Redefining the term “hymnal”

WLMag Jan-Feb 2013

Quite a thought-provoking opening paragraph (and rest of article) from WLMag’s Feb issue:

“Worship leaders are hymnal editors. Whoever chooses the people’s song for their congregation is not only a hymnal editor but also is a primary shaper of the way their congregation understands and expresses faith.” – C Michael Lawn

The author never gives a straight definition of the term, but in the way he describes it, he seems to view a hymnal as simply a shared collection of songs of faith, and not necessarily in book form:

Each song is in its initial form a personal testimony of how the composer views God at work in her/his life and in the world. While every testimony may be a valid witness of God’s grace, not every sung testimony should become the church’s song. Editors, pastors, and worship leaders are part of the process of deciding whose individual witness might become part of the common sung faith of the church. A hymnal–whether in print or in an electronic form–is a record of the witness of the Church throughout the ages–past, present, and even the future.

While I tend to think of it as a book, a Christian’s collection of songs today could reside in numerous places – in a music folder, on their iTunes/Spotify playlist, Youtube favourites, and so on. The challenge here is that because the songs that inform my faith are scattered across these sources, it’s now more difficult to share a collection with others (where in the past you could just hand a hymnbook over to someone).

Hymnals in whatever form they appear (printed, projected, digital) are usually carefully considered efforts by a denomination or publisher to bear witness to our faith throughout the ages, express our faith within the world we live, and sing ourselves into the church we may become. To this end, most of us do not have the skills to do this alone. We risk singing only what is familiar, easily learned, or comes up first on a Google search.

In fairness, we could also just call what he terms a hymnal a music library. Though I agree with his six-step challenge to consider purposely curating a collection of worship music for one’s church.

You can read the full article here.