Hymnal Handbooks: Companion to the United Methodist Hymnal

Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1593; 940 pp., $39.95.

Carlton R. Young, primary author of this Companion also served as editor of The United Methodist Hymnal (1989) and previously as editor of The Methodist Hymnal (1966) and coedited its handbook, Companion to the Hymnal (1970) with Fred Gealy and Austin Lovelace.

Following the model of some other "great" hymnal handbooks, Young begins his new Companion with a number of historical essays that survey Christian hymnody in general, the Wesleyan tradition more specifically, previous hymnals of the Evangelical United Brethren and of the Methodists, and the development of the 1989 United Methodist Hymnal.

Then follow articles on the hymns, canticles, and "acts of worship" found in this hymnal. These commentaries are arranged alphabetically by first line (thus not in the numerical order of the hymnal). Unfortunately the same boldface type is used for first lines and tune titles in these articles, which is sometimes confusing. Young provides historical background for the texts and musical settings, relevant quotations from a variety of sources, and his own critical comments, which (like the writings of another great hymnologist, Erik Routley) are spiced with sufficient humor and personal convictions to make his volume an enticing introduction to the history and practice of Christian hymnody (and a great relief from reading other hymnal handbooks, which are too often "dry as dust"!).

Young's Companion provides a separate section devoted to fairly detailed biographies, and he concludes his book with an extensive bibliography a general index, and a tune name index. Appropriately hardbound, this volume presents more information on each song and the authors/composers than what is found in the Presbyterian Companion, and does so in a healthy mix of popular and academic writing styles.

Both of these hymnal handbooks are the kinds of sources from which pastors may draw hymn stories for use as sermon illustrations and in which musicians and other worship leaders may find helpful background information to introduce hymns—either in a service or though periodic bulletin or newsletter notices. However, it's regrettable that neither of these volumes offer suggestions (or only rarely) about the performance of these hymns. For such material an interested reader will need to turn to the "Hymn of the Month" articles in Reformed Worship!

Bert Polman was a hymnologist, professor and chair of the music department at Calvin College, Grand Rapids, Michigan. He passed away in July 2013. 

Reformed Worship 33 © September 1994, Calvin Institute of Christian Worship. Used by permission.