The New Century Hymnal

The New Century Hymnal is a comprehensive hymnal and worship book published in 1995 for the United Church of Christ. The hymnal contains a wide-variety of traditional Christian hymns and worship songs, many contemporary hymns and songs (typically in traditional idioms, though), a substantial selection of "world music" selections (hymns and worship songs from non-European-American) origin, a full lectionary-based Psalter, service music selections, and a selection of liturgies from the UCC Book of Worship (1986). Generally speaking, the hymnal is theologically within the "mainline" Protestant tradition, with a slant toward liturgical forms.

The hymnal project was initiated by action of the UCC General Synod in 1977, only three years after the denomination released its first-ever hymnal as a unified body (the eventually unpopular Hymnal of the United Church of Christ). Prior to that time, congregations used the hymnals from their predecessor traditions: the Pilgrim Hymnal of the Congregational Christian Churches or The Hymnal of the Evangelical and Reformed Church. Because of financial struggles and other issues of greater concern to the denomination, however, work on the project by the denomination's Board for Homeland Ministires (now known as the Local Church Ministries division) did not begin until 1989. The hymnal committee was chaired by James W. Crawford, then pastor of Boston's prestigious Old South Church, and the book was edited by Arthur Clyde.

In addition to the standard UCC edition, the hymnal is available in an "ecumenical" edition (for independent congregations, or those from other denominations) that lacks the United Church of Christ symbol imprint on the cover and some of the liturgical material in the "Orders for Worship" section.

While it is currently the only "official" hymnal of the UCC, some local UCC congregations have officially adopted a variety of other hymnals (including the earlier ones) that are used for reasons outlined below, including the local church's own traditions as well as dissatisfaction with language revisions. The UCC does not exert authority over its member churches on matters of worship and congregational life, so congregations are free to use whatever hymnal they choose. No comprehensive figures are available as to the exact percentage of UCC congregations that use the NCH; however, among congregations that responded to the 2004-05 denomination-wide survey of worship practices, "A majority (58%) use The New Century Hymnal, with 39% using it all or nearly all of the time." (from Worshipping Into God's Future: Summary and Strategies 2005, available at .)

Theological Guidelines

According to "The Making of The New Century Hymnal" by James Crawford and Daniel Johnson, the hymnal committee was guided by the following theological guidelines:

Inclusive Language and The New Century Hymnal

The New Century Hymnal is perhaps most famous both in and outside the United Church of Christ for its approach to using "inclusive language". Arthur Clyde, hymnal editor, writes "The New Century Hymnal is not the first hymnal to deal with the issue of inclusive language. It does, however, represent the most even and consistent approach to language of any hymnal yet published. Rather than choosing to present only new hymns in inclusive language, those responsible for the language of this hymnal took the General Synod request for an inclusive hymnal quite literally. Thus hymns of other ages are presented in ways that seek to maintain the theology and beauty of the original but without some of the biases of the time in which they were written."

Clyde identifies a number of approaches and concerns implemented in considering hymn text language, which include:

The language revisions made necessary by these principles became very controversial upon the hymnal's release. Some congregations, mainly from more liberal backgrounds[citation needed], found the changes liberating, while other ones, typically of moderate-to-conservative theological or social bent[citation needed], have refused to adopt the new hymnal because they feel the changes were too "radical". Most often, however, complaints about the changes are not theological, but rather because the updated language is seen as un-poetic or as conflicting against the congregation's stored memory (these complaints are particularly made in relation to Christmas carols and American songs, such as America the Beautiful). Similarly, the printing of this hymnal left stanzas disappearing into the binding (instead of leaving enough margin for a binding), and musical lines of text and notes that are poorly typeset on the page. Finally, the omission of certain bass notes in the melodies seem to place an emphasis on singing only the melody and not the harmony in a particular hymn. The 1995 issues of Prism (the theological journal of the UCC) contain critiques and criticisms of the new hymnal.

The New Century Hymnal is not alone in having received this criticism; the 1978 Lutheran Book of Worship (the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and predecessor bodies) and the 1982 Lutheran Worship (Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod) hymnals received similar complaints from parishioners and clergy about language revision (although even with the criticisms, the Lutheran Book of Worship eventually achieved much more widespread adoption in its denomination than either The New Century Hymnal in the UCC or Lutheran Worship in the LCMS[citation needed]). All three bodies mentioned operate under a substantially congregational polity, with no denominational mechanisms compelling uniform usage.

Hymnal Contents

See also


  1. ^ Arthur G. Clyde, "The Language of The New Century Hymnal" in The New Century Hymnal Companion: A Guide to the Hymns, ed. Kristen L. Forman (Cleveland, OH: The Pilgrim Press, 1998), pp. 15–56.
  2. ^ James W. Crawford and Daniel L. Johnson, "The Making of The New Century Hymnal" in The New Century Hymnal Companion: A Guide to the Hymns, ed. Kristen L. Forman (Cleveland, OH: The Pilgrim Press, 1998), pp. 3–14.
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