There will be no new printings or editions of Together in Song (Australian Hymn Book II), the hymn book most widely used in the Uniting Church.
Publisher HarperCollins has told The Australian Hymn Book company, the ecumenical body that produces the hymnal, that it will not renew licence agreements with copyright holders when they expire in 2018.
“Parishes, schools and other institutions contemplating introducing the hymn book, or those who require additional copies of congregational or full music editions would be well advised to place new orders soon because the book will no longer be available once the copyright agreements have terminated,” the Australian Hymn Book company said.
Australian Hymn Book company director Philip Nicholls, who is also music director at the Anglican St Paul’s Cathedral in Melbourne, said HarperCollins would have decided that it was not worth their while to renew the 12,000 copyright arrangements.
‘It’s not really surprising,” Mr Nicholls said.
“I am please it has lasted this long.”
He said when Together in Song (TIS) was first published in 1999 it would have been expected that the 20-year deal on licences would be renewed when the time came.
“No one foresaw so much of a move online. People worship in a different way now,” Mr Nicolls said.
Mr Nicholls said many congregations project lyrics on a screen and use their own repertoire of worship songs.
Brisbane-based Uniting Church minister David MacGregor, who is a UCA representative on the Australian Hymn Book editorial committee, said the decision not to continue printing TIS was regrettable and also urged congregations, schools and agencies to stockpile copies.
“With few exceptions, denominations around the world continue to use a hymnal as a resource book for congregational song,” Mr MacGregor said.
“In recent years, for example, the United Methodist Church in the USA published Worship & Song. There’s a sadness in knowing that from early 2018, we in this country and church will not be continuing in this light.”
TIS contains 783 psalms, hymns and spiritual songs, including some especially written for the book, and includes the work of writers from 48 countries, with a strong representation of Indigenous and female authors.
The predecessor to Together in Song was the Australian Hymn Book, which came out in 1977 coinciding with the formation of the Uniting Church.
The Australian Hymn Book editorial board was chaired by Methodist minister and strong advocate of church union Dr Alfred Harold Wood and had representation from the other denominations that formed the Uniting Church.
The Lutheran, Anglican and Catholic churches plus the Church of Christ are all currently involved with the book’s production.
“A hymnal such as Together in Song by its ecumenical nature joins us to the wider church … the world church,” Mr MacGregor said.
“Even for UCA congregations not regularly using TIS, its existence is something which tangibly holds us together, offering hymnody, e.g. Isaac Watts and Charles Wesley which connects us to our inherited past.”
Mr Nicholls, who grew up attending a Presbyterian church, remembers when his congregation adopted the same hymn book as the Methodist church across the road.
“By combining repertoires and including all the great Presbyterians and all the great Methodists it showed the dedication to bringing them together in one great book,” he said.
“It was a great exercise in ecumenism, something we don’t see much of anymore.”
Mr MacGregor said the TIS was carefully curated, mixing in the revered traditional hymns with more contemporary worship songs.
He said the book was also valuable in its theologically sound modern and eclectic approach to worship.
“The careful attention to (where possible) inclusive language for God and people points us to informed contemporary scholarship,” Mr MacGregor said.
“Will this be ignored? TIS gifts the church with a broad array of themes and emphases in worship, beyond the danger of a praise-only focus. “
The Australian Hymn Book company will be releasing one more supplement of the TIS and its website has contacts for suppliers of the book.