At its second meeting here in February, the Presbyterian Hymnal Committee spent significant time discussing a theological vision to guide its work.

Before the meeting, a subcommittee drafted the Theological Vision Statement, which focuses on a framework of salvation history — God’s powerful acts of creation, redemption and final transformation — and on the human responses made possible by such acts.

According to the statement, placing priority on God’s empowering and transformative actions “offers hope to those whose faith in human efforts has been undermined.” It also invites a broadly inclusive scope as a means of most faithfully giving voice to “the breadth and length and height and depth of the love of Christ” (Eph 3:18). Full text of the statement can be found here.

Committee members voted unanimously to change the name of the committee from the Hymnal Committee to the Presbyterian Committee on Congregational Song. The new name forms the cheerful acronym PCOCS (pronounced “peacocks”).

As early as the third century, Christians were depicting peacocks in frescoes and mosaics, on catacomb walls and on the floors of baptisteries. Popular opinion held that after the bird shed its tail feathers, those that grew in their place were even more splendid than the original. For early believers, this provided a vivid way to represent the resurrection: the life to come is only reached after loss, but is far more glorious than we in the present life can ever imagine.

But the new name is not simply a play on words. It also indicates the group’s commitment to producing something more than just a printed hymnal, and to include more than hymns in the final product. Just as medieval painters saw in the peacock’s plumage a blending of all the colors of the rainbow, so does PCOCS aim to incorporate a full spectrum of worship styles and genres into the resources it provides for the church.

To that end, the committee received a report from Deborah Bruce of GAC Research Services about a survey in which 800 churches from a cross-section of the denomination were asked to rate every hymn in the 1990 Presbyterian Hymnal. Those surveyed were asked to rate the hymns in terms of frequency of use and desirability of inclusion in the next publication.

Another research project invited 777 congregations to maintain a record of everything sung by the congregation for one year. This second survey will conclude in the fall of 2010.

Because of these surveys, the committee will have views from the denomination at large in making decisions about which materials to carry forward. The committee is also exploring the possibility of retrieving some beloved hymns that were not included in the 1990 volume.

Finally, the committee developed a plan to invite submission of old and new material — hymns, psalms, spiritual songs, praise choruses, texts and tunes — for consideration. Authors and composers will be encouraged to submit their original works. Others who have a strong desire to see a particular song in the new collection are also invited to make their wishes known. Guidelines and other procedures for submitting material for review can be found online.

PCOCS will hold its next meeting in June.

This story was furnished by Emily Kiefer, publicity and author relations associate for the Presbyterian Publishing Corporation.