Singing the Faith is the title of the new Methodist hymn book. Originally scheduled to be launched at Methodist Conference in June, production problems caused it to be delayed until the middle of September. I hadn’t got round to putting my order in and was pleasantly surprised when I was unexpectedly given a copy of the music edition last week.
So, first thoughts? It’s a handsome looking book, with the cover approximating the colour that has become familiar as ‘Methodist red’. I appreciate that this is a contrast from the blue of Hymns and Psalms, the previous hymnal, and the brown of the Methodist Worship Book. If using more than one book in worship it is so much easier to refer to ‘the red book’, ‘the blue book’ and ‘the brown book’. A correspondent in the Methodist Recorder questioned the size of the book, but it is only fractionally larger than the present Standard Music Edition of Hymns and Psalms and I think has fewer pages. Compared to Complete Mission Praise and the commercially-produced Methodist Hymns Old and New it is a lightweight, and certainly much easier than carting round the four volumes of Songs of Fellowship or however many volumes The Source now runs into.
I don’t recognise the typeface used, but it is a reasonably clear serif font. The music is perhaps a little small for these ageing eyes. Some effort has obviously been made to keep the music to two facing pages to minimise page turning. Words are printed separately from the music, as is the tradition in British hymn books. However, in the case of songs written in a more contemporary style the words of the first verse and chorus are printed between the staves.
However, the book is not perfect. One quirk concerns guitar chords. Generally chords are not given for traditional hymns but are given for ‘praise and worship’ songs. Considering that worship bands are increasingly including classic hymns in their repertoire I think this is a mistake. It would not have been difficult to follow the precedent of Mission Praise in including chords for almost everything. Strangely enough, the same treatment has been given to ‘Meekness and majesty’, which now has a new SATB arrangement that completely eliminates the syncopation which gives the refrain such power. For me this is definitely a move in the wrong direction; I would like to see more accompaniments with a ‘flowing’ contemporary arrangement (as pioneered in Hymns for the People), not fewer. One notable exception – and there may be others that I haven’t spotted yet – is the provision of SLANE in two versions – the traditional version in triple time and the 4/4 version favoured by ‘praise and worship’ singers.
There are errors: one that has been recognised by the publisher is that the last page of the alphabetical index has been omitted; a downloadable page from the Singing the Faith website remedies that. The tune NETTLETON (The first tune to ‘Come, thou fount of every blessing’) is erroneously headed with the metre 11 11 11 11 when it is actually 87 87 D. This mistake is repeated in the metrical index, which gives a clue as to how this error occurred; the second tune is NORMANDY (Bost) which has been confused with the identically named Basque carol tune to ‘God, hold us, enfold us, through desolate loss’, which is 11 11 11 11. Obviously somebody got their Normandys muddled up.
So much for the presentation and format of the book. What about the really important bit – the contents?
Inevitably when putting together a collection like this one, much of the controversy is in respect to hymns included or omitted (and it is usually old favourites left out which offends people). Singing the Faith continues the trend of eliminating the more sentimental Victorian hymns begun in Hymns and Psalms. But no era has been immune to cuts – even the number of Charles Wesley’s hymns has been halved. Hymns omitted include ‘Sometimes a light surprises’, ‘Praise, O praise our God and King’, ‘I hunger and I thirst’ (which we sang only the week before last), ‘Yes, God is good!’ (a recent Hymn of the Week), ‘The first Nowell’ and ‘When we walk with the Lord’. (The latter is a favourite with some of my members, so it will be a controversial loss.) Personally I will not cry over the disappearance of ‘Stand up, stand up for Jesus’ and ‘Onward Christian soldiers’, neither of which I have ever chosen for worship. However, I am sad to see that ‘Come, we that love the Lord’ and ‘Lord God, by whom all change is wrought’ did not make the cut, both fine hymns set to excellent tunes. I would gladly swap them for ‘Come, let us sing of a wonderful love’ and ‘All things bright and beautiful’, both of which are inexplicably included.
There are some more modern hymns which I expected to see but have been excluded, such as the popular ‘Praise with joy the world’s Creator’ and ‘Christ’s is the world in which we move’. I was sorry to see that ‘Holy Child’ didn’t make it into the Christmas section, as I consider this to be one of the finest modern Christmas songs.
On the other hand there have been some surprising comebacks. Sydney Carter’s ‘Lord of the dance’ and ‘When I needed a neighbour’ were both in the supplementary book Hymns and Songs, but were left out of Hymns and Psalms. The shuffley HATHEROP CASTLE is now a set tune to ‘O Jesus I am promised’, bringing back memories of primary school assemblies in the early 70s. We are given the option of singing ‘Take my life and let it be’ to NOTTINGHAM, and even better STOWEY is back – familiar as the tune to ‘When a knight won his spurs’ and now set to the harvest hymn ‘Praise God for the harvest of orchard and field’. Other changes of tune have not been so felicitous. I’m not convinced about singing ‘Give me the wings of faith to rise’ to RICHMOND, but the pairing of hymn and tune I really dislike is ‘Jesus, the first and last’ to HAIL TO THE LORD. Why omit the beautiful ST OLAVE (66 66 66) in favour of a tune written for a hymn with a completely different rhyming pattern (6 6 6 6 6 6)?
Lest I am starting to sound too negative, I have to say that I really like this book. It reflects my own catholic tastes. There are traditional hymns, including those beloved by Methodism but hardly found elsewhere; it has a good selection of ‘praise and worship songs’; it has music from the World Church; it has contemporary hymns and chants. True, I have much of this material (but certainly not all of it) in other books but not collected together in one place. There are useful indeces, including a list of songs suitable for children and for all age worship and we are promised further support through a website. I look forward to using Singing the Faith and getting to know it better.