Press Release of the Combined Meeting of the United Reformed Psalter Hymnal Committee and the Canadian Reformed Book of Praise Committee

This meeting was the fourth combined meeting of the two committees. Previous meetings were held in London Ontario, Ancaster Ontario and Jenison Michigan, the role of host alternating between the committees.

Rev. G. Ph. Van Popta, convener of the Book of Praise committee, led us in opening devotions. The participants reintroduced themselves, and Rev. Allen Vander Pol was introduced as a newly appointed member of the URCNA committee, attending for the first time. The meeting schedule was established and the proposed agenda was adopted. The previous combined meeting’s minutes were accepted as an accurate reflection of that meeting. It was noted that Dr. Peter Wallace, pastor of the OPC at South Bend, Indiana, was present as an observer. Dr. Wallace is involved in preparing a Scriptural Psalter as mandated by his Session.

Each committee had an opportunity to report on their respective progress.

The URCNA committee’s mandate was changed by Synod Calgary (at the committee’s request) in that the ‘non musical’ section of the Song Book was assigned to a separate committee. In the past year, work was done in evaluating a number of Psalters and Hymnals in use by Reformed and Presbyterian churches in England, Scotland, Ireland and North America. A number of Hymns, from various sources, were tentatively selected for potential inclusion in the new SongBook. The Principles and Guidelines, as adopted by Synod Calgary, were used in the selection process. Although good progress has been made, this work will continue.

The Canadian Reformed (CanRC) committee reports that Synod Neerlandia gave this committee the mandate to expand the current hymnary of the Book of Praise as well as to work together with the URCNA Psalter-Hymnal committee to work towards a common Song Book. It has been a challenge to work through these two mandates. The committee has been busy considering and provisionally selecting hymns using the Principles and Guidelines, as adopted by Synod Chatham. The hymns selected are available for potential inclusion in the new Song Book. Much thought has been given on an index for the Song Book. Often we need to deal with copyright issues as we receive many requests for permission to reprint songs or prose sections. In the past year a central archive was established at the Theological College in Hamilton. It is a challenge to make such an archive complete after some 50 years of existence of the committee.

To date, all joint efforts between our committees have been on the hymnary part of the new Song Book. At this meeting, time was devoted to a discussion on inclusion of the 150 Genevan Psalms. A frank discussion was held about a number of issues ranging from complete unfamiliarity of many URCNA brothers and sisters with the Genevan tunes, coupled with the apparent difficulty of a number of the tunes, having only the melody line (not harmony) as well as the physical size of the new SongBook when potentially two versions of each Psalm, Hymns, Confessions and liturgical forms are to be included.

After the discussion, the committees did agree that it will be helpful if the URCNA committee clearly outlines their views, thoughts and concerns about including the 150 Genevan Psalms, and the CanRC committee outlines the motivation of the Canadian Reformed Churches for maintaining all 150 Genevan Psalms. These documents will be of immense benefit in gaining greater appreciation of each other’s views and will be of great benefit in preparing reports to our respective Synods.

Reports of studies by the two committees were presented:

1. A list of Reformed Psalters and Hymnals and information about the Songbooks that are in use by different churches. (URCNA report)

2. Possibility of adding harmony and /or meter (adding bar lines) to the Genevan Melodies. Conclusion was that adding harmony is possible, and we resolved to recommend that harmonies for these melodies be included in the new Song Book; however, adding bar lines is not recommended as this would require frequent alternation between 4/4 and 6/4 time and would make for a untidy presentation. (CanRC report)

3. Evaluation of the 65 Hymns of the Book of Praise. Great appreciation was expressed for the faithfulness of the text. A number of hymns are very long; many of the hymns originate from the 17th century; other hymns appear to have a mismatch between the words and the music, for example: a song of praise set to music in a ‘minor’ key. (URCNA report)

4. The structure in which to organize the hymnary of the Song Book. As a starting point, it was suggested to have a Trinitarian structure, much along the lines of the Apostles Creed with additions for special occasions such as Holy Baptism, The Lord’s Supper, Marriage and Ordination. (CanRC report)

We agreed that this would form a good starting point and would be a good guide as to where to place the potential hymns, and would be an aid to compile a ‘balanced’ hymnary. A number of indices, such as a confessional index (keyed on the Three Forms of Unity), a textual index and a topical index would be helpful for the end users.

The URCNA committee reported on the progress of evaluating the hymns of the “Blue Psalter Hymnal”. Approximately 100 potential hymns passed the initial scrutiny of the URCNA committee using the accepted Principles and Guidelines.

More work is required in that some of these were done before these Guidelines were in place.

There was a mutual understanding that the functioning as a joint committee would be greatly enhanced by meeting more than once a year. Therefore, we agreed to meet again in the fall of 2005, the URCNA committee acting as host. In this context, the decision was made that all the potential hymns, as selected by each committee to date, will be collected and duplicated for each committee member. It is expected that this will enhance the possibility to present a concept hymnary for the common Song Book to our next respective Synods. The Book of Praise committee realizes that the good progress being made on the mandate for a common SongBook may well render the mandate to produce a new Book of Praise redundant.

This meeting was a very productive one and showed a unity of purpose. Much ground was covered and a lot was accomplished including a better appreciation of each other. It was acknowledged and understood by all that we are working on a common goal, a common book of worship, that will benefit the unity that the Lord demands of His believers. With that in mind, we adjourned.

On behalf of the joint committee,

C.J. Nobels