’s a reminder that, while technology is constantly changing and passing on, some things are built to last. And it’s precisely this feeling of permanence that a hymnal captures so well. It allows you to hold in your hand a collection of several hundred songs, spanning centuries, that give voice to our deepest beliefs and feelings: who God is, what He has done through Christ, and how we respond to Him in faith and obedience. As a devotional supplement, a solid hymnal is second to none.

A labor of love

A hymnal is a massive undertaking. Even though a local church can avoid the encumbrances of committees and marketing groups in such a project, the investment of time and resources is real. But that’s precisely what this is: an investment. The expected return is that these songs our church sings and loves will be more deeply written on the hearts of our people – and passed down to the next generation. For those young children growing up in our church, “In Christ Alone” will be to them what “The Old Rugged Cross” was to their grandparents. But this can only happen if our churches make it happen. We’re surrounded by a culture in which everything is meant to be consumed and disposed of. It’s profoundly counter-cultural to cherish things that are meant to be preserved and handed down.

Project details

Grace Immanuel Bible Church is looking forward to printing our own hymnal. Our current song count stands at 240, although that number may increase slightly. We’re in the typesetting and editing phase right now, and we’re planning to have the hymnals printed by Easter of 2016. The hymnal will include old songs and new by authors such as Isaac Watts, Martin Luther, Charles Wesley, John Newton, Keith Getty, Stuart Townend, and Bob Kauflin. The hymnals themselves will be professionally printed and bound – they’ll feel just like any other hymnal, and they’ll be built to last.

This project is meant to be a hymnal for our church family, not one that’s intended to be marketable to a wide audience. But we’re securing the necessary permissions and printing enough copies that we’ll be able to make a limited quantity available to individuals and churches at cost. If you’d like to be notified about the progress of the hymnal project, you can subscribe to Grace Music on the sidebar. Just make sure to check the box labeled “News and Updates,” and enter your email address.

Digital resources

Everything on Grace Music is free. You can read more about that here. So while we’re charging a minimal price to recoup the costs of printing and copyrights, we’ll be making all the resources free in digital form. Many of the copyrighted songs can’t be distributed online, of course. But we’ll make available everything that’s public domain, as well as many songs which the authors have graciously given us permission to distribute. You’ll also be able to have access to information about every part of the process, including the Finale files, the typesetting guidelines, and information on the procedures for printing and copyright permissions. We hope to see other churches compile and print their own hymnals that reflect the songs their church family sings and loves. If hymnals are really meant to be tools for the edification of the local church, they should be as freely accessible as possible.

It’s our desire in this hymnal project that the church of Christ would be built up, sound doctrine would be proclaimed through hymns, and God would be glorified!