The New Psalter and the Learning Curve

When I was young, my worship song came from the 1950 blue psalter. My parents had joined the Reformed Presbyterian church just before I was born. The congregation was aging and they were, I’ve been told, a bit shocked at my dancing on the pews to the singing.

But I always loved the psalms: the first tunes, the word pictures that were dear to me, even the smell of the books. I’m not sure if the aroma was from the glue, the paper or the blue-dye edging on the pages, but today if I pick up one of those books, it still smells like the 1960s worship service.

In 1973, the words and tunes changed with the publication of The Book of Psalms for Singing. It wasn’t blue and it had more tunes. Worst of all, some of my childhood favorites—“The Birds of Heaven” and “The Lord Will Light My Candle” were gone. I was a teenager during the transition and found that the losses were more than compensated by the rewards. There were new tunes, less archaic language, and no page numbers. The new psalter was organized by the number of the actual psalm of the Bible. My mind became even more attuned to the scriptural origin of what I was singing.


To this day, I still sing some “blue psalter” words by mistake (when everyone else is singing a 1973 edition psalm.) It is a minor jolt that makes me think about meaning and context and purpose. The disparate words make me more aware of the original Spirit-inspired text.

This week, the Reformed Presbyterian Synod approved the work of a committee for a 2009 psalter. Once again, I will be learning new settings, singing wrong words, and exploring a new book of worship song.

I look forward to the learning curve because I know what will come of it: a deeper understanding and appreciation of God’s Word.

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