NASHVILLE -- The United Methodist Hymnal Committee has produced a "populist" hymnal that most Methodists will accept, members predicted last week as they ended their controversial three-year task.

The most difficult hurdle the hymnal now faces before winning acceptance from the denomination's policy-making General Conference next April might be the committee's choice of new translations for the psalms.

"Any time a new translation comes out that is this far-reaching in its potential, there's going to be close scrutiny," hymnal editor Carlton Young said.

The new 960-page "United Methodist Hymnal" will contain 114 Old Testament songs, double the number found in the current hymnal.

The new volume translates the psalms in the Revised Standard Version of the Bible, which often departs from more traditional renderings.

For example, in the 23rd Psalm, the fourth verse will read, "Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil." The King James Version reads, "Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil." However, the King James Version of that psalm will be printed in two other places in the hymnal -- in the funeral section and in a poetry section.

The projected hymnal contains 624 hymns, many of them changed to purge them of sexism or racism.

Whenever possible, the committee replaced "man" and "mankind" with more inclusive terms such as "us" or "friends." The committee cut down on the number of repeated references to "His" or "Him" for God and injected several alternative images for the deity, such as "creator" and "comforter," to dilute the high number of masculine images in the hymns, such as "king" and "father."

But masculine terms were left in hymns so traditional that changes would have been jarring. For example, the committee left unchanged "Rise Up, O Men of God" and "Dear Lord and Father of Mankind."

However, "God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen" was deleted because members decided it was not very popular.

No hymn will refer to God as "she," but a few refer to God's mother-like qualities that are rooted in Scripture. At least one contemporary hymn refers to God as "our Father kind, our Mother strong and sure."