Easter 2024

15 July 2015
new worlds - thousands of

Maurice Bevan wrote the hymn tune CORVEDALE (published by Cathedral Music) expressly for the hymn "There's a wideness in God's mercy".

A close reading of the hymn, by Frederick William Faber, reveals the following stanza that is not included in The Hymnal 1982.

There is grace enough for thousands
Of new worlds as great as this;
There is room for fresh creations
In that upper home of bliss.

This image of new, ongoing creation is a vital one and is complementary to the very "wideness" of the mercy under discussion. If God's mercy truly is wide, it is not limited to this world of even this universe.

This kind of new creation imagery also takes root in Robert Bridges's famous hymn "All my hope on God is founded" at stanza three.

God's great goodness aye endureth,
deep his wisdom, passing thought:
splendor, light and life attend him,
beauty springeth out of naught.
from his store
newborn worlds rise and adore.

And another hymn has an opening line that acknowledges the creative drive of God: "The great Creator of the worlds". It is a significant but oft overlooked plural. These words come from the Epistle to Diogentus, c. 150, and are translated F. Bland Tucker for the 1982 Hymnal.

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08 July 2015
photos - hymnal
Two photos of hymnals from my collection that should have been used to illustrate yesterday's article. 

Confusingly, the 1916 Hymnal of the Episcopal Church was called the "New Hymnal". My copy is anything but. 

This copy of the Episcopal Hymnal 1982 was given to me when I was installed as the organist and choirmaster of St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Richmond, Virginia in 2010. This book belonged to Raymond F. Glover, who served as general editor of this hymnal beginning in 1980. Immediately prior to this he too served as organist and choirmaster of St. Paul's, Richmond. He was appointed in 1969. 

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07 July 2015
2024 - Hymnal

The 1982 hymnal is now 33 years old, and language, musical taste and theological emphasis has changed profoundly over those years.

So begins the "Explanation" section of resolution D060 of the 78th General Convention of the Episcopal Church which wrapped up in Salt Lake City this past weekend.

Judging books by their covers

When I was walking into Episcopal chapels and churches for the first time as a high schooler (occupational hazard for a young organist) I did notice the name of the hymnal, and I thought it was a bit odd -- it was strange and too specific.

I remembered well the lovely blue hymnals that the Presbyterian Church (PCUSA) produced in 1990. The color, logo, gold embossing -- they were new, yet timeless. They were a welcome update to the dusty maroon The Hymnbook that had littered the pews since 1955. Thirty-five years seemed a decent time to wait for that nice, classic update. But unless you were there for that, you wouldn't really know from the cover of the hymnal when it came out.

In the Episcopal Church the date is stamped right there on the cover.

First there's the definite article, then there's a description of the what the book is, and then there's a year: 1982.

But here's the thing about that date on the cover: that's when General Convention approved the texts of the book, not it's publication date. Even before that 1982 gathering, the chair of the hymnal committee, Raymond F. Glover, knew that it would take more time to finalize and publish the book.

it will take the Commission another three years to prepare music editions. Clover [sic] said he foresees publication of pew and accompaniment editions by the Church Hymnal Corporation late in 1985.

Proposed Texts for Revised Hymnal Submitted, Episcopal News Service, 23 July 1982

And wouldn't you know it, he was right! The book bears a copyright date of 1985.

Finding ourselves in the Hymnal

Less than a month after this report from the Episcopal News Service, I was born. So I guess you could say I've grown up with this hymnal, even though I didn't know it very well until I started working with it regularly at St. Peter's Episcopal Church in Lakewood, Ohio in 2002.

But boy do I love this hymnal. Let me count the ways.

There are beautiful Anglican hymns which I've also sung in other traditions. But in the context of Episcopal worship and use of the The Hymnal 1982 I understood them as the cornerstone of a great, living hymn culture. From the rising lines of "When morning guilds the skies," to the stately "Praise, my soul, the king of heaven," and the sublime "Come, labor on." Then I found the early American strands: "What wondrous love is this," the startlingly beautiful tune RESIGNATION ("My Shepherd will supply my need"), and the rustic, dry, pentatonic liquidity of BOURBON (found at hymns 147 and 675). There are twentieth century tunes, including those by Herbert Howells (MICHAEL and SANCTA CIVITAS) and Calvin Hampton (ST. HELENA, and DE TAR). There are really modern twentieth century tunes, like those of William Albright (PETRUS, ARBOR STREET, and the self referential ALBRIGHT). And some of the service music -- I'm looking at you Richard Felciano -- is almost post-modern.

