The United Methodist Hymnal is now the musical equivalent of the Encyclopedia Britannica. In the age of Wikipedia where grassroots unorganized labor can come up with an entire encyclopedia, it is little wonder that the Hymnal Revision Committee, a top-down structure that nonetheless faithfully solicited feedback, has become a victim of the economy and the new Hymnal shuttered.
And yet there is still HUGE potential…a Facebook group with 1700 members? Thousands of churches and music ministries? A UM committee that actually understands how to use a mailing list [Ruach]? How can we not let this opportunity fall by the wayside?
A loosely knit group that organized now could form the nucleus of a people-powered hymnal that could make this work for possibly pennies on the dollar and every ounce of passion that the committee could do. The creative energy and vigorous debate in this area needs channeling now that the Committee’s primary focus (a new hymnal “book”) is on hold and its staff presumably whisked away to alternative projects.
How do we move forward? Summarizing the alternative avenues before us, which of these would be most helpful to the Hymnal Revision Committee and its input not thrown to the wayside? How can the UMC equip and empower people who want to see this project through?
In the same way that Wikipedia is not just people inserting facts but includes editors, catalogers, and spell-checkers…I see at least three areas of opportunity that groups of people who are so impassioned could contribute to a new hymnal if their work was honored by the United Methodist Church:
1. Identification and diverse selection of hymns
Selecting hymns that are faithful witnesses to Christ in general, and the United Methodist tradition in particular. We did a survey of favorite and least favorite hymns. There’s tons of conversation in this group about particular hymns and their inclusion/exclusion. Bring out the nets and the scalpel and choose or reject hymns.
IDEAS: Why not have a loose-knit groups of people give temporary blessing to set lists of hymns and see what people think? People can come up with their own mix lists like the “the golden oldies” list or “the African Spirituals” list or narrative lists that try to tell a story from one hymn to another. The most used hymns in all lists can be easily identified and given weight in final inclusion, if there needs to be a “final inclusion.” Give them a prize week to week to spur participation.
2. Appropriation and inclusive adaptation of hymns
By posting the full-text of hymns online or in contained digital groups, people could try out alternative language in established hymns. People and professionals could then see what happens when we replace “Lord” with “Love” and sing it themselves. Some hymns could be unchanged, of course.
IDEAS: Post the full-text of hymns, allow them to be set to music after the words are changed (simple for computer programs, just match background image of notes with text), and let people try them out. Evaluation can be done by either voting or simply giving feedback to the final powers-that-be.
3. Alternative distribution channels for a hymnal
Online, powerpoint, mediashout, the Amazon Kindle, smoke signals…why should we choose which one when people may be willing to digitally “translate” hymns into the various programs? Let them do it and equip them to do it. If the UMPH still wants to make money off of this, then make a subscription that every church could purchase to obtain access to all the versions (not unlike Cokesbury’s digital Book of Discipline). Heck, people could make money or a percentage of their contributions’ downloads.
IDEAS: this group could be in charge of “translation” of selected and adapted hymns [from groups (1) and (2)] into various media programs, guitar tabs, or simply formatted to print off in a bulletin. Give them a financial incentive, if need be.
I haven’t been involved with this conversation yet, but now that a paper hymnal is on hold and the entire project in danger, I’m more enthused to participate and see a people-powered hymnal take off.
A truly people-powered hymnal is…
- RELEVANT to this generation
- It honors the GIFTS of our varied music professionals and lovers
- It build a BUZZ far beyond this already successful group.
The creative possibilities are endless if the infrastructure will just LET.IT.HAPPEN.
So, this is a call to conversation about what possibilities are there for a people-powered hymnal. Thoughts? PLEASE don’t nitpick the particulars…is the IDEA worth it or viable?
Discuss. And join the facebook conversation in the Hymnal Revision Group.