The joint songbook project of the OPC and the URCNA is nearing completion. December 31, 2015, marked the deadline for churches to submit feedback regarding the proposed hymn collection, which had been posted online for review since May of 2015.
Rev. Derrick J. Vander Meulen, Chairman of the URCNA’s Psalter Hymnal Committee, explained that the Committee received several responses from both OPC and URC churches and individuals. “Some were purely editorial matters that we, of course, appreciate and concur. Others dealt with musical issues like changing the key signature or using a different arrangement. Most of these we referred to our music editor, Mrs. Lou Ann Shafer, for evaluation and implementation. Mrs. Shafer is a trained musician and member of the OPC Psalter Hymnal Committee.”
He added, “Many of the responses included recommendations to add hymns, to remove hymns, or to change hymns. We have evaluated all these suggestions and have, in fact, made 43 changes to our original proposal, including adding five songs and removing 11.” He noted these changes would appear on the website soon in order to allow delegates adequate time for review prior to Synod Wyoming 2016.
In order to obtain copyright permissions (a process that can take 6-12 months), the project required a legal name. When the name Trinity Psalter Hymnal was proposed, no one on either the URCNA committee or the OPC committee objected.
“We all agreed that this was the ideal choice,” Rev. Vander Meulen said. “Because of the profound ecumenical and historical significance of the Trinity Psalter Hymnal, we proposed a combined meeting with the OPC. We thought it would be a wonderful event and marvelous testimony to have URC and OPC office-bearers and members join in prayer, discuss such matters as we have in common, and sing side-by-side from our shared songbook.”
The initial hope was for the joint ecclesiastical meeting to take place in the summer of 2016, but the OPC had already made arrangements for this year. Every five years, the OPC’s GA is held at Sandy Cove Christian Conference Center in Maryland, and 2016 marks the denomination’s 80th anniversary.
“But if the Lord wills, we will meet together in 2018,” Rev. Vander Meulen says. He explains that both bodies, the URCNA Synod and the OPC GA will vote this year regarding the hymn collection. “Since the psalm collection has already been approved, approving the hymns will allow us to pursue all remaining copyright permissions, finish creating indices, complete the layout, and finally go to publication. With God’s blessing, we hope to have a published Trinity Psalter Hymnal by the fall of 2017.”
Delegates to Synod Wyoming 2016 will also consider a related recommendation from the Liturgical Forms Committee. That Committee seeks to publish URCNA-specific liturgical forms separately, a move the Psalter Hymnal Committee approves. Publishing these forms separately will allow both federations to use an identical songbook, which would contain Reformed creeds and confessions.
“Our desire for the Trinity Psalter Hymnal is that we publish one book that includes the ecumenical creeds, the Three Forms of Unity and the Westminster Standards in the back,” Rev. Vander Meulen explains.
Although finances factor into the decision (publishing an edition specific to the URCNA would increase production and distribution expenses), the primary reason the Committee favors one songbook for both federations is its ecumenical impact.
“We believe a single edition that includes these doctrinal standards bears witness that we are unified as sister federations,” he states. “It may also have the added benefit of appealing to the broader Reformed community. Such a tangible expression of our unity that would appeal to even other Reformed denominations, churches, or individuals would be honoring to our Lord.”
The above article by Glenda Mathes is a slightly edited version of the one that appeared on page 10 of the February 24, 2016, issue of Christian Renewal.