The Psalter for Christian Worship

Michael Morgan

Published jointly by 
Columbia Theological Seminary
Witherspoon Press
The Office of Theology and Worship,
Presbyterian Church (U.S.A)

To the congregation of
Central Presbyterian Church, Atlanta;
my colleagues Ted, Kim, Marilyn, and Paul;
and to all who would find on these pages
the words to frame their prayers and praise.

This book is dedicated
with much devotion and love.

The following information was furnished by Michael Morgan.

In the last decade, the Presbyterian Church has been going through a time of liturgical renewal - a reclaiming of some of those elements of Reformed worship which we have lost over the years. There is almost nothing closer to the heart of Reformed worship than metrical Psalms, yet until recently little attention has been paid to incorporating them regularly in worship.

Metrical paraphrases - unlike literal translations - must be faithful to the Scriptures, but they also must balance fidelity with rhyme, meter, and imagery necessary for good poetry. They must also be appealing and considered "singable" by a congregation.

Michael Morgan came to Central Presbyterian Church in Atlanta in 1972 as organist, and has a particular passion for the Psalms. At the request of Dr. Ted Wardlaw, Senior Minister at Central Church, he wrote metrical settings of the seven Psalms dictated by the Lectionary for Eastertide in 1995. These were so well received by the congregation - for whom the singing of hymns has been a strong tradition, but other musical approaches to Psalmody had been unsuccessful - that by the end of the summer, a complete Psalter, consisting of about 170 settings of the Psalms, was presented to the congregation.

Dr. Douglas Oldenburg, President of Columbia Theological Seminary and a member of the congregation, took a special interest in these settings, and through the support of the Seminary, Dr. Walter Brueggemann, the Presbyterian Office of Theology and Worship, and Dr. Paul Detterman, the texts were published in 1999.

Rather than literal paraphrases of the Psalms, these are poems which capture the sense of the Psalm text and express it in "hymns" of singable length, set to familiar tunes which most congregations know by heart. (A tune index and a metrical index are included, so that texts and tunes can be paired up according to the tunes any congregation can sing.) The Psalms also may be read as poetry at times when singing them is not desired. Attention was also given to inclusive language, and to retaining the Old Testament sentiments of the Psalms faithfully, while never losing sight of their meaning from this side of the Cross. A balance was sought between contemporary and archaic language in the use of pronouns relating to God, but as long as congregations pray, "Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done," there will be a place for archaic pronouns in worship.

Since the Psalter was intended as a gift to the church, there are no permissions to obtain or royalties to pay for reproducing texts in worship bulletins. Only the usual "Used with permission" citation is necessary.

Isaac Watts once said that when we read the prose Psalms, God speaks to us, but when we sing metrical Psalms, we speak to God. May those who read and sing these texts find in them new expression for their praise.

Michael Morgan
Atlanta, GA

The Psalter for Christian Worship, by Michael Morgan Louisville: Witherspoon Press and the Office of Theology and Worship, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and Atlanta: Columbia Theological Seminary, 1999. Available from Presbyterian Distribution Service, 100 Witherspoon Street, Louisville, KY 40202-1396. 1-800-524-2612. Hardcover, $24.95; paper, $14.95.


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Psalter for Christian Worship
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