One in mission | Linda Valentine
A gift for generations
This time next year, Presbyterians will celebrate the season with a new hymnal.
We will tell to the coming generation the glorious deeds of the Lord, and his might, and the wonders that he has done. (Psalm 78:4b)
From the genealogy of Jesus that opens Matthew’s Gospel to Mary’s song of praise in Luke to the lineage and traditions of our own families, the Christmas season reminds us to share the good news of Christ’s birth and saving love from generation to generation.
At Christmas, we have the opportunity to hand down such treasures as our churches’ well-worn pageant costumes—stitched and sewn, perhaps, by our own mothers or grandmothers. We are charged to pass on to the next generation the stories of Emmanuel, God with us—and what better way to do this than by teaching those in the next generation the beloved carols of our faith?
Although this past year in the life of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) will be remembered for many significant works of mission and mercy in Christ’s name, a particular once-in-a-generation gift stands out for me in this season of hope and expectation. A project that has been more than six years in its conception, Glory to God—our new Presbyterian hymnal—will see its birth in congregations everywhere at this time next year, and it is sure to inspire and inform generations to come.
A tool for teaching the Bible
When the 217th General Assembly (2006) authorized the Presbyterian Publishing Corporation (PPC) to research, develop and produce a new hymnal, the agency called together the Presbyterian Committee on Congregational Song. They assembled a rich array of hymns along with worship resources that include a complete Service for the Lord’s Day and three services of daily prayer, as well as historical creeds and prayers.
“The committee offers their work in glory to God and with hope that it will be a resource to unify the church’s heart, mind and voice through the ages to come,” says Meg Flannagan, hymnal advocacy and relations coordinator for the PPC.
A new hymnal is important not only for its songs’ musicality and “sing-ability” but also for teaching through hymns. Mary Louise “Mel” Bringle, a celebrated hymn writer, professor and ruling elder who served as the committee’s chair, wrote a message earlier this year entitled Studying the Bible through Hymns. “Hymns are, indeed, an important tool for teaching Bible stories,” she wrote in ThePresbyterianLeader.com, an online resource center. “The most obvious examples of this appear in Christmas carols, which unfold for us, act by act, the great drama of Jesus’ birth. . . . How many unchurched people in our culture can still recount the birth story because of the carols they have heard as a constant backdrop to Christmas season?”
Perhaps because so many of our old favorites could not easily be omitted, only a few new hymns were added to the Christmas section of the new hymnal. One of the new Christmas treasures is John Bell’s “Who Would Think That What Was Needed.” Its third stanza is a fitting seasonal reflection for our denomination and world:
Centuries of skill and science span the past from which we move,
Yet experience questions whether, with such progress, we improve.
While the human lot we ponder, lest our hopes and humour fray,
God surprises earth with heaven, coming here on Christmas Day.
I hope that you will continue to read Presbyterians Today in the New Year, when a series of articles about hymns in Glory to God will debut in the January/February issue. And next Advent, I pray that you will join me in journeying to the manger with our new hymnal in hand.
LEARN MORE about the new Presbyterian hymnal, Glory to God, visit the website.