Thursday, March 17, 2005

Hymnals & Pew Bibles, Part 3

Well, hopefully I didn't scare you away with the length and oddity of the Absolue PowerPoint post yesterday. Very few of you commented on the content and original thinking of the article. What's up with that?

Let's switch over to the hymnal side of the question and deal with this one. . .

Should we not purchase new hymnals since we project slides of 99% of all lyrics we sing together?

I have appreciated your comments. Pastor Al and I have had long discussions over this one. We both grieve the declining numbers of folks culture-wide and at Grace Church, SLO who know how to read music and properly use a hymnal. (I grieve my own lack of training, experience and knowledge in this area of music. No lessons growing up. I don't know how to read music.) We don't see a reversal of this trend on the horizon.

I am passionate about teaching folks to use their Bibles as an expression of our vision and mission. I am not as passionate about teaching people to use a hymnal. Maybe I should be, but I am not. There are places where we should buck the trends and put a stake in the ground. I don't believe this is one of them. I believe that teaching people to read music is a great ambition, but beyond the scope of our vision and mission as a church. Others are free to disagree.

That's not to say I don't value the singing of hymns and the historical music of the church. The very opposite is true. I believe we should be singing the best of the new and the best of the historical music. Not either/or, but both/and. Susie and I want our children to know and appreciate hymns, so we teach hymns to them in our home. And along the way they learn doctrine, because hymns are so rich and full of great stuff about who God is and what He has done. I am not worried about them learning the new music of the church, because most of it is so simple and easy to sing that they can pick it the first time through. (Incidentally, my kids are also learning to read music and play musical instruments.)

So, if we're committed to singing hymns and holding on to this rich heritage and connection to the "communion of the saints" throughout history, must we do it with a hymnal? Not in my thinking up to this point. I remain open to both Biblical and rationale arguments, but unconvinced.

We are instructed to study God's Word individually and together, so we try to reinforce the actual use of the Bible in our services. (Turn in your Bibles to. . . .etc.) We are instructed to sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs, but I don't think that using a hymnal reinforces that priority in any way. A parallel argument does not apply.

In this case, I believe projection technology serves us well and we should use it. In this case, I think we must examine our traditions and why we are committed to them. In this case, we must ask ourselves why we are bound to the book.

Together and somewhat sadly, our staff (even Pastor Al) and Elders have determined that we will not purchase new hymnals. We will keep the ones we have, remove them from the pew racks, but have them available for those rare times when we want to use them. We will fill our racks with more pew Bibles.

I understand that this decision will not be popular with all, but we believe it is the wisest decision given all the factors involved. Your feedback is welcome and valued, as always.


Brian Wong said...

Sorry I didn't respond to the last post on Powerpoint. It was rather verbose to say the least. I personally didn't agree with the premise as I understood it. It seemed rather anti-Powerpoint to me. I'm more inclined to appreciate articles such as this
As for the hymnals, it wouldn't surprise me if a number of people were disappointed at the decision to not replace them. I'm rather ambivalent about the idea. I think the PPTs are doing a good job, but I do understand why some people really like them. Just my $0.02.

Anonymous said...

Rarely does "out with the old" make sense to a traditional church unless there is something "new" to replace it with. I think combining your direction of removing the hymnals and then using the pew space to place giveaway paperback bibles makes perfect sense.

Maybe the Gideons will provide some additional funding.


Helen V. said...

Ouch. I guess I will have to disagree with the decision to remove the hymnals from the pews. I have to say that I really like the combined music at Grace because I too think we should sing the best of both types of songs. (Al does a great job.) I even like the words projected on slides. However, I think by removing the hymnals from the pews you are basically taking the hymns out of the hands of the congregation. On many occasions while sitting in the pew before the service starts, I have enjoyed browsing through the hymnal. This opportunity won't be there for us in the future. (We have several hymnals at home, but many don't even own one.)

Susie and I want our children to know and appreciate hymns, so we teach hymns to them in our home. And along the way they learn doctrine, because hymns are so rich and full of great stuff about who God is and what He has done. I am not worried about them learning the new music of the church, because most of it is so simple and easy to sing that they can pick it the first time through.

