Interview with Christian Renewal

A new edition of the Book of Praise was recently released and is available to the Canadian Reformed Churches.

What makes this one different from the 1984 edition?

The Psalms have been improved. About fifty Psalms needed only a small amount of work; another fifty needed significant work; the remaining fifty were completely redone. As well, all the archaic pronouns and verb endings were replaced with contemporary language.

The new edition contains twenty more hymns than did the 1984 edition for a total of eighty-five.

How long has this process been in place?

Since General Synod 2001 gave the committee the mandate to make some adjustments, expansions, and improvements to the Book of Praise.

What are some early reviews?

The early reviews from within the churches are positive. In addition to the quality of the work, the near universal positive reception is also due to how involved the churches were in the process. Essentially, the whole federation became one huge super committee. Every church had repeated opportunities to comment on the drafts as they came available and on a provisional version which came out in 2010 and was used by all the churches. The standing committee also appointed two ad hoc committees, one for the psalms and one for the hymns, to give advice to the standing committee. In this way all the churches were able to take ownership of the project. At the outset there was some disappointment that we were giving up the 1984 edition, and some complaints about aspects of the 2010 provisional version, but, at the end of the day, there is broad satisfaction with the final outcome.

What has your involvement been in the process?

I have been the chairman since 2001 and am retiring in 2016. As chairman I have been directing traffic all these years and have enjoyed the task immensely. All the brothers and sisters on the standing committee, the ad hoc committees, or advisers, had servant hearts. I really felt like we were all pulling in the same direction all the time. As well, the involvement, love, and interest of the churches and the good guidance of the several synods (meeting every three years) made the work a pleasure. Although he does not much like being singled out, it is impossible for me not to mention the work and devotion of Dr. William Helder of Hamilton. He has been involved in the work of the Book of Praise for many decades. As a versifier and poet, his work on this final edition was extensive, invaluable, and of outstanding quality.

How is distribution going thus far? Are all the churches expected to purchase the new book? What is the cost involved both in printing and in purchasing the book?

The distribution is going well—or perhaps I should say, has gone well—in that all of the Canadian Reformed Churches are using it in their worship services. The Canadian Reformed schools are also making use of it. The children learn at school the songs they sing at church.

The book can be purchased for $24 from publisher, Premier Printing (books@premierpublishing.ca). There is also a tablet/smartphone version available for $9.75 (bop.premierprinting.ca) and a file useful for projection will soon be available.

Are there other denominations that sing from the Book of Praise?

The Free Reformed Churches of Australia sing from the Book of Praise. I do not know of any other denominations that do but there have long been some churches here and there that use it.

How did the on again off again connection with the United Reformed Churches joint Songbook Committee affect the work on the revision of the Book of Praise, or were those two completely separate entities?

Speaking candidly, I must say that we were disappointed that the Psalter Hymnal committee was instructed to discontinue working with us as we had, by way of our semi-annual joint two-day meetings over four or five years, begun  to advance well towards a recommended hymnal. We had provisionally settled on about 200 hymns that needed yet a final cut. We were surprised that the work suddenly ended, and then that the Psalter Hymnal committee so quickly began to work with the OPC songbook committee! Although the mandate to revise the Book of Praise was a separate one from the directive to create a common songbook together with the Psalter Hymnal committee, it was put on hold while we focused on the productions of a common songbook. Once the common songbook idea died we gave full attention again to the revision of the Book of Praise.

If you were a salesman looking to sell the Book of Praise to other Reformed denominations, what would your selling points be?

I am not much of a salesman…. Let me say that I would try to sell it on the beauty of the versification of the Psalms which are faithful to scripture and set to wonderful and pleasing poetry. They are matched to Genevan tunes, not appreciated by many and yet loved by as many and used for almost 500 years by churches throughout the world. As well, there is a good collection of hymns and canticles which are faithful to scripture, Reformed doctrine and confession, and are catholic in that they represent the hymnody of the church of all ages through space and time. The Book of Praise also contains the three ecumenical creeds, faithful translations of the Three Forms of Unity, and the continental Reformed liturgical forms and prayers.

Feel free to add any additional comments that you think important to round out the information significant to this story.

I am thankful that the Book of Praise may continue to be a blessing to the church of Christ. Above all, it is my prayer that our Triune God may be “enthroned on the praises of Israel” (Psalm 22:3) also through the use of this songbook. To him alone be all glory, now and forever!

Brief bio.

George van Popta is 56 years of age and has served in the ministry for twenty-seven years. He was ordained at Jubilee Canadian Reformed Church in Ottawa from where he went to Taber, Alberta, and then to Ancaster, Ontario. In 2008 he was called back to Jubilee Church and so lives in Ottawa with his wife Dora with whom he has five children and an ever increasing number of grandchildren. Psalm 128!

He has written several books among which are: The Glorious Victory, a devotional exposition of Revelation; Mostly Canticles, a music book of versifications of passages of scriptures set to four part harmony of public domain or newly commissioned tunes; and Pure Love, the Song of Solomon in twenty-four sonnets.

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