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Church bulletins: with the proliferation of hymn-books and Bible translations, church bulletins require decoding.

My dear editor:

I have returned from my summer wanderings and visits to assorted Sunday services bearing back, as is my wont, a fistful of "bulletins." So they are commonly called, though why I know not since few of them carry any fast-breaking news items.

It may not be startling to you, dear Editor, being called upon to occupy pulpits hither and you bearing good news of the Record's Every Home Plan; but I must say I was taken aback by the growing complexity of these paper plots for public worship and hand fans for the faintly glowing.

Many congregations apparently feel the need for a supplement to the staid and sonorous hymns of the Book of Praise. They have purchased, or filched via photocopier, collections of choruses, camp songs and jingles for Jesus intended, no doubt, to tempt God to hum along and to "appeal to the young folks" -- wherever they might be.

This leads to the necessity of adding encoded information of an order much more complex than an asterisk marking where the worshippers are to stand. The number of the chosen selection is not in itself sufficient, and the use of the title for each book (Give God a Hand!!! or the Book of Praise) is tedious to type each time. Now we have cryptic abbreviations: #47 G.G.a H.!!!, #129 B.O.P. Sometimes, to make matters a little clearer, the hymnals/chorus books are referred to by the colour of their covers: #27 (yellow) or #331 (puce). This practice, however, has been pointed out as insensitive to the needs of those with alternative colour perception and is increasingly frowned upon. ("Color-blind" is unacceptable now and "colour-confused" not much better.)

If the minister and/or music director are really serious about the singing, it gets even worse. Hymn numbers are followed with information and instruction such as: #245 in G.G.a H.!!! (orange) not sung to the tune "Letterrip" but to "Serenity," #193 in B.O.P. (blue).

I encountered yet another variation in a small rural charge famed for following the received wisdom "Take care of the pennies and the nickels will take care of themselves."

Over the long years of its tenacious existence, never have its guardians of the budget seen the wisdom or propriety in faddishly following General Assembly when a new Book of Praise was approved. They could withstand the pleadings of many a minister to broaden their musical vision but, alas, they could not refuse the odd member ("odd" being a relative term here) or family from within their fold who got it into their heads to donate some "new" hymn-books -- which had the advantage of being the only ones available -- in memory of one of their faithful departed. Copies of the 1897, 1918 and 1972 editions of the Book of Praise reside happily in their racks, soon to be followed, no doubt, by the 1996 version. As you have surmised by now, their hymn selections are printed thus: #402 (1897), #301 (1918) and #221 (1972).

Nor does the welter of clues for the pious end there!

The Scripture lessons are annotated with appropriate references for those who would follow the readings themselves. And one can mark the general theology of successive ministers, much like geological layers on the earth's crust, by noting the variety and number of the various translations. When page numbers are thoughtfully included for those who sometimes forget that Micah comes before Nahum, we definitely risk information overload. For example: Old Testament: Isaiah XXVIII: IX-XIII, pg. DCXI, KJV (King James Version), black / Isaiah 28:9-13, pg. 523, GNFMI (Good News for Modern Illiterates), gold / pg. 499, NRSVSF (Newest Revised Standard Version So Far), burgundy.

What are we coming to? Pretty soon, we won't be table to tell the prayers without a program.

Yours acrostically,
COPYRIGHT 1996 Presbyterian Record
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Copyright 1996 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Peter Plymley II
Publication:Presbyterian Record
Date:Sep 1, 1996
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