Anglicans in Canada and around the world may find themselves singing some new hymns this spring. As this article was being written, Sing a New Creation, a supplement to the 1998 hymnal Common Praise, was set to be released— and was said to be already attracting interest both inside and outside the country.
And what’s more, the project was begun and led by volunteers.
Since the 1970s, church practice has been to publish a new hymnal every 25 years or so, and a supplement about 10 years after each new edition comes out, says Kenneth Hull, a retired professor of music at the University of Waterloo and the convener of the committee that compiled the new supplement. But with fewer staff to dedicate than ever before and the Anglican Church of Canada’s in-house publishing capacities greatly reduced over the past decade, the 10-year anniversary of Common Praise came and went with no sign of a supplement. Hull made several inquiries about starting one, but when it became clear that a fully funded project wasn’t likely, he stepped up to lead it as a volunteer.
“Particularly in the last 50 years, congregational song has been changing rapidly,” says Hull. It’s important to publish supplements, he says, because they can help the church keep up with musical trends and try out new ideas that may or may not make their way into the permanent rotation of hymns. “It’s a very important part of the character of what we sing on Sunday that it is rooted in our history. And that the church has tested and weighed and decided ‘this is really a keeper.’”
The church was clear that due to shrinking attendance and resources nationwide, it could not fund and staff the new project as extensively as it had Common Praise, says the Rev. Eileen Scully, General Synod’s director of Faith, Worship and Ministry. “The idea of doing another hymn book project seemed overwhelming. There was simply no way. We didn’t have a publisher, none of the staff who had been around for Common Praise. So we kept saying to these lovely church musicians [like Hull] ‘Sorry, but…’” Prospects looked bleak, she said, until Hull and his team came forward to volunteer. So they began what would become the decade-long endeavor of compiling and publishing Sing a New Creation.
The committee assembled some of the content of the book from submissions by and consultation with members of dioceses across Canada, says Hull. But it found most of them by culling various hymnals written since the last edition of Common Praise.
As the book came together, he says, several trends emerged.
First, the committee set out to include music from a wide variety of sources across Canada—both geographically and ethnically, Hull says. The songs they picked included some of what Hull refers to as “paperless hymns”—songs musicians can teach to a congregation without the need for members sitting in the pews to have a copy of the book themselves or even to follow along on slides. And, he says, they added an important new category of hymn—lament—which they wove into a section of hymns of praise.
Hull says the inclusion of that element goes back to a conversation he had with Anglican liturgist the Rev. Paul Gibson in the wake of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. He and Hull had been discussing how to run a worship service in the wake of the tragedy. “It just seemed crazy to do an ‘act of praise,’ so what I did was, I sang a lament about it. I wanted to know whether it was liturgically sound and he was very positive about it,” Hull says.
In that conversation, Gibson coined a phrase which struck Hull so much he would eventually quote it in Sing a New Creation’s introduction: “Lament is the shadow side of praise.”
As Hull puts it, “Lament is about what’s wrong with the world or ways that God seems to be absent.” Songs of lament, he says, “imply God is there to speak to about it. Lament is kind of an act of praise in the face of reasons to the contrary.”
Hymns of lament make up a small part of Sing a New Creation, he adds, but if the committee had known about the coming grief and trauma of the pandemic before the contents were finalized in 2017, they might well have added more.
For Scully, the major challenge was finding a way to get the book printed. With the Anglican Church of Canada now lacking the capacity to produce a publication of this type, she started by approaching other Protestant churches in Canada, but she says she was making a big ask and many were unable to help.
“We needed a publisher who could assume the risks for us. We had no money to put up to pay for engraving—that’s very expensive,” says Scully.
In music publishing, engraving is the process of drawing musical notation as it will appear on the page.
Finally, she reached out to The Episcopal Church to ask about publishing it through the U.S. church’s Church Publishing Inc. (CPI). As a bigger operation, they could afford to take on the risk, she says. Not only were they willing to do it thanks to their already friendly relations with the Anglican Church of Canada, they thought Anglicans outside Canada would be excited for it, too. “They saw it as a gift to the whole Anglican Communion.”
As this article was being written, Sing a New Creation had not been officially released, but Scully told the Journal she was surprised and impressed at the amount of interest—not to mention pre-sales—the book had garnered on CPI’s online store.
CPI did not provide pre-sales data, but publisher Arieé Stuart voiced enthusiasm for the hymn book in an email to the Anglican Journal.
“We are thrilled to be publishing Sing a New Creation,” Stuart wrote. “This important project has been in the works for several years and its publication is highly anticipated. We see the market as global and will be making it available around the world.”
Editor’s note: This article was updated with new information May 4.