We have also taught our children the great hymns at home. However, the way the trends are going, by the time your children are your age, the hymns will most likely be gone from the church. We are to sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs; psalm singing is gone from the church, hymns are on their way out. I am only saying all of this because I agree with you that the hymns are so rich and we need to try and preserve them for our children. Many of the new songs are great also, but you are correct in saying that they are simple and easy to pick up; I would have to add that it is because they are very repetitive. Many of them are self glorifying rather than glorifying God and His attributes.

I also think by replacing the hymnals with Bibles you are defeating your purpose to get people to bring their own Bibles and take notes in them. People will be less likely to bring their own because they will be so easily accessible. I think a better suggestion would be to keep both Bibles and hymnals in the pews and have a stack of paperback Bibles people can take home in the back of the church.

Anyway, I know this is long. I know the decision has already been made, but I thought I would still give my opinion. You are doing a great job and the worship services are very God honoring. Thanks!

Helen V. said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Chris Emlyn said...

I have written a short poem that represents my opininion--it's half serious, half tongue-in-cheek. But don't be offended, even if I disagree with your position on the hymnals I still think you are doing a great job Pastor Tim.

Ode to Hymns

The horizon began to darken,
and clouds, they filled the sky,
dogs started barkin'
and I began to cry.

"You're being ripped away from me!"
I lamented with loud voice,
"Why can't people see,
how much we can rejoice?

"Though your bindings are in tatters,
and dark spots stain your page,
though your smell is musty,
and you have surely aged,

"You've been with us for centuries,
here through thick and thin.
Praising God, renouncing sin,
as best a songbook can.

"Your words are full of wisdom,
your music sweet and rich.
Yet people say you're needless,
your music is 'excess'."

For a while I was silent,
and I sat there in my pew,
the hymnals all walked past me,
dear shades of red and blue.

They looked so sad and forlorn
as they walked out of the church.
Their little hearts were broken,
my stomach gave a lurch.

As the last walked on by,
he looked into my eyes.
He said "you must stop crying--
it will be all right.

"Many of our songs will still be sung,
in this most noble hall.
The words of wondrous hymns will be heard
from wall to solid wall."

He was just trying to cheer me,
his eyes were empty and dull,
his precious heart was shattered,
it was no longer whole.

The brave little book continued out,
the doors swung shut behind,
Alone, unsheltered from the storms
that raged in the cold outside.

"Your songs will still be sung here, yes,"
I said, though there was none to hear,
"But it will never be the same,
for you have no peer.

"Your music will be stripped away,
your words projected on a screen,
laid out stark and naked,
by an ugly old machine.

"None will know your ancient beauty,
your history they will forget.
The faith and love that made you,
the hope with which you were knit."

Back into the pew I now collapsed,
for fever racked my brow.
The emptiness overwhelmed me,
like a tidal wave on a small ship's bow.

I knew my life was fading,
I could but scarcely breathe.
With my last breath I cried out,
"Dear hymnals, please don't leave!"

Pastor Tim Theule said...

Chris, you definitely have some time on your hands and some rhymes in your head! I'm sorry that you see the removal of our hymnals as the death of hymns. I think I understand that fear. That's not our intention, nor is this a conspiracy to move our worship in some new direction. We will continue to do what we do at Grace!

Helen, I have tried to communicate our ongoing commitment to put the hymns in our heads and hearts, not take them out of the poeple's hands. (I believe you are one of the few who thumbs through the hymnal before services. The hymnals will be available at the back and avaialable for you if you want to continue your practice.) In my opinion, we do sing Psalms regularly, though perhaps not out of the Psalter hymnal. (My commitment to the Psalms as the prayer book of God's people is evident, I think.) And hymns are not on their way out at Grace Church, SLO. (you'll just have to trust us!)

Regarding the pew Bibles: Again, I have expressed my commitment to both provide Bibles for the many visitors who darken our door each weekend, but also to challenge people to own, bring and use their own Bibles. Not either/or, but both/and. I understand the challenge of doing both. Please watch and see how we do and let us know if you think its effective. See today's post for more thoughts.

I appreciate how you both made point of encouraging me as you shared your own viewpoints. We don't have it all figured out. We don't have all the answers, but we are trying to lead Biblcally and decisively, humbly yet boldly.

As I have stated, I am open to Biblical and rational arguments as to why we should keep hymnals in our pews, but to this point remain unconvinced. You both seem passionate and thoughtful about these matters, so let those arguments fly.

