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Singing Psalms in All Seasons

December 29, 2011

Looking ahead to the new year, the Christian Reformed Church in North America, along with other denominations and institutions, has undertaken several efforts to help promote and integrate “the faithful and fruitful use of the biblical psalms” into the life of worshipping communities.

Taken together, all of the efforts point to 2012 being a time when people of faith will have new resources and the opportunity to help bring about a rennaissance of prayerful reliance upon the ancient songs and poems of the Christian Church.

In fact, 2012 could well be the year of the psalms in the CRCNA and beyond.

One of the CRC’s efforts involves Faith Alive Christian Resources, the publishing ministry of the CRC, and two other publishers.

The three publishers have collaborated to create a wide-ranging book titled “Psalms for All Seasons: A Complete Psalter for Worship.” The book will be formally released at the annual Calvin Symposium on Worship in Grand Rapids, Mich., in late January.

Along with Faith Alive Christian Resources, the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship, based at Calvin College, and Brazos Press, a division of the Baker Publishing Group, are publishing the book on the psalms.

“This resource (book) crosses boundaries,” says Martin Tel, one of the collaborators on the book, in an interview with the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship.

The book chronicles the history of how Christians have used the psalms in the past. It provides as well, says Tel, a look at current uses of, and musical settings for, the psalms.

As part of the release, the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship, which is hosting the three-day worship symposium on Jan. 26-28, has set aside time on the evening of Jan. 27 for people to sing from the new, comprehensive 1,128-page anthology. Tel will help lead the singing.

Tel is the C. F. Seabrook Director of Music at Princeton Theological Seminary in Princeton, New Jersey. He will also help lead, with others, a Psalm-event in Pella, Iowa, funded by a Calvin Institute of Christian Worship grant early in 2012.

Perhaps the most promising Psalm-effort of all is the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship’s newly announced Psalms mini-grant program. The institute is offering mini-grants of support and resources to North American worshipping communities interested in hosting a public worship event based on singing psalms from “Psalms for All seasons.”

Also in the works, and separate from the new book, is Lift Up Your Hearts -- a joint, Christian Reformed Church/Reformed Church in America hymnal set to come out later in 2012.

Faith Alive is also publishing the hymnal and some of the same psalms that are in the newly published book will be featured in the hymnal.

But first comes the release of the new book. Collaborating on the book with Tel were Joyce Borger, worship and music editor for Faith Alive Christian Resources, and John Witvliet, director of the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship.

They all worked with a wide audience in mind.

“People in any particular psalm-singing tradition will find hundreds of examples of their own material,” says Tel.

“But they’ll see it side by side with hundreds of examples from Catholic folk tradition; Reformed metrical psalms; Lutheran chants, refrains, and responses; contemporary worship; and psalm settings from Iona, Taizé, and single author psalters.”

Most of the psalms in the new book are presented in a range of formats to allow people to use them in many musical and spoken settings, says material describing the book.

This “volume draws freely from a wide variety of approaches and styles, providing multiple options and making it possible to easily compare the strengths of each.”

The book can be used as sermon material for pastors, as a source for those engaged in daily prayer practices, as inspiration for composers, as a guide to using the psalms in particular places, such as a hospice, and as a resource for Bible studies.

It will also be a significant part of the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship’s mini-grant program.

Communities awarded the mini grants will receive resources to help them plan and hold an event titled Psalm fest. Featuring worship and congregational singing, the event would be based on the new book. Applications are now available for those who want to apply for a mini grant.

A worshipping community might be a congregation, school, college or university, seminary, retirement community, nursing home, prison congregation, new church/old church, big church/small church, church plant/home church, urban, suburban, or rural congregation.

In the introduction to the book, it says: “The overarching lesson of this book is that the biblical psalms can be legitimately appropriated in a variety of ways in Christian worship. This can only happen through attentive study of each psalm and thoughtful pastoral leadership.”

To learn more about the new book, visit: Psalms for All Seasons.