The Presbyterian Committee on Congregational Song (PCOCS) is not just producing a new hymn book. Our eighth committee gathering in Louisville, marking two full years of working together, made this increasingly clear. What we are creating instead will be, in unprecedented ways, a multi-format resource for congregational worship and song.
During our latest PCOCS meeting in late August/early September 2010, a session with marketing and editorial staff members from the Presbyterian Publishing Corporation focused as never before on new options for multiple formats for final “publication.” The committee reviewed an array of existing electronic formats with features like searchable indexes for easy location of appropriate hymns by keyword or scripture reference; MIDI files of melody lines so that those who do not read music can still hear what a new hymn sounds like; downloadable descants and obbligatos for congregations with the choral and instrumental resources to take advantage of such possibilities; slides for projection of text (or perhaps even of text and tune) for services that use screens instead of printed pages; and built-in permissions and usage-reporting mechanisms that make it easy for worship planners to reproduce and use new material without violating copyright law. We also dreamed about additional options, like links to streaming video to demonstrate performance practice, teaching (for example) a simple drumming pattern to accompany a song from the global church, or clarifying the pronunciation of foreign phrases, or demonstrating how a song is creatively used in worship in a particular local context. We dreamed about a PC(USA) worship website that might be regularly updated with freshly reviewed texts and tunes, so that even after publication of the 2013 resource, subscribers can stay current with new material rather than have to wait for another multi-year process to create another new hymnal or song supplement. Along with the dreaming, we talked about down-to-earth practicalities, such as ways to create pricing incentives that will make it possible for congregations with limited resources to purchase books, an online subscription, or both, to suit their particular needs.
In addition to talking about multiple formats for our new congregational resource, we also talked about multiple contents. Since beginning two years ago, when we renamed ourselves a committee on congregational song rather than a “hymnal committee,” we have been clear that our finished product will include not just traditional hymns (music whose message unfolds over a series of stanzas, printed underneath each other on the page and all sung to the same melody), but also songs of multiple genres, including praise choruses; beloved early twentieth-century Sunday school and Sunday night gospel songs; simple, repeated chants from Taizé or Iona; contemporary music with a verse, refrain, and bridge structure; and service music from the local and global churches (Alleluias, Glorias, Kyries, prayers). Our subcommittees on contemporary, global, and other forms of “new” (and “old”!) music continue to work hard at making their selections to send to the full committee for review and approval.
We have also been clear from day one—but we have said less about this fact—that our finished resource (book, website, or both) will contain elements of spoken as well as sung liturgy. David Gambrell, our committee representative from the Office of Theology and Worship, updated us on a recent and productive meeting with Harold Daniels, former editor of Book of Common Worship, to discuss, among other things, a rich set of proposed liturgical texts from Harold, David Batchelder, Arlo Duba, and Gláucia Vasconcelos Wilkey. The editorial board of the Presbyterian Publishing Corporation is still proposing a thirty-page scope for liturgical materials in the new resource, with a focus on Lord’s Day services. Kimberly Bracken Long, Assistant Professor of Worship at Columbia Theological Seminary, and Teresa Stricklen, Associate for Worship in the Office of Theology and Worship, are working closely with David Gambrell to create and edit these materials, which will be distributed to PCOCS test congregations for review following similar processes as those used to send trial packets of texts and tunes under consideration. Some of the materials will also be previewed at the North American Academy of Liturgy meeting in early January 2011.
Those who are interested in a fuller sneak peek at the new resource-in-progress should plan to attend the Big Tent this summer in Indianapolis, June 30 through July 2, 2011. For that occasion, a sampler of the next hymnal-and-more will be unveiled . . . and there will be lots of Big Singing and Big Worshiping together!
Mary Louise Bringle, chair
Presbyterian Committee on Congregational Song