Hymnal favors singing traditions, innovations
Bob Allen, Associated Baptist Press
March 15, 2010

Hymnal favors singing traditions, innovations

Hymnal favors singing traditions, innovations
Bob Allen, Associated Baptist Press
March 15, 2010

ATLANTA — Bucking a trend in

many churches to eschew four-part harmonies for praise choruses projected on a

screen, a new hymnal released March 8 seeks to introduce both old favorites and

lesser-known new compositions to a new generation of Baptist congregations.

“We were trying to create a

hymnal for churches that use hymnals,” said Stanley Roberts, a Mercer

University professor and member of the editorial team that planned the Celebrating Grace Hymnal, “to provide a resource that our current generation and

future generations could use for worship in the local church.”

Tom McAfee, a Georgia layman

who conceived of the idea for and oversaw development of the hymnal, said the

new song book seeks to embrace a denominational identity broader than battle

lines that divided Baptists in the United States in the latter decades of the

20th century.

“One of the things we did in

the beginning was to intentionally be inclusive,” said McAfee, chairman of a

health-care company and member of First Baptist Church in Macon, Ga. “I think it’s one of the things that make

our hymnal unique.”

Starting at the grassroots

level, McAfee said, editors and board members sought input from individuals and

churches affiliated with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, African-American

Baptists, Canadian Baptists and the Southern Baptist Convention.

Thomas McAfee, center, introduces members of the editorial board.

“If you had a Baptist badge,

we wanted you to be involved,” McAfee said. “We also wanted to incorporate some

Methodist traditions, Presbyterian traditions. We wanted to be something that

is, yes, Baptist, and is built by Baptists with Baptists in mind, but we also

wanted to be able to bring in these other traditions so that others can use the

book as well.”

“It’s not just a book for

Cooperative Baptists or Southern Baptists or the other brands of Baptists,”

said McAfee, “We’ve got materials there that will meet the needs of a number of

different denominations.”

Mark Edwards, vice president

of music and worship resources who oversaw the music side of the project, said

Celebrating Grace was already in the works and unrelated to a new Baptist

Hymnal that LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention

released in 2008.

“We are doing hymnals that

are to different markets,” said Edwards, who was minister of music at First Baptist Church in Nashville, Tenn., for 30 years. “I think they’ve done

a good job,” he said of the new Southern Baptist hymnal. “It’s a good book for

what it is. They’re just doing a different thing from what we are doing.”

In addition to the 700-page

printed hymnal, the Celebrating Grace Hymnal includes online support for extra

features including orchestration, piano and organ music, hand bells and “congregational

anthems” that arrange hymns in ways that treat the congregation like a choir

instead of singing four stanzas by rote.

“In times gone by you could

publish a hymnal and just do a book, and that was enough,” Edwards said. “These

days it’s not enough. There are other things that have to go along with a

hymnal if it’s going to be used in a church effectively. So part of this whole

process was building a body of materials to go along with the hymnal.”

The project also includes a

component of interactive, online worship planning trademarked by David Bolin,

minister of music at First Baptist Church in Waco, Texas, who said he developed the concept over

three decades as a local-church worship leader “never dreaming this would some

day be used by anybody other than myself.”

Originally conceived in 2005

as a contribution to Baptist worship by Mercer University Press in Macon, Ga.,

McAfee said, the project grew into a new not-for-profit corporation. Early

conversations, McAfee said, included: “Is there a market for a hymnal today?”

“That became very evident

very quick that there was a strong need for a hymnal today,” he said. Other

problems involved: “How to repackage some of the hymns to make them fresh,

taking old hymns and giving them new treatment, and to give training materials

for some of the younger generations who may not have been exposed to hymnody

the way that my generation has been exposed.”

One major challenge, McAfee

said, was “how to get the book out into the churches.”

“The old model from SBC days

was that you had state music reps in each of the states, and those were your

salespeople,” he said. “That model doesn’t exist today.”

McAfee declined to discuss

specific finances but described pre-sales of the new hymnal as “exceptionally


“Our first printing was

around 25,000 copies,” he said. “We’re in the process of getting the second

printing running. We’ll expect to have those in hand in the middle of April.”

McAfee said sales have

performed surprisingly well in an otherwise-poor economy.

“For the most part we are

finding it is a gift that is given in honor of, and those types of gifts are

reasonably small,” he said. “If a church wants to go out and solicit from its

congregants to do a memorial in honor of one person buying one hymnal, $20 by

that individual is doable by just about everybody.”

“We’ve had situations where

families have stepped up and they’ve given the entire congregation hymnals,” he


(EDITOR’S NOTE — Allen is

senior writer for Associated Baptist Press.)