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GLORY TO GOD: The New Presbyterian Hymnal - Selection Committee Members Reflect

by Lifelong Learning Staff

PCOCS members sing during hymnfest

Earlier this fall, director of Lifelong Learning Sarah Erickson surveyed CTS alums Mary Margaret “Meg” Flannagan, ’06, and Adam J. Copeland, ’09, about their experiences with the soon-to-be-published hymnal, Glory to God (GTG). Meg is the hymnal advocacy and relations coordinator for the new hymnal and has served as associate pastor in two congregations. Adam, selected to serve on the Presbyterian Committee on Congregational Song (PCOCS) while enrolled in seminary, now teaches faith and leadership at Concordia College in Moorhead, Minnesota. He has served as pastor of a Presbyterian church and as mission developer of a Lutheran ministry. The seminary’s Assistant Professor of Worship and director of Korean American Ministry, Paul J. Huh, also a member of the PCOCS, shared his observations as well.

1) Each one of you has CTS ties – as students (Meg ’06, Adam ’09) and Paul as a professor since 2008. Had you worked together before this project?

Meg: Adam Copeland and I were students together at CTS. We have similar interests in the intersections of worship and music. Paul Huh moved to Columbia after I graduated.

Adam: I was the student rep on the search committee that called Paul. I don't think I had formally worked with Meg before, however.

Paul: I was born and raised in the South… that is, South Korea. I came to Atlanta as a total stranger. I met Adam before I came to Columbia and Meg after she graduated.

2) You are musicians and worship leaders. What are your particular musical interests? In what kinds of settings do you most often find yourself leading worship? How might GTG find its way into your work within faith communities and worship?

Meg: I am primarily a pianist with an interest in vocal leadership of congregational song. Although I have served congregations as both pastor and musician (and occasionally both on the same day), I am most comfortable being a musical pastor – standing at Table and calling people to eat through Word and song. “Glory to God” will be the perfect resource for my coming years as such. The variety of short songs, global music, and diversity of style make it the broadest and most flexible Presbyterian collection of hymnody. I expect that this hymnal, the Bible, and the Book of Confessions will be the three books I use in ministry every week.

Adam: I’ve done a good bit of choral work, in high school, church, and college choirs. The new collection in GTG will help resource the church in its great new diversity and in the ancient heritage of hymn singing.

Paul: This is my second time being involved in the making of a hymnal. The first one was when I served as editor of Come, Let Us Worship: Korean English Presbyterian Hymnal and Service Book published by Geneva Press, 2001. I am blessed with the opportunity to help shape my teaching ministry around making worship resources and then using these resources in the classroom and in the sanctuary during worship. While the cello is my main instrument, the experience working with the PCOCS prompted me to play the piano again. For the past 3 years I’ve been practicing, and now I can comfortably sit at a keyboard and interpret GTG selections with actual musical expressions.

3) Did you find your CTS ties made for any kind of common bond or approach to the variety of tasks associated with serving on the hymnal committee?

Meg: No, though it was a pleasure to reconnect with Adam through the process. Adam was actually the person who suggested I consider this call. (Note: Meg has served as associate pastor in two congregations prior to serving as hymnal advocate.)

Paul: While institutional agendas had no place in the committee, I was impressed with CTS connections at all stages of the project. In addition to Meg and Adam, I found another committee member, Eric Myers, who is a 1991 CTS grad. Kim Long, assistant professor of worship, contributed to the work on the liturgical resources included in GTG, and seminary musician Mike Morgan’s work on metrical Psalms was a very important resource. The publishing house had a high respect for these contributions, too!

4) Have you ever been involved in selecting music for a new publication before? What did you learn along the way?

Meg: No. Much like selecting music for weekly worship services, it was important for the committee not just to pick their favorites, but to think about the breadth and depth of our entire denomination, the diversity of cultures and experiences, and the variety of theologies. This had to be a resource for the whole people of God.

