Frequently, we are asked the reason for a new hymnal. It all began when Shippensburg Christian Fellowship requested a supplement for the 1927 Church Hymnal it was using. Although we highly valued the excellent quality of this hymnal, after using it for about 15 years we sensed the need for a supplement with new songs that have come into use during the 80 years since 1927.
This supplement project was undertaken more than 10 years ago, and it simply outgrew its original purpose, to become a full-sized church hymnal. The new hymnal contains about 300 songs from the Church Hymnal and about 100 selections from the Songs of the Church, another much-appreciated, high-quality songbook. Hymns of the Church also contains the most favored songs from all the major hymnals used by the Mennonite Church in the past.
The 1020 songs in Hymns of the Church include approximately 800 hymns, 200 gospel songs, and 20 full choral arrangements including the entire Hallelujah Chorus, Send Forth Thy Spirit, Holy Art Thou, Like a Choir of Mighty Angels, Praise Ye the Father, Remember Now Thy Creator, and True Evangelical Faith. About 500 of the songs will be familiar to the average singer, leaving about 500 new songs to be learned. The new songs were drawn from a wide range of sources, including British, German, and Scandinavian hymn collections. The music is set in shaped notes.
Hymns of the Church reflects a definite philosophy of music, expressed concisely in a quote from its Introduction:
The collection [of songs in Hymns of the Church] focuses on the great hymns of the church modeled on the style of the new song described in Revelation 5:9–14. The new song has a theme: “Worthy is the Lamb.” That theme is repeated throughout the song, but as in all timeless expressions, the repetition is varied for maximum effect. The song explains why the Lamb is worthy, celebrates the attributes of His worthiness, and enumerates the creatures who recognize His worthiness. Finally, the song climactically concludes the theme with every creature in the universe declaring the worthiness of the Lamb forever and ever!
The majority of the songs in Hymns of the Church also develop a theme in both the text and the music. The music of these hymns advances the theme through varied repetitions to a definite conclusion. As such, these songs reflect the timeless qualities and depth of the new song. For this reason, they should constitute the main repertoire of songs sung regularly.
A smaller proportion of the selections is gospel songs (songs with a refrain) that tend toward musical repetition with less variety and a conclusion with a weaker resolution. Used on an occasional basis, these songs offer a simple message for a particular need. However, a steady diet of these songs will subtly place an unbalanced focus on the experience of the worshiper rather than the worthiness of God and the Lamb. An attempt was made to avoid the cheap gospel song that replaces solemn worship with a time of musical harangue. It is a fact that shallow music tends to support only a trite, excessively repetitious text.
By contrast, songs patterned after God’s new song offer a rich content of timeless truth to be pondered. They nurture the singers to a deep practical understanding of God and His purposes for His children. These hymns are a treasured heritage gleaned from songwriters who could exquisitely hymn the infinite excellencies of God’s character. By describing God’s glories seen in a wide variety of life’s most challenging experiences, these hymns instill and reinforce a sturdy sense of spiritual reality as they are sung.
Among these hymns are songs that reflect a distinct Anabaptist emphasis on the Lordship of Christ, discipleship, obedience, cross bearing, separation from the world, nonresistance, and the present Kingdom of God. Texts and musical settings have been drawn from Anabaptist authors and composers throughout the entire history of Anabaptism from its beginning in 1525 to the present. More than 65 Anabaptist hymn authors and composers are featured in this collection of hymns.
Organized in a user-friendly manner, Hymns of the Church has indexes that facilitate quick identification and location of authors, composers, tunes, meters, Scripture references, topics, first lines, and titles. The subject divisions for the Christian life subjects are arranged in alphabetical order so the singer can find them simply by leafing through the hymnal.
Hymns of the Church is designed to help furnish you thoroughly for spiritual conquest. In its songs may God hear His new song from your lips and come to grace your experience with His glorious presence.
-John D. Martin