Call for a People-Powered Hymnal [UMC]

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 the IDEA worth it or viable?

Discuss.  And join the facebook conversation in the Hymnal Revision Group.
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Carl May 20, 2009 at 4:03 PM  

I was hoping this would become part of the conversation! I'd love to donate the work i've been doing with Wesley's hymns!

But, as we start this revolution, how about a logo?


Matt Algren May 20, 2009 at 4:55 PM  

I think one of the potential roadblocks with this idea (which I love) is getting buy-in from an older generation. Can we get them to contribute to a digital effort? I hate to generalize, but I live in an area where a lot of older people's computer screens are 800x600 and their keyboards are covered with dust. How do we reach out to them and get them involved?

And with the older generation's involvement, excising some of the older hymns that have lost relevance (Bringing In The Sheaves comes to mind) will become more difficult. How can that be managed?

I like this idea. A LOT. I'm just trying to figure out how to bring together a generation that doesn't remember Windows 95 and one that could put together a carburetor.

Blake Huggins May 20, 2009 at 5:17 PM  

Matt -- You are absolutely right. I think that will be the key that could make or break this. I don't really have any ideas or answers, but I agree that we need to think about how to reach out to everyone on this.

carolynsinger May 20, 2009 at 10:33 PM  

@ Matt: for sure, lots of people in that group have NO IDEA how to use facebook! I had to tell someone in no uncertain terms to get off his soapbox and to stop hawking his wares on the group page. Discussion boards are not for monologues, they're for conversations! And trying to pitch something to the group makes you look as credible as a used car salesman. People need facebook mentors. I've offered to be a FB mentor to my liturgy prof, KBWT, who's on the recently dissolved New UMH committee.

@ Blake: now that we're on summer break, you wanna make a video? Kelly (BUTSA prez) has a recorder. We can put it on FB and plant it on our blogs and profiles.

Douglas May 20, 2009 at 10:52 PM  

Responding to Matt at post #3 above: I am 66 years old, and I think the idea of a "wiki-hymnal" is great! And there are lots of boomers who would contribute stellar materials and use what is offered with joy and thanks. I'm probably naive about how something like that might get off the ground -- but as a start, let those who want to create it do it; and those who want to use it, use it. Many of us in my age bracket are not afraid of technology and use it with delight. No, we're usually not quite as proficient as our children and grandchildren, but we'll get there -- just a little more slowly.

Doug Brown

Blake Huggins May 20, 2009 at 10:52 PM  

Carolyn -- I'm leaving Friday evening and will be gone for about a week or so, but after that I am game. What are you thinking? Shoot me an email or something and we can get together.

johnmeunier May 21, 2009 at 2:09 PM  

The conversation is great, but there should be some self-conscious effort to include those older and non-computer oriented folks in this.

Committees are often such a pain because they are constructed by making sure to gather representatives from different constituencies to ensure that many voices are included.

My observation is that the discussions in the Facebook group show a strong bias toward younger folks who attend churches with projection equipment and other technology. Many things simply taken for granted in some of those threads do not reflect the experiences of many of our members.

Flexibility is great. New ideas are great. Just don't let the conversation in this or any other group be confused for one that reflects the opinions of the mass of United Methodists.

Some people write as if those older folks are in some way a barrier or problem. I hope that is not our attitude toward the generations who created and preserved the UMC over all these decades.

Matt Algren May 22, 2009 at 4:38 PM  

John, speaking only for myself, I don't think older folks are a barrier or a problem per se anymore than any other group is. I do, however, agree with you that a conscious effort needs to be given to include the group, which is statistically much less likely to be tech savvy. Likewise, a conscious effort to contribute and compromise needs to be given even though the technology might not be their preference.

And yeah, having another generation in the conversation does make it harder. There are emotional and 'traditional' (that word's been ruined for me) attachments to many hymns that might be on the chopping block.

I'm a farmboy myself, but a lot of hymns with agrarian themes don't speak to too many people in the US the way they used to when we were a very agrarian culture.

I mentioned "Bringing In The Sheaves" earlier, so I'll stick with that one: Nobody knows what a "Sheave" is anymore, at least not in the way the song uses it. That doesn't make it a bad hymn or mean that it should be cut out of the hymnal, it's just an additional consideration, and it's a greater consideration because (I hope) more people will be involved who have a greater attachment for it.

And that's just one example. There are other hymns that just plain aren't used anymore in most churches, and each of those hymns is someone's favorite.

It's not a matter of good/bad right/wrong, it's just that the effort to hear all parties needs to be deliberate without being overwrought.

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