The hymnal, as we know it, should be put on an "endangered species list."
Hymnody provides (whether intentionally or not) a vivid picture of Church teachings and history. Issues that were at the forefront of the day a half-millenium ago (such as doctrinal controversies, wars, and pestilence) make their appearance in our hymns and thus provide an historical account of God's grace through time. Moreover, the conviction and power of their authors and composers retains a significant relevance even today.
Truly, there is nothing new under the sun, and the comfort and instruction provided by centuries of previous believers should be valued.
Unfortunately, in our ahistorical and narcissistic age, we are distracted instead by the latest doo-dads such as projectors, screens, canned music soundtracks, and ad-industry-inspired gimmicky tunes. Nothing is deemed less "relevant" to us today than an old musty hymnal--to our detriment.
Save the Hymns!
Here are some suggestions that might be useful to help reverse this process. I'm going to try implementing some of these in my own household, and reporting the results here later in the Summer. The following list is from an out-of-print book named "The Hymn and Congregational Singing," (cited in Sing with Understanding, Eskew & McElrath, 292):
- The church office can keep a supply of hymnals to be sold to members.
- A list of suggested uses of hymns in the home can be published in the church bulletin.
- Children can be provided music appreciation and training (for example, recordings, private music study, and membership in a children's choir) which will result in improved hymn singing.
- Parents may request piano teachers to include hymn playing in the private music studies of their children.
- A hymn stanza frequently can be used as a table grace (for example, the Doxology, "For the beauty of the earth," "Now thank we all our God")
- Parents can use an evening hymn as they tuck their children into bed.
- Families can enjoy informal hymn singing, either by themselves or with invited friends.