Songfest: Challenges for a hymnal committee

Well, they didn't teach me that in seminary." Young pastors sing this refrain when they face situations that seminaries can't anticipate: How do I conduct a memorial service for the preschool's pet guinea pig, which died at the hands of a student? What words should I use after hitting a horrendously embarrassing drive in the men's golf league? How do I politely turn down yet another offer of coffee and cookies on a day full of pastoral visits?

One thing seminary did not prepare me for was the challenge of choosing hymns for worship every week. I agonize over the options and scrutinize many factors. My mind races: What did we sing last week and how well did we sing it? When was the last time the congregation sang this one? This text is strong, but how will they take to the tune? Have we come up with a range of musical styles and eras? What about Mrs. Jones, who loves the old favorites? What about Mr. Jones, who prefers contemporary praise music? Who is the organist this week and will she play on the organ or the piano? What is a young pastor to do?

The struggle to choose the hymns for the small rural congregation I serve is a microcosm of the challenges faced by members of the Presbyterian Committee on Congregational Song (PCOCS) as it decides what hymns and songs to include in the next Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) hymnal and electronic resources.