Adam: Nope. I did a piece in The Christian Century (September 2010) that summarized some of what I learned about the complexities of the process – the considerations of technologies, language for and about God, theological and biblical language and imagery, global representation, different styles of hymnody and song. (NOTE: Copeland’s article may be found in the archives of The Christian Century, Sep 07, 2010 Vol. 127 No. 18. Subscribers to CHRISTIAN CENTURY may view it via the publication website.)

Paul: I find this particular group very pleasant to work with. We came to call ourselves “peacocks” based on the acronym for the committee (PCOCS), but we did not ACT like this bird when we worked together! We did not agree in all things; however, I learned how important it is to stay together in spite of the difference in theology, taste, style, and perspectives. The difference is the gift for the whole church which we celebrate in worship.

5) What are some of the most exciting aspects or features of GTG and associated resources? Which do you hope to use in particular? How?

Adam: In addition to the hundreds of singable hymns and songs, I'm also thrilled with the worship liturgies that will be included in the opening pages of the hymnal. The inclusion of morning and evening prayer services will be helpful for small groups, sessions, and other gatherings to worship together, literally, from the same page.

Paul: Two of the many new criteria which we are presenting in this hymnal are “global” and “praise & worship” selections.

6) What are your hopes for GLORY TO GOD as a resource for worship and beyond?

Adam: Tough question! My hopes are that GTG will help resource the church for another 20-25 years of lively worship and full-bodied praise. Not every hymn will be a heart song for every Presbyterian, but I hope there are a sufficient number of new and old hymns in the new collection so that all people can sing their -- and their neighbor's -- beloved song to God.

Paul: I agree with Adam; I also expect the new resources, especially digital formats, will see a lot of use. (NOTE: The GTG project includes resources for projection and electronic reproduction, which will be rolled out following publication of the printed volumes. For additional information, visit the website for the project:

7) Do you have a favorite “old song” in the collection and a favorite new one?

Meg: My “favorite” hymn changes to reflect the day or season, the people with whom I worship, and the prayers in my heart. There are so many treasures within hymnody that choosing one over another seems a torturous venture. “Praise Ye the Lord, the Almighty” has long been a friend and favorite. It was the first hymn of the 1955 red hymnal. It was the first hymn I remember playing, undoubtedly passing the time for my parents to finish a meeting in an un-air conditioned upstairs choir room of my home congregation (FPC; Bristol, TN). Its soaring melody sings majestic praise. My new “favorites,” however, tend to be more contemplative and prayerful. I find myself drawn to “Make Me a Channel of Your Peace” and “Lord of All Hopefulness.” “Blest Are They” is a particular new favorite. It sets the Beatitudes to song (a helpful mnemonic!), nurtures those in pain, and reminds us all to continually rejoice.

Adam: I have dozens! One of my favorite new ones is "Lord Jesus, You Shall be My Song," a gorgeous new text of French-Canadian origin. And an old one is "Shall We Gather At the River," which is one of my favorite hymns but was not included in the 1990 "Blue Hymnal."

Paul: “To my precious Lord” is my favorite one that comes from the Korean “worship & praise” tradition. I am excited and honored to find my very first hymn text, “Come to the Table,” and very first tune, “Soft Rains of Spring Flow,” included in the collection.

8) The January seminars, “Resurrection: New Life, New Song,” will feature a number of new resources – Psalms For All Seasons, Feasting on the Word Worship Companion, Mark Shipp’s new Psalter, TIMLESS, liturgical art and movement, creative exegesis using a Godly Play® approach, and song writing. How might GTG compliment this work?

Meg: “Glory to God” is the new hymnal for this generation of Presbyterians. Though we may be advised by other denomination’s hymnals, pastoral research, and study, this will likely become one of the primary resources most used by all members.

Paul: The biblical mandate to sing a new song means to me that we are asked to proclaim God’s creation and resurrection in today’s language and voices. Telling what God is doing right now in this place is the act of singing a new song. And GTG will join many other resources joining the eternal praise witnessing the salvation history of triune God working in the lives of the Presbyterian family in God’s changing world.