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From the Director

Epiphany 2019

A Book with Benefits

One of the nicest gifts I received this past Christmas season was a copy of The Hymnal: A Reading History by Christopher N. Phillips. (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2018)

This is a fascinating read, unlike anything I have ever read before on hymns and hymnbooks. It reveals the sociology of the hymnal. Phillips reminds us that for over 200 years in America, the hymnal was not just a book used in the public worship of a congregation. It was a treasure in the private lives of individuals and families. Every family owned their own copy and carefully brought it with them to Sunday worship. It was a first reader for children, an heirloom for slaves, a devotional book for all people as Christians made other people's words their own statement of faith. It was a printed resource where professional poets and translators displayed much of their work. It was where most Americans read and contemplated poetry.  In short the hymnal played a critical role in the evolution of society in the United States. It helped to make the country more literate.

As church professionals and people of serious faith, we are blessed to carry on the custodial care of hymns and hymnals in our time even as we seek new texts and new tunes for congregational song. In this new year let us reaffirm our commitment to this task (among our many other responsibilities) to keep front and center reminders to all our worshipers that a hymnal is not just a book, it is a book with many benefits.


Barry L. Bobb