Next year there’s a synod scheduled for the Canadian Reformed Churches. Some of the most interesting items already on the agenda have to do with the Book of Praise and the songs it contains. There are three specific newsworthy areas on that front.
New Psalm Renditions
The CanRC have been “test-driving” non-Genevan tune renderings of the Psalms over the last couple of years. The Standing Committee for the Book of Praise (SCBP) has been evaluating feedback from the churches. In their report to Synod 2022, the SCBP makes recommendations on 20 of the non-Genevan renderings (see here for the main report and here for the supplementary report). The vast majority of these come from the URCNA/OPC Trinity Psalter Hymnal. Three come from the CRCNA Grey Psalter Hymnal and one from the RPCNA’s Psalter. Sixteen renderings made the cut and are being proposed for inclusion in the next edition of the CanRC Book of Praise.
The Canadians have also been trying out new hymns in worship. Again, after reviewing the feedback from congregations, the SCBP is bringing recommendations regarding 22 new hymns, all of which are found in the Trinity Psalter Hymnal. Three didn’t receive the SCBP’s final endorsement. Amongst the 19 new hymns being proposed to Synod 2022:
- Abide With Me
- Amazing Grace
- Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing
- In Christ Alone
- Joy to the World
- O Come, All Ye Faithful
- O Sacred Head Now Wounded
Scrap the Cap
Proposals are coming from both sides of the country, east and west, to eliminate the 100 hymn cap on the Book of Praise. General Synod 2004 put this cap in place to guard the primacy of the psalms in corporate worship. At the moment, the CanRC Book of Praise contains 85 hymns. If the SCBP recommendations are adopted, the limit would be surpassed. So, either some hymns would have to be removed, or some of the recommendations would have to fall to the side.
There are proposals from both Regional Synods to scrap the cap. Regional Synod East argues that limiting the hymns is not an effective way to secure the priority of the psalms. That must be a matter of principle. Regional Synod West agrees and also says, “The current measure of limiting the number of hymns has the unfortunate effect that we deprive ourselves of many good hymns.”
Starting with the proposals from the Regional Synods, it’s difficult to argue with their reasoning. There’s often anxiety about adding hymns in our tradition. Stories are told of churches that lost their way after adding hymns and crowding out the psalms. However, fear is a poor counsellor. In the historical record, one also has to account for the quality of the hymns and what that quality said about the churches adopting them. One also has to account for Reformed churches which added hymns, but didn’t lose their way.
Moreover, adding psalm renditions is also a way to maintain the priority of the psalms. There are Psalms I won’t select because they’re just too awkward or challenging for the congregation to sing. Having more options in terms of tunes ought to mitigate that issue.
Finally, with regard to new hymns, if we’re going to have hymns, then we ought to have the best hymns possible. The current selection of hymns in the Book of Praise (CanRC and FRCA editions) can hardly be described as stellar. For example, when it’s Good Friday and you’re the minister trying to select appropriate songs, there’s not much to choose from. We just don’t have many hymns about the cross. That’s pretty sad. Adding another 19 hymns will go some way to rectifying this situation. It’s wonderful to see classics like Amazing Grace in the mix, as well as newer compositions like In Christ Alone.
What are the prospects for all these changes being adopted by Synod 2022? My sense is that they’re high. The Canadian Reformed Churches have been growing apart from their Dutch heritage. More and more, they’re starting to look like native North American Reformed churches like the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. And that’s not a bad thing.