What will the hymnals of the future look like -- if they exist at all? Some people say that the whole idea of a printed hymnbook is out of date and others insist that there will always be a place for them in worship.
Maybe we can have it both ways. There is a proposal that will come before this summer's General Conference of the United Methodist Church which shows a way forward that can accommodate both sides.
If you're interested at all in the future of congregational singing you should read about the proposal at this link.
If the proposal passes the Methodists will produce a collection replacing their current hymnal that will be available as a printed book and also in electronic form so that it can be projected on screens or downloaded in other formats. Why choose just one way?
There will be a core group of hymns and songs beyond which individual congregations can customize their collections, adding additional material that they will use and avoiding things that they are unlikely to sing (until the pastor or the music director changes, and then they can presumably make other adjustments). The denomination will be better able to encourage the use of a wide range of texts while ensuring that the texts reflect their own theology and the tunes used are appropriate for congregational singing (one of their core values in worship). You can read more about that sort of evaluation process in this recent article, which weighs the top one hundred songs used by Christian Copyright Licensing International (CCLI) subscribers against Methodist and Wesleyan theology. It's fascinating to see how detailed some of their recommendations and objections can be. I would really like to see other denominations sharing similar work around the intersection of what they believe and what they sing.
Most interestingly, there will be a standing committee that will work beyond the initial collection, evaluating both the evolving needs of the church and new material that will be published in years to come, and adding these new songs and hymns as appropriate. Even if a congregation buys the printed books, they will be able to supplement their repertory in the future by downloading the new hymns they want to sing and perhaps printing them in the service leaflet.
Yes, there will probably come a time when it's all electronic and we'll only use smartphones or virtual reality glasses or memory chip implants to access our congregational song, but we're not there yet!
Thanks to Brian Hehn, Director of the Center for Congregational Song at the Hymn Society in the United States and Canada for posting the article on the Methodist proposal on Facebook.
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