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No. 19: Advice

Rite Reasons, Studies in Worship, No. 19
February 1992
Copyright (c) 1992 by Biblical Horizons

I am not infrequently asked for advice on how to implement the kinds of things I’ve discussed in Rite Reasons and in my book The Sociology of the Church. To that end I’m providing in this essay some nuts and bolts that grow out of more than ten years of trying to implement these ideas in a variety of situations and with varying degrees of success.

Psalters for Reading

We’ve got to get the psalms back into the warp and woof of worship and life. But how do we do that, when nothing is readily available, and so many of us have never done it? Let me discuss first of all psalters for responsive reading, and then psalters for singing.

As Rite Reasons 16-18 pointed out, the new Trinity Hymnal, like the old, does not contain a complete psalter for responsive reading. Moreover, both Trinity Hymnals use the curious method of alternating whole verses, paying no attention to the poetic parallelism of the Biblical text. I have discussed this matter at some length in "Church Music in Chaos" (available for $4.00, postpaid), so I won’t say any more about it here. The conclusion, however, is that these hymnals are not useful for a congregation that wants to use all of God’s psalms.

Where do we go, then? The only complete pew psalter I know of is The Psalter: A New Version for Public Worship and Private Devotion, published in 1978 by the Seabury Press. This is an updated version of the Episcopal psalter, and thus much preferable to the very old translation found in the older Book of Common Prayer. It is the translation used in the new Book of Common Prayer. Unfortunately, Seabury Press went out of business several years ago, this book is no longer in print, and to my knowledge no one intends to reprint it. (Can you believe it?) The new Book of Common Prayer, however, is in print, and you can get a copy and make use of the psalter by retyping it.

Thus, there is no pew psalter for responsive readings that I have been able to find. None.

What can you do? Well, you can do what I have done, and that is to type the psalms into your Sunday bulletins week by week. You can use the new Book of Common Prayer as your guide, and go with whatever translation you prefer.

If you want to make use of my own versions, I can supply them. I’ve made up my own translation from English versions, occasionally consulting the Hebrew, so mine are un Copyrighted. I’ve done about a third of the psalms. I can supply these on diskette (large or small size) on Word Perfect 5.1 for IBM-type computers, or I can supply a print out from which you can type your own. The charge for either format is $5.00 or $10.00 for both.

A friend of mine has done up the entire psalter (and other Bible songs) from the New King James Version, and we are seeking to get this into print. For now, however, we cannot make it available.

Psalters for Chanting

The first way to sing the psalms is to chant them straight from the text. There are two common ways to chant. One way is to use Anglican Chants. You can find some Anglican Chant tones in Episcopal hymnals, but I don’t know of any place you can find the psalms set up readily for use with them. (There are lots of 19th century books, such as The Cathedral Psalter, that you can find in used bookstores–if you are prospered in your search; but these use the very old and outdated pre-KJV translation of the old Book of Common Prayer).

The other way to chant the psalms is to use plainsong tones. This is the simplest way and is easy to learn. The new Lutheran Hymnal of the Missouri Synod Lutheran Church has tones for each of the psalms the hymnal includes (which as I recall–I don’t have a copy here–is not all of them). There is a better alternative, however.

I strongly recommend that Church musicians obtain The Psalmnary: Gradual Psalms for Cantor and Congregation, by James E. Barrett. This is not a complete psalter, but does contain the majority of the psalms. This comes in loose pages, and blanket permission is granted for photocopying into Sunday bulletins. The set comes with instructions on how to use these and how to accompany them. Suggested chords are provided. I suggest ignoring the "antiphons," and just singing through the psalms. If you have a pianist or organist who knows much of anything about harmony (not all do), you can readily make use of this material. I’ve never been in a position to do so, but I recommend it highly.

The cost for the looseleaf pages is $21.00. With a nice binder to store them, the price is $24.00. Postage is free on pre-paid orders. Order from The Hymnary Press, S. 1223 Southeast Boulevard, Spokane, WA 99202.

Episcopal and Lutheran church musicians in your area may be able to direct you to other resources, and certainly would be willing to help you train your musician and congregation in how to do these (if they themselves use them, or something like them).

Metrical Psalms

Metrical psalms are inferior to responsive readings because they destroy the structure of the Biblical poetry, and are inferior to chanted psalms because they rephrase the sacred text. You should have it as a rule to read the psalm from the Bible first before singing it in a metrical version. Preferably, read it responsively, unless perhaps it is the call to worship.

The Trinity Hymnal contains some metrical psalms. Many are set to poor tunes, but a good many are usable. There are four complete psalters you can choose from. I have discussed these at more length in "Church Music in Chaos."

The first is The Book of Psalms for Singing, published by The Board of Education and Publication, Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America, 7418 Penn Ave., Pittsburgh, PA 15208. Almost all of the psalms are set up as 19th-century type hymns, the kind of hymns we are familiar with. Often a given psalm is broken up among several tunes. For the problems of this book, see "Church Music in Chaos."

The second is the Scottish Psalter, published by Oxford University Press. The translations here are old and awkward, though some are good.

The third is the Book of Praise: Anglo-Genevan Psalter, published by the Canadian Reformed Churches and available from Premier Printing, One Beghin Ave., Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada R2J 3X5. You need to have a copy of this, for it contains all the Genevan psalms, in good translations. Harmonies, however, are not provided, since in these churches the harmony is provided exclusively by the organ and organists are trained to vary the harmony from stanza to stanza.

