Sunday, May 22, 2011

Singing the Faith

A Word Cloud covering hymn titles in the new Methodist hymn collection
Last week I had the dubious pleasure of attending a 'Worship Consultation' at my local church. I say dubious, not because it wasn't created in the best of spirit (ho ho) but because it inevitably became a 'whats hot and what's not' type discussion rather than a fuller exploration of how the church and the wider community engage, encounter and worship God and certain times of the week. Overall the discussion was interesting, gave me a good insight into the church ethos and, to be honest, had moments like the cartoon above as some said positives about way 'a' and others about way 'b' with rare moments of agreement.

One positive area of discussion concerned the hymn collection in use at the church. 'Hymns Old and New', first published in 1986 and updated a decade later, is the tatter book lovingly clasped to worshipers chests as the service occurs.  It was widely felt that a new book/collection was required. One that reflected a wide range of tastes (it is church made up of three denominations), that was available in hard copy and reliable electronic copy and one that was created to suite modern tastes while still paying due respect to hymns that have stood the test of time.
Singing the Faith - New Dawn or White Elephant?

I piped up at that point and suggested investigating the new Methodist hymn collection 'Singing the Faith'. This long contentious project started out as a supplement to Hymns and Psalms and ended up becoming a new 'authorised' hymn book with rolling on-line supplement.

Having suggested it I was pleased to hear the church will now be looking properly at what hymn collections there are out there, and which ones meet the criteria suggested by the group.
The creation of a new Methodist Hymn Book is no cheap exercise. It will have taken nearly a decade to come to fruition, from concept through to publication, will have cost the Methodist Church tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of pounds and will be offered to a church that, at best, is apathetic about the prospect.  However...

Word Cloud of hymn titles in the new collection
I think it's important we have a new book. The current book was published before I was born and I would appreciate a book to sing from that covers the wider spectrum of theology contained within the Methodist Church.

I was pleased to see that pricing was reasonable (although it will set a church back around £1k to purchase a set of electronic, music and text only for around 100 copies) I was most excited by the electronic side.  Not only is time being invested in creating a full electronic resource to sit alongside the publication, it will be 'updated' via a website as the years roll forward. The integrated approach I find very positive and it bodes well for the future of Methodist Singing.

It should be noted though that the Methodist Church isn't the only denomination to have recently updated its hymn-book. The Church of Scotland has and what interests me is a report to their annual assembly (equivalent to the Methodist Conference) from another religious creative corner - the Iona Community and it's printing arm (or should that read wing).

Wild Goose Publications has flown in a new direction the last few years with an evolution towards creating and republishing material in formats compatible with e-readers etc. I had first come across this move through an email from central e-resource depository 'Twelve Baskets'. The report to the General Assembly 2011 makes clear the way this move is catching a wave and ensuring survival of this publishing work:

Progress continues with the digitisation of material. Many books were converted into e-books during 2010 and a good number of liturgy and worship resource digital downloads have been made available, some taken from existing publications and others original. Sales of e-books and downloads from the website ( accelerated during the year as people have become more familiar with this way of reading and as sales of e-book readers have taken off.
It has again been a very difficult year financially. Although direct sales to customers have held up well, sales to shops and other trade customers have again been very badly hit by the continuing economic recession. It is doubtful
whether the traditional channels of bookselling will ever be restored and, as a counterbalance to this, efforts continue to develop direct sales and to expand digital publishing. Extract from the report of the Iona Community to the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland 2011

Reading this it made me realise that there was an elephant in the middle of the discussions in my local church and in the national Conference of the Methodist Church.  People all over are too busy looking back, wondering why time and money is invested when 'perfectly good' material is available in a myriad of places already.  One of the main reasons why time and money is required to be spent is that technology moves at a pace. The introduction of the iPad finally enabled 'tablet' technology to break through and with this suddenly all manor of religious material was needed for a new platform.  As yet I haven't heard or seen that an e-publication of the hymn book will be made avaliable, nor that the resource will link into the Methodist Church iPhone App, but I have hope that they will.

We need a new hymn book to enable us to continue our journey of faith and share the liberating message of gods love in our communities using hymns, chants and songs that suit todays need - not the church of 28 years ago.  We also need a new hymn book to ensure that rights are granted to enable the church to deliver hymns through the most relevant technological tools available, already this new resource has to catch up but the church will be in a better place to deliver that now.