Since September the congregation has been exposed to a variety of music from The Hymnal (1941), The New Century Hymnal (1995) and Sing! Prayer and Praise (2009). Feedback has been unanimously positive. Our church council has unanimously voted to switch to the New Century Hymnal. It has virtually all the good old hymns from the hymnal but additionally it has music that has become part of our tradition over the years. Even though the congregation is exploring its German heritage, in the United Church of Christ we also value the English and American traditions. Let me show you two examples of what I mean by that:
1. At many memorial services most people want to sing “Amazing Grace”. Well, that was not to be found in The Hymnal (1941) simply because it is part of a tradition with British roots that was of little to no interest to our Evangelical and Reformed ancestors that wanted to preserve our German heritage. In the New Century Hymnal you will not only find this 1779 hymn under the number 547 but also you will be able to read its background: “John Newton’s autobiographical hymn reflects his conversion from his earlier existence as a slave trader. While serving as curate in the English village of Olney, Newton met William Cowper, and together they published Olney Hymns, which included this hymn.”
2. Then the New Century Hymnal strengthens our exploration of German theology even more by bringing us into the second half of the 20th century. As the new year approaches I enjoy reading and singing Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s poem “By Gracious Powers”. Again on the bottom of hymn #413 the new Century Hymnal tells you the story: “Dietrich Bonhoeffer, theologian, professor and leader of the German Opposition, composed the poem on which this hymn is based, “New Year 1945,” while imprisoned by the Gestapo in Berlin. Four months later, Bonhoeffer was executed by special order of Himmler.”
Here are the words by which we welcome the new year 2015, 70 years after Bonhoeffer wrote them:
1 By gracious powers so wonderfully sheltered, And confidently waiting, come what may, We know that God is with us night and morning And never fails to greet us each new day.
2 Yet is this heart by its old foe tormented, Still evil days bring burdens hard to bear; O give our frightened souls the sure salvation For which, O God, You taught us to prepare.
3 And when this cup You give is filled to brimming With bitter suffering, hard to understand, We take it thankfully and without trembling, Out of so good and so beloved a hand.
4 Yet when again in this same world You give us The joy we had, the brightness of Your sun, We shall remember all the days we lived through, And our whole life shall then be Yours alone.