But I digress. Which is easy to do. There's so much in this book -- 720 hymns, and that doesn't include the Service Music (or the Service Music Appendix, which is only in the accompaniment edition!). I know that we all have our favorites, and I suspect all of my church music colleagues have had great joy in discovering something new in this book.

We find ourselves in this hymnal while we lose ourselves in it. As Thomas Merton said, "art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time."

There's plenty of time to talk about this hymnal. It's not going anywhere.

My point is that the more I dove into this book and the more I learned about the Anglican tradition -- it's scriptures (both biblical and non-), traditions, and reasons -- the more this book made sense. And as I worked in the church, I found that I could make more and more sense with the resources of this hymnal within the liturgy.

A Revisionist's Rationale

So let's circle back around to the Explanation for resolution D060, the resolution to Establish a Process for the Revision of the Hymnal 1982 that just passed at General Convention 2015.

The 1982 hymnal is now 33 years old, and language, musical taste and theological emphasis has changed profoundly over those years.

Well, I am the same age as the hymnal.

I think this Explanation based on language, taste, and theology just begins way out in left field.

Couple this with the fact that a recent survey conducted by the Church Pension Group revealed that most people do not want hymnal revision.

I think the case for revision can be made, but I don't get it from the text of the resolution.

A Realistic Rationale

And yet, perhaps we just need to own up to the fact that the time has come to revise our hymnal. And one of the reasons may as plain as the light of the "day of radiant gladness". We stamped the date "1982" on the cover of this thing, so it was already "three years old" when it hit the pew racks in 1985. (The 1940 does not bear a date on it's cover.)

Let's look at all the dates for a moment, given that all Episcopal hymnals have an official "year".
Year of Hymnal Number of years since previous revision
1789 n/a
1826 37
1871 45
1892 21
1916 24
1940 24
1982 42
"2024" 42

The average time that has elapsed between revisions is 32.167 years.

If we take the 42 years that elapsed between the 1940 and the 1982 as a modern model for revision, we would expect to see The Hymnal 2024.

The only time that the Episcopal Church has waited longer to revise was between the 1826 and 1871 hymnals.

One could look at these numbers, and the absence of an all out civil war at present, and suggest that it is high time we do this!

Since we're only coming up with a plan now, however, a plan that would be authorized at the General Convention of 2018 in Austin, Texas, and it may well be that we would take at least until 2027 to approve the book (and maybe publish it around 2030?).

Turning the Page

And so, even though we all have intensely strong feelings about this -- Lord knows I do! -- we press onward with our hymnal revision process.

This is a good thing. The benefit of hindsight lets us see the outliers in The Hymnal 1940, and with some conversation and discernment, I trust that the "Hymnal 2024" committee will also be able see those things that have not stood up well in the current book.

A note on music: I don't think that tastes have radically changed since 1982. I do think, as in the 1940 hymnal, some things made it in to the 1982 hymnal that were a bit more "fashionable" at the time than they are now. But there are some of these more "fashionable" things that, in my judgement, transcend their time period. This is called craftsmanship, and it's something to which all composers aspire.

Words: poetry must reign here. I think the Presbyterians, and to a greater extent the United Church of Christ, erred too much with their push toward "politically correct" hymnody.

I would have my suggestions for hymns in the new book. One might be the possibility that we include a little-known Howells tune for a well-known Advent hymn (and maybe even think about moving it to the Advent section of the book!). There are plenty of things we could borrow from Anglican currents and other more ecumenical eddies. A prime hope of mine is disseminating among the wider church the metaphysical text "How shall I sing that majesty" to the powerful COE FEN.

But the real joy in this revision process will be not what we leave behind, but what we discover. Just ask Bruce Neswick how old he was when he contributed his sweeping key-changer TOMTER to the 1982 collection. Will it be preserved in the new book? Perhaps, perhaps not. But we can be quite sure we will find something just as good that we've never sung before.

This post has been corrected because there is no P in TOMTER.

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