In my previous blog I wrote about the hymnal of the Adventist Church in the Netherlands which has now been in use for forty years. One of the special features of this hymnal is the section with the 150 psalms. At the time when this hymnal was created, many church members indicated that they wanted to sing more psalms in our church service. However, the expectation (which I also had) that this would indeed happen, has not materialized. Only occasionally a psalm is chosen for communal singing in the Adventist worship service.
I have often wondered about the reason for this reluctance to sing psalms. While in many respects there has been a tendency in recent decades to adopt practices from the general Protestant tradition–such as pronouncing the Votum at the beginning of the divine service, and giving the blessing at the end of the service–there has not been such a development with regard to psalm singing. Was this perhaps partly due to the fact that the Adventist Hymnal adopted a rather unknown version of the psalter, namely that of Rev. H. Hasper (1886-1974)? The reason for this choice was that we faced difficulties in obtaining the rights to include the psalter that is most commonly used by Protestant in the Netherlands. The foundation that owns the rights to Hasper’s psalter was willing to allow us the use of their psalter under conditions that were attractive to both parties. However, psalm singing in the Dutch Adventist Church has remained at a low ebb and it does not look as if this will change any time soon.
Yet, the singing of psalms has not only remained popular in the most conservative Protestant churches in the Netherlands, but psalms also continue to have a permanent place in most “moderate” Protestant denominations. A recent survey found that psalm 121 and psalm 42 rank highest in popularity. Perhaps the time has come that I choose one of these psalms as the hymns to be sung with one of my sermons. The words are beautiful and I find them much more meaningful than the text of most popular hymns.
Perhaps what surprised me most in the outcome of the recent survey was the fact that for many churchgoers the organ is still the preferred instrument in the church service . 62 percent of the members of the United Church of the Netherlands prefer organ accompaniment. The piano and a band score much lower, at 26 and 19 percent respectively. So, the fact that I still like organ accompaniment in church singing does not make me unique!
The hymns of Johan de Heer (1866-1961) also seem to be as popular as ever in the Dutch Protestant churches. Johan de Heer, the writer and composer of hundreds of hymns, was in his younger years for some time a member of the Adventist Church in Rotterdam. He left Adventism in 1902 and later became the leader of the interdenominational “Zoeklicht” movement, which focused primarily on the return of Christ. In a sense, therefore, he remained an Adventist.
Finally: I was not surprised that the survey showed that “Go with God” is very popular. One in twenty members of the United Protestant Church of the Netherlands mentioned that hymn as their favorite. Also high on the list of popular hymns: are “Abba, Father” and “I Will Be There.” In our Adventist circles, these hymns are also frequently sung. I can personally also appreciate “Go with God”. But once in a while a psalm . . I would really enjoy it!