Hymnal revision stopped due to lack of funds

A UMNS Report
By Kathy L. Gilbert*
May 20, 2009 | NASHVILLE, Tenn. (UMNS)

Work has been halted on a proposed new United Methodist Hymnal, making it the latest victim of the economic crisis.

“The resources required to sustain a dedicated staff and pay for the planned activities are simply not available at this time,” said Bishop Ernest S. Lyght, chair of the hymnal revision committee.

The United Methodist Publishing House would have to invest at least $2 million to develop a new hymnal and funding is not available from ongoing operations or from reserves, said Neil Alexander, president and publisher.

The 2008 United Methodist General Conference approved “with joyful excitement” creation of a committee to bring a proposed hymnal to the 2012 session of the denomination’s top legislative body.

A four-year joint music study by the United Methodist Board of Discipleship and the United Methodist Publishing House led to the request to create the hymnal committee.

The 2005-2008 study identified a need for a better mix of traditional hymns and new ones, the desire for more types of music and specific appeals for improvements, additional worship tools and official materials in different media formats.

The study also revealed that similar types of hymnals have about a 25-year life span, and many denominations that produced hymnals around the same time of the last United Methodist hymnal have recently published or plan to publish new versions.

The Rev. Karen Greenwaldt, top executive of the Board of Discipleship, and Alexander said the two agencies will collaborate with each other and with worship leaders across the connection in the next months. Special projects in the development of resources for the church’s liturgical life and music ministries will be pursued on other tracks, they said. The Facebook New United Methodist Hymnal Group will continue as a resource for new and emerging publishing projects in worship and music for the church.

In January, the United Methodist Publishing House announced that the work on the revision had been slowed to allow time for a better sense of both the ability of the publishing house to invest in the revision’s development and the ability of congregations to purchase new hymnals.

Before their first meeting Jan. 20-22, committee members were told that spending on the project was being suspended for at least a year because of the current financial uncertainty.

“At the United Methodist Publishing House, we’ve seen the largest drop in year-to-year sales performance in more than 20 years,” Alexander said. “Our polling of local church leaders reveals that they are extremely cautious about spending for resources given current conditions and are often coping by reusing materials or simply doing without.”

The publishing house receives no general church-apportioned funds. The difficult global economic climate has affected the publishing house, causing a shortfall of 12 percent in this fiscal year and a reduction in the value of investment reserves of 25 percent.

The United Methodist Hymnal was published in 1989 and the proposed revision would have been the second since the merger of the Evangelical United Brethren and Methodist churches in 1968.

*Gilbert is a news writer for United Methodist News Service in Nashville, Tenn.

News media contact: Kathy L. Gilbert, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.