(This review was substantially revised and updated on September 9, 2010.)
Pumpkin comes back! This guy was out of print for a while, then appeared as a softcover in an even brighter shade of orange than the hardcover. Then that ceased to be. And now the original guy is back, same content -- and as before, it is no more or less than a generic hymnal version of the PRESBYTERIAN HYMNAL HYMNS PSALMS & SPIRITUAL SONGS (1992). "Pumpkin" was not marketed in the standard denomi-national blue cover and busy PC-USA logo, just the orange covers and the stripped title: simply as HYMNS PSALMS & SPIRITUAL SONGS--yet otherwise its contents remain identical to the PRESBYTERIAN HYMNAL HYMNS PSALMS & SPIRITUAL SONGS cited above, the price currently identical, an inflation-adjusted $19.95, identical page counts, 716. In fact, our hymnal's publisher, "WJK," has nothing to do with a radio station but is just an abbreviation for "Westminster/John Knox," you-know-who's denominational captive publisher.
And in this guise, our orange fellow-traveler found a home in many churches seeking an update to the classic but woefully obsolete *Pilgrim Hymnal* (1955), such as non-UCC Congregational churches and others, not necessarily Presbyterian, but "in the Reformed tradition." There are many good things to commend the Pres-based hymnal to potential purchasers--when it came out in the very early 1990s it was quite fresh, and included such hymns as "Here I Am, Lord" and "Help Us Accept Each Other." But as you can see from reviews of the "real" Pres. hymnal, response has been lukewarm as to content. In fact, a survey by the Presbyterians in the late 1990s revealed that the pertinent PC-USA hymnal had reached a congregational purchase percentage only in the mid-eighties, when ninety percent was considered "saturation" by the Denomination for such a product. Actual constant USE of the item for Sunday worship was in the low seventies; reasons cited were that the hymnal was felt to be excessively "PC," having excised hymns like "Onward, Christian Soldiers"; also, some choirs felt that the four-part harmonies in the book, while maybe pretty okay for the congregation most of the time, defaulted to the unchallengingly banal and barbeshoppy--alto a third below soprano, tenor a fifth off tonic, typical "drag" bass, that sort of thing. I've been in such a Pres. choir and agree with that judgment.
Before admitting to the moderate charms of this model, independents should certainly also be taking a look at private-market hymnals, or "unihymals" as they are sometimes called. Tops among them are Hope's WORSHIP AND REJOICE (2001) and the CELEBRATING GRACE HYMNAL (2010). But in my opinion the obvious choice for those seeking a recent hymnal "in the Reformed tradition" is HYMNS FOR A PILGRIM PEOPLE (2007), a joint production of the National Association of Congregational Christian Churches and GIA Publishing.
Now, honesty compels me to say that Pumpkin and its blue Presbyterian-derived forebear are stunningly well fabricated, the best I've seen of pew hymnals, and I've seen them going back to the 1940s and through many Protestant denominations. Both PC-USA and Pumpkin editions feature thick close stitchery, heavy boarding, and liberal white space, all of which bespeak durability and permanence. The question remains as to whether a congregation will want the partially outmoded Pumpkin at a higher price than its private-market upstarts, which are merely well made but much newer. Happy Shopping!