Thanks for the spirited dialogue and engagement! I believe disagreement is an important part of church life.

Blessings. . . Pastor Tim

tim weaver said...

Sorry so slow in response. Been gone for a few days.

In my best Howard Cosell voice, 'Truly an historic event. The once might hymnal has been ousted from the pew backs. The former glory, all but gone.' -- just having fun.

This does make my heart sink a bit, but I understand the direction that we are going and I'm with you. I like the idea of being able to give away Bibles. That is a great move. Luther's big push was to get the scriptures in the hands of the people and I think he was right on in that.

I think that it is interesting that we don't categorize the new stuff being written as hymns. I think on average, the stuff that has endured for the last hundred years or so has more depth on average than the newer stuff. I have been musing lately. Has this discussion been going on for centuries in the church? Is it always a discussion about the older versus the stuff that was written recently? Does the cream always rise to the top and the dregs get left behind? Or is this a different discussion because of a more radical change in musical style that accompanies it? Maybe these are questions for Al, but he isn't blogging yet, I don't think ;)

Just musing.

Keep up the good work. We are praying for you and continuing to ask God to direct Grace to be a place that glorifies Him more and more by being a place where the broken (saved and not) find the healing hands of Jesus.

Boy that got verbose and I tangented pretty badly, sorry.

Amy Kardel said...

Sorry to jump on this late. We were out of town, but while gone, saw a solution that really worked nicely for music in church! [BTW We went to Minneapolis for the first weekend away since our youngest son was born two years ago (who goes to Minne in March? Well, it was as close to our Scandinavian roots as you can get without a passport! has great deals on last minute stuff.) Plus the Weekend to Remember conference being there led us to choose it.]
So, while there on Palm Sunday, we went to hear John Piper preach downtown. Here's how they did two things that relate to the question of bibles and hymnals:
1. their book racks were under the pew in front of you (as Mom I thought this was a great idea - it keeps the little feet that don't touch the ground from swinging into the books) and if space for both hymnals and bibles is a problem could we not add more storage under the pews for hymnals?
2. They showed the lyrics on the screen even when they were also in the hymnal (they used very new looking The Worshipping Church hymnals). I really liked that - it allows people who are not note readers to look at the screen but allows us altos to find our part and enjoy the music more. Just because more people can't read music does not mean we should drop the hymnal, I believe. It is a chance to show leadership and encourage families to teach their kids that valuable skill. And give them a chance to practice it together!
I would add that music is key tool to reaching out to the heart of the seeking. It also appeals to many people who may not have ever held a bible but do know how to read music and find a link to church through that medium. Music is an outreach that is so unthreatening and appealing to an intellectual who may otherwise not be as open to the message. And 8 out of 10 intellectuals can still read music, according to a recent poll. [joke]
but less of them are saved. [not a joke - and I speak from personal experience here]
Our town has such great music tradition in upper grades and jr. through senior high and for adults, it is a shame that the public schools have no music for K-3 (parents speak up!) so we should help hold the line whenever possible by giving music a prominent place in as many forms as possible. It is a huge link to the greater community. I pray it touches hearts weekly.
One of the things I love about Grace is the great music, thanks Pastor Al!

Andy Gibson said...

Ok, I haven't been here for awhile, but will chime in.

Pastor Tim, you and the Elder's absolutely made the right decision. As part of the younger side of the congregation (24), I have never really used a hymnal (including the past 7 years at Grace). The words were always right there in front on some sort of projection. I understand the value of having a hardback hymnal available. Sounds to me like they are available, and will be available. Maybe it wouldn't hurt to keep 2 or so per pew. Either way, the money being labored over can be used for new bibles. Apparently that is a whole other can of worms.

Implementing technology within the church is a wonderful thing. The Lord has given us the ability to engineer and program projectors, computers, etc., and that should be utilized. I think Grace has done a great job with that. On the other had, two of my business partners (and friends!) take technology to even a higher level working with their startup Methodist ministry in Nipomo, Charis. Even the sermons are created in Powerpoint (the entire thing!).

Grace has done an excellent job catering to both the young and the old. Too much technology, and you lose touch with the traditionalists within the church. If all we did was read from hymns, I would leave, as I have to have my contemporary worship. Everybody is different, with differing opinions. And by the grace of God that Grace has been able to walk that line so successfully the last two years or so.