Finally, my personal recommendation is the 1987 Psalter Hymnal of the Christian Reformed Church, which can be obtained from CRC Publications, 2850 Kalamazoo SE, Grand Rapids, MI 49560. All 150 psalms are included, some in more than one version. A good number of Genevan psalms are included, in original rhythms, with harmony. The hymn section is also very good. This is the best available pew hymnal/psalter for congregational use at present.

It does have a few problems. Occasionally a hymn has been changed to accommodate sexism, so that we get "Good Christian Friends, Rejoice," instead of "Good Christian Men, Rejoice," but such instances are rare. Also, some of the psalms and Bible songs are versified by men who do not have an ear for English poetry, but you can go through and upgrade these to better English. (For instance, #189, a setting of Psalm 150, calls on us to "Shout His power through outer space." I’ve changed that to "Shout His power through time and space." "Outer space" just does not work; it calls science-fiction to mind, an unwelcome association.)

If you are going to get a new hymnal, the Psalter Hymnal is the one to get. It was published after my essay "Church Music in Chaos," and that is why I did not recommend it there.

As regards hymns, what I wrote in "Church Music in Chaos" still stands. Get the two older Lutheran hymnals and you will find incredible treasures.

Teaching New Psalms/Hymns

To teach new psalms and hymns, you need someone with a strong voice, preferably a man because the male voice is more powerful. (Since this involves teaching/training in the Word, it may be inappropriate for a woman to take this role anyway; but if the ox is in the ditch, so to speak, I don’t think it would be wrong to use a woman here.)

Have the leader sing through the first stanza. Then have him sing each line and the congregation sing it after him. If there are hard lines, do them twice. Then have the congregation sing the whole first stanza, and then go back and do the whole psalm or hymn. Use it again for a couple of weeks, so that the congregation becomes familiar with it.

The choir (if you have one) must practice the new psalm in advance. This is especially helpful if you institute chanting; the choir can give strong leadership to the congregation as they chant.

Order of Worship

I’ve discussed this at length in "Theses on Worship" in previous issues of Rite Reasons. Let me just summarize here. We need to see worship as God’s coming on the Day of the Lord to renew His covenant with us. I don’t think it is difficult to get a congregation to see the truth and value of this. But how do we implement it?

I suggest taking your Sunday bulletin and setting it up in five sections:

God Calls Us

God Cleanses Us

God Instructs Us

God Feeds Us

God Commissions Us

If you are not yet able to have weekly communion, you’ll have to leave off the fourth section except for communion Sundays. I recommend against doing this:

We Gather Together

We Confess Our Sins

We Hear God’s Word

We Eat God’s Food

We Carry Forth God’s Kingdom

Keep the stress on what God does, since He acts first. Leave the primary focus on His action, not on our response.

Now, at the same time, highlight our required responses in your bulletin as well. Here is a very simple covenant-renewal structure that I believe any church can use without difficulty:

God Calls Us

Call to Worship (a psalm)

Response to God’s Call

Psalm of praise (sing the same psalm)

God Cleanses Us

Confession of Sin

Declaration of Forgiveness

Response to God’s Declaration

Doxology

Psalm of the Week

Hymn of Praise (sing the same psalm)

Prayer of Praise

God Instructs Us

Scripture and Sermon

Response to God’s Word

The Creed (Apostles’, Nicene, etc.)

Offering

Pastoral Prayer and Lord’s Prayer

God Feeds Us

Communion Hymn

The Lord’s Supper

Response to God’s Gift

Prayer of Thanksgiving

Closing Hymn

God Commissions Us

Charge (the Great Commission)

Benediction

Response to God’s Charge

Threefold Amen

This is a simple structure that highlights for the congregation what is going on. You can change it, add more psalms and hymns, and vary it from season to season. It can be made more elaborate by adding Old and New Testament Lessons, and making the Creed the response to them, followed by the Sermon with its response as the Offering and Pastoral Prayer. You can add to the songs and prayers around the Communion. Etc. But since most of us work with congregations that are completely unfamiliar with structured worship, this simply structure has it all in seed form.

The psalms can be fitted into each part of the worship service, and I am including a suggested way to do that here. < SIZE="6">

Psalms for Worship < SIZE="4">

Arranged for Covenant Renewal

I. CALL TO WORSHIP

20

24

27

29

32

33

34

47

50

62

81

87

91

95

96

97

98

99

100

102

107

111

114

116

117

120

121

122

124

126

127

128

129

133

134

II. EXODUS INTO THE KINGDOM

A. Self-Examination & Confession

6

25

38

51

60

73

80

89

130

139

B. Relief From Distress and the Enemy

3

4

7

10

12

13

17

22

28

31

35

39

41

42

43

44

54

55

56

57

58

59

63

64

69

70

71

74

77

79

83

86

88

90

94

102

109

123

137

140

141

142

143

144

C. Praise to God, Especially for Our Exodus

5

8

9

11

18

21

26

30

40

61

65

66

67

68

75

76

85

92

93

101

104

108

113

115

118

119

132

135

136

138

145

146

147

148

150

III. HEARING THE WORD

1

14

15

19

37

46

49

52

53

78

105

106

112

125

IV. COMMUNION

16

23

36

45

48

84

131

V. MISSION

2

47

72

82

110

149