Hymnbook revisions to unify members globally

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Janice Kapp Perry continues to write music, frequently adding to her increasing total of 325 hymns. Anyone with a church account can submit feedback or songs to be included in a new hymnal. (Lexie Flickinger)

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints announced plans to revise the hymnbook and children’s songbook in July 2018 to better serve their growing and diverse membership.

The announcement included an invitation to members to submit feedback and original pieces for consideration. The announcement was one of many major changes revealed after the April 2018 General Conference.  

The revisions will produce a single hymnbook and a single children’s songbook with the same hymns and songs available in multiple languages. Songs specific to certain geographical areas and languages, like the “The Star-Spangled Banner” for the United States, will be available online, according to a published notice sent to all church leaders from the church’s Priesthood and Family Department.

“We desire to offer a consistent core collection of hymns and songs in every language that reflects the diverse needs of the global church in our day,” said Elder Ronald A. Rasband in an article published by Church News.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints songwriter Janice Kapp Perry said she has a personal connection with the hymnbook and children’s songbook. She is well-known for writing the hymn “As Sister’s in Zion” along with 10 children’s hymns, including “A Child’s Prayer.”

She shared a past experience where music was temporarily removed from the Sunday meetings in her ward. She said the experience made her realize the importance of music in church services. 

“It was a graphic example of why we sing together. It unifies us, in purpose and testimony,” Kapp Perry said. “To me, music is the best way to teach the gospel.” 

The hymnal revision will fill doctrinal gaps, resolve copyright issues, improve translation quality and provide better digital access, according to church officials in an article published by Church News. The new edition will make every hymnbook, regardless of country or language, consistent in hymn and hymn number. The revision is expected to take several years.

The most recent hymnbook revision took place in 1985 under the direction of President Spencer W. Kimball.

Michael Moody, who was the chairman of the Church Music Committee at the time, was appointed as head of the Hymnbook Executive Committee, which conducted and oversaw the 1985 revision. Not unlike the 2018 committee, the group was composed of a diverse group of individuals such as a musicologist, text specialist, organist and editor.

“The executive committee was small, but we had subcommittees and a lot of field testing. Many people were involved in the design, the printing, the layout and the production,” Moody said. 

Moody’s committee spent about two years eliminating less useful hymns, adding children’s songs and removing choir songs. A 1948 committee made previous revisions. 

Moody explained The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ congregations were mostly located along the Wasatch Front in 1948, but by 1985 had spread worldwide, which was a reason for the revision. At the time, the church had stakes, wards and branches in 115 countries and territories according to the 1985 statistical report

According to Moody, 2018’s hymnal revisions are based on the same reasons as 1985 and 1948. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints currently has 16 million members with church publications printed in 188 different languages, according to church statistics

“I think the new committee is eager to address the international nature of the church to make a unified hymnbook that will be the same in every country and every culture and every language,” Moody said. “It’s a balance between a unified hymnody and addressing the needs of every culture and language.”

Kapp Perry and Moody both said they know the change is inspired and a lot of preparation and thought has gone into it.

“It’s all part of a great work that is taking place. This is a new age and a new church with new needs, new opportunities and new ways to spread the gospel, and we’ve got a prophet that is equal to the task,” Moody said. “I think the future is bright.” 

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is accepting members’ feedback regarding the current hymnbook through an online survey. The survey allows members to give their opinions on which hymns to add or remove and to share any issues they have with the current printed or online hymnbook.

Anyone with a church account can submit original music or text for consideration in the new edition. A committee created by the church will review those submissions, though the committee members remain unannounced as of Sept. 26. Those who choose to submit are restricted to five hymns and five children’s songs. Submissions will be accepted until July 1, 2019.

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