Methodists/United Methodist Hymnal
QUESTION: Reverend Neal: thanks for taking the time for my question. I know the review process for a new United Methodist Hymnal was halted, but am curious as to if they plan to renew their efforts anytime in the near future. One minister i spoke with said he feels that we will never create a new hymnal, but continue creating supplements like The Faith We Sing. Do you have any insight as to if / when we might get a new hymnal? Other denominations seem to update their quite regularly.
ANSWER: As far as I know there are no plans to produce a new Hymnal for the UMC. Firstly, from what I understand there's general agreement that the 1988 Hymnal is very good as far as traditional Hymnals go, and that even though it is nearly 25 years old it has, nevertheless, stood the test of time in terms of hymn choices and liturgical guides. I would tend to agree, as far as traditional worship liturgy and hymnody goes. Personally, I think that the Publishing House should produce an edition of the Hymnal with the Faith We Sing included. The hymns are numbered in such a way as to make that possible.
Secondly, it appears to be easy for the church to produce Hymnal Supplements, like "The Faith We Sing" Hymnal, on a more frequent basis and requiring less of a major financial outlay on the part of already hurting congregations. And, indeed, I think that's one of the major points of concern when it comes to a new Hymnal -- the cost that it would entail for congregations to buy them. Granted, most churches are having to look into purchasing new Hymnals now that the 1988 Hymnal is coming up on its 25th birthday, but it should be easier and more affordable for a congregation to just replace worn out volumes rather than having to completely replace the entire supply.
Thirdly, I believe that there is great pressure from among the "Contemporary Worship" gurus and aficionados to push the Church away from traditional hymnody and hymnals, especially, and to projected praise songs, etc. and more "hip" music.
Hymnals are strange things. They have a limited target audience, hence they cost more than your normal book, yet they have to hold up to some pretty serious abuse over a couple or more decades, hence they really need to be made to last ... which drives up the cost even more. Producing a Hymnal is a BIG undertaking, and given the diverse opinions on what constitutes worship and proper hymnody, I seriously doubt the UMC will produce a completely new hymnal anytime soon. At least the 1988 Hymnal is generally accepted as a superior hymnal, as far as hymnals go. The Episcopal Church continues to struggle along with their 1982 Hymnal ... which is horrible, as far as hymnals go (specifically, it's not designed for easy use).
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QUESTION: Thanks for the timely & great response! You precisely addressed the root of my question. As music director of a small UMC, I would like to replace about 1/2 of the hymnals because they are beginning to look quite used, but I didn't want to spend the money to do so if I would be purchasing all new hymnals in say 4 years or so. I agree that the United Methodist Hymnal is a great resource and still very relevant to worship. I pray that "Contemporary Worship" gurus are unsuccessful in their attempt to push the UMC away from traditional hymnody.
You're welcome. A new Hymnal would require a mandate from the General Conference for research and production. No such mandate was received in 2012, hence the very earliest that a new UM Hymnal could ever be produced would be sometime after General Conference in 2020 (assuming that a new Hymnal was mandated by the 2016 General Conference, prepared over the subsequent quadrennium, then presented for approval by the 2020 General Conference). I don't think that's going to happen.
So, in my opinion you're on safe ground if you were to buy some replacement hymnals for those which have worn out. They'll get at least 8 or more years of good use before there's even a remote chance of you're needing to replace them with a brand new UM Hymnal.