Three-quarters of a million copies of the Episcopal Church's new hymnal have been shipped to congregations around the country.

The project was the largest single shipment United Parcel Service ever handled, said Frank Hemlin, chief operating officer of the Church Hymnal Corporation.

Although most congregations that placed advance orders for The Hymnal 1982 received the books in time to use them for Christmas services, almost all parishes opted to keep their worn copies of The Hymnal 1940 in use for one last Christmas.

United Parcel Service completed the shipment of 50 trailer loads of the books from Kingsport (Tenn.) Press, where they were printed, just before Thanksgiving. That shipment took care of congregations that had ordered the books by last April. In the next phase, parishes that paid for the books by last July will receive their books in January.

Of an initial print run of 1 million, 850,000 copies are already sold, and Hemlin said he expects that a second printing will be needed by fall.

The book contains 1,008 selections -- 288 pieces of "service music" (liturgical responses) in the front and 720 hymn selections in the back.

The Hymnal 1982, in process for more than a decade, is named for the year its hymn texts were approved by the church's General Convention.