The Making of the Seventh-day Adventist Hymnal
The first stirrings for a new hymnal for the Seventh-day Adventist Church came from an ad hoc committee convened in the early 1970's. They prepared guidelines toward a philosophy of music for the Church, and since The Church Hymnal was over thirty years old, they requested the General Conference administration to consider the making of a new one.
Harold Hannum, retired music professor from La Sierra College, had made up a core hymnal of I00 selections which he thought had merit. Hoping that it might become a supplement to the current hymnal, he sent the collection to the Review and Herald Publishing Association, as well as to a number of interested musicians.
By 1981 the Seventh-day Adventist Church Musicians' Guild urged certain General Conference officers to allow preparation of a new hymnbook to begin immediately. A committee, under the chairmanship of Lowell Bock, conducted a survey to see if the denomination felt the need of a new book. The great majority of respondents expressed dissatisfaction with the 1941 Church Hymnal.
At this point I was asked to be the coordinator of the new hymnal project, to make up a budget and to lay preliminary plans. "You have be out of your mind to consider such a job in your retirement years! " friends excIaimed. "You'll just have a big battle on your hands." But they were wrong. It turned out to be three of the most stimulating and rewarding years of my entire life.
Since most of my working career had been involved with singing hymns and gospel songs on the radio, I owned a fair sized library of hymnbooks of all churches. And, as I looked forward to a new hymnal for our church, I, of course, had my own "must-have" list.
AHymnal Committee of nineteen members under the chairmanship of Elder Charles L. Brooks, was appointed, representing all facets of church organization, as well as a wide range of skills, musical tastes and philosophies. The broad diversity of the Seventh-day Adventist Church was represented by these men and women - black and white, clergymen and lay persons, academics and administrators. In addition, an advisory committee of ninety members from all over the world reviewed the work, submitted lists of hymns and (by correspondence) offered valuable assistance.
In February, 1982, a survey went out to more than 3000 active pastors, asking them to mark the hymns they would like to retain from the old hymnal and to list new ones they would like included. These survey results were fed into the Review and Herald computer. Each committee member had a printout at the first meeting in March, 1982. The spreadsheet provided eleven items of information about each hymn.
We utilized computer technology throughout the project. Before each committee meeting, new lists of hymns were entered, until finally we had some 3600 titles from which to choose! Votes were taken to remove or add hymns to the list. Also, hymns that had become standard in other churches were fed into our list.
Four subcommittees (responsible for text, tunes, first lines and titles, and topical index) were organized and worked independently. Each was supplied with appropriate printouts. Thus we eliminated the endless typing and retyping of lists. The new technology speeded up the work - even though two days worth of entered titles were lost when the computer crashed!
Five full committee meetings convened between March 3l, 1982, and July 5, 1984. They lasted four days each, with the workday beginning at 8.30 a.m. and ending at 9.30 p.m. The subcommittees had separate meetings. In addition to our committees, all the members did mountains of work in their homes. My wife Harriet and I kept sending them giant packages of hymns, and each hymn had to be played, sung and examined, word by word. (On one day Harriet, secretary for the committee, made 11,000 photocopies of hymns to be sent out to the advisory committee for evaluation.)
More than I00 hymnbooks were studied for their treasure, including all former SDA. hymnals. From among the fifty-three selections in James White's first hymnbook (1849), we chose ten. We voted to retain 330 hymns from the 1941 Church Hymnal.
For "new" material, the committee looked for the best texts and tunes dealing with Adventist doctrines, contemporary gospel songs, Negro spirituals, rounds, hymns for young worshipers, early Advent hymns, folk hymns from early America, Bach chorales, Scandinavian folk songs, new carols for Christmas and other seasons, more praise hymns, more Communion hymns, songs on the subjects of stewardship, loving service, and the church's mission in the world. In addition, we looked for material from Adventist composers, past and present. And finally, we were confronted with the tremendous explosion of fine hymns in today's language from several British authors.
The work of the Hymnal Committee could be characterized as an arduous but most enjoyable labor of love. Each meeting began with a prayer that the Holy Spirit would guide in every decision. Sometimes the discussions were lively and speeches passionate. Once, when an old favorite was about to go down in defeat, one member cried, "You're not a Seventh-day Adventist if you vote against this hymn!"
A simple majority would put a hymn either in or out. Each member experienced being on the losing side in a vote. And yet, defeat notwithstanding, everyone would move on to the next hymn with unfailing good humor. When the atmosphere became too tense and the arguments too vehement, invariably one of the wits in the group would come up with a good one liner that brought us all back to earth again.
As each hymn was sung and discussed, these thoughts dominated our minds: "Will congregations be able to learn and enjoy singing this? Will it inspire, uplift, teach? Will it help them to know more of God and the Bible?"
People everywhere were intensely interested in what we were doing. One nineteen-year-old organist, obviously trained in idealistic church music tradition, begged us not to include any gospel songs, only hymns. "If you must include some," he said, "put them in the back of the book on colored paper! " "A lady-pianist for Sabbath School wrote, "I hope you keep the same numbers for the hymns that you retain from the old hymnal. I have them all memorized."
Our goal of presenting the new hymnal at the General Conference session in New Orleans in June, 1985, often seemed unattainable. A hymnbook of this size and complexity could be expected to take five to eight years, or more. Yet, we persevered and finished the committee work on July 5, 1984. In fact we even took off the evening of July 4 and celebrated the holiday by going downtown in Washington, D.C., to hear the Navy and Marine bands play and watched the fireworks at the Washington Monument.
Each committee member cherishes wonderful memories of the work. Late, after the final meeting, we joined hands in a circle, sang a last hymn and prayed together. Despite the joy of the finished task, we regretted having no more meetings where we could sing, laugh, and work together. By that time, genuine Christian friendship had bonded us together, and we felt mutual admiration for one another's skills and shared the united purpose of creating the very best hymnbook possible.
I had the task of preparing all of the hymns for the engraver, Wagner Enterprises of Phoenix, Arizona. Melvin West assisted me in the musical editing, and three people proofread the scores. We passed the final editing of text and indexes on to Raymond Woolsey at the Review and Herald Publishing Association, in Hagerstown, Maryland.
Despite our dream of producing a perfect hymnal, a few errors still crept in. (Most of these, however, had been corrected by the third or fourth printings.) The first copies rolled out of the bindery on May 15, 1985. And so the new hymnal was presented to the church at the 1985 General Conference session held in the Superdome in New Orleans one month later. Who can forget the thrill of that day when some 35,000 church members, a 300-voice choir, and a 120-piece symphony orchestra sounded forth with Christ the Lord, All Power Possessing? In this new hymn, C. Mervyn Maxwell's (church history professor at Andrews University) text had been set to the stirring Welsh tune, Cwm Rhondda.
Naturally the work of a hymnal committee must be prophetic. Their work is to forecast, with the best information available, what the hymn needs of their church will be for the next thirty years or more. Only time and usage can judge the choices made. We hope that all will open the pages of the hymnal with expectation and enthusiasm. While one remembers that sometimes an old friend is lost or far away, yet an abundance of exciting new friends is near at hand for the person who will take the time and effort to get acquainted.
To date, the reception and use of the hymnal has been most gratifying. The Review and Herald reported that 400,000 copies were sold during the first eighteen months of publication. And that is a new record in Adventist publishing.
This article was printed in the Spring 1991 issue of Adventist Heritage and was placed on the IAMA website in 2003 with permission from La Sierra University