New hymnal soon to be hot off the press

By Dixon Cartwright

If you happen to attend a congregation that each Sabbath awkwardly shuffles between several varieties of dog-eared, threadbare, falling-apart hymnbooks and even photocopies of hymns, you might want to think about writing Mark Graham.

Mr. Graham, pianist and composer, is close to achieving a dream: the publication of his new hymnal for Church of God congregations.

Songs for the Family of God includes 88 hymns, about a dozen of them by Mr. Graham.

Unlike several hymnals inherited from the Worldwide Church of God--from the thin, gray, digest-sized paperback of the 1950s to the purple two-and-a-half-pounder of 1993--Mr. Graham's new volume contains nary a song by Dwight Armstrong, brother of the WCG founder.

"There are so many advantages to having a royalty-free hymnal that I felt it was worth forfeiting the beautiful hymns that are copyrighted," including those by Mr. Armstrong, he said.

On the other hand, like most of Mr. Armstrong's pieces, 47 hymns in Mr. Graham's book come directly from the Psalms. Many of the rest are based on other scriptures, and about 30 are rooted in New Testament passages or teachings.

"It is a very Church of God­oriented, forward-looking collection," Mr. Graham said. "Many of the hymns are about Christ returning to establish His Kingdom and other parts of what we know as the plan of God, including His Sabbath and keeping His commandments."

Melodies from the masters--Mozart, Haydn and Tallis--are part of the mix.

"Others are based on melodies from England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Finland, Spain, China, Peru, Holland, Israel, the Ukraine and Greece," he said. "There are two African-American spirituals and one from the Kentucky Harmony collection [an early-1800s volume of Appalachian hymns]. Many are ancient or from older psalters. Some, though still quite melodic and easily singable, push the envelope of rhythmic structure."

Songs for the Family of God is a modern songbook, yet it relies on the beauty and majesty of old hymns.

"I think it stands on its own as a work with a distinctive flavor, and, if one were to read the lyrics from beginning to end, it even preaches the gospel."

The book, to be printed at a plant owned by Church of God member Jim Hopkins of Blacklick, Ohio, will soon be available for $6 for a single copy or $5 per book up to 20 copies. For quantity discounts on orders of 20 or more, contact Mr. Graham.

Although Mr. Graham will copyright the book, he plans to make it freely available for duplication for any nonprofit purpose.

"This hymnal can be photocopied by anyone in its entirety or in part, or it can be posted on a Web site for downloading," he said.

A special index complements the regular alphabetized one in the back of the book. It groups the hymns by meter. "This means that the words of any hymn in a group may be sung to the tune of any other hymn in that group, producing literally hundreds of combinations of music and lyrics."

Plans call for Mr. Hopkins' company to roll out the hymnals sometime before Pentecost.

For more information, or to order a sample copy for $6 postpaid, write Mr. Graham at or P.O. Box 770261, Lakewood, Ohio 44107, U.S.A. Or phone him at (216) 529-1380.

"A few congregations have already ordered it," Mr. Graham said. "What else can I tell you? I really like it. I should have Jamie [Cartwright] review it. She's the best writer on yourstaff."

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