Keeping up with the Tunes

After the unsettling times in the 1960s and the 1970s, church denominations experienced in the late 1970s and through the 1980s a virtual explosion of new music and liturgical resources. The Lutheran Book of Worship (both prayer book and hymnal) was published in 1978, and the Episcopal Church’s Book of Common Prayer was ratified in 1979 and published three years later.

Every major denomination in this country published a new hymnal during these times: Baptist Hymnal (1975), Worship II (Roman Catholic, 1975), Lutheran Book of Worship (1978), The Hymnal 1982 (Episcopal, ratified 1982, published 1985), United Methodist Hymnal (1989), Presbyterian Hymnal (1990), and the New Century Hymnal (United Church of Christ, 1995).

Included in these hymnals were representative works of 20th-century contemporary composers from every denomination and from countries worldwide. And, as they say about parish membership directories, “It’s out of date the moment you publish it."At this point I should probably say that the Episcopal Church’s previous hymnal, The Hymnal 1940, is one of the longest-lasting hymnals in church music history. As liturgy and music tastes and styles change over time, hymnologists will tell us that the average life of any denominational hymnal is 20 to 25 years. The Hymnal 1940 stood the test of time and was the official hymnal of the Episcopal Church for some 45 years. Yes, there were hymn and service supplements along the way, but the actual hymnal served well.

Once The Hymnal 1982 rolled off of the presses in 1985, the comments and questions (and complaints) came: “Why don’t we have ‘Here I am, Lord’ in our hymnal?” “The type in the new hymnal is too small and too light.” (The Hymnal 1940 had been printed with bookplates and not by a computer typesetting program.)

Moreover, to keep up with the times and the ever-evolving Episcopal Church, the Book of Common Prayer was published in French, Spanish and Latin, and portions have been published in Lakota, Cherokee, Haitian Creole, Vietnamese, Japanese and Tagalog. And a version of The Hymnal 1982, entitled El Hymnario, was published for Spanish-speaking Episcopal parishes.

Since 1985, to help The Hymnal 1982 and the hymnody of the Episcopal Church keep up with the times, the Church has published a number of hymnal supplements, one of which we have in our pews, Wonder, Love, and Praise (1997). In actuality, this hymnal contains both the old and new: new hymn tunes with old words, old hymn tunes with new words, and much newly composed service music and hymnody. There are two other hymnal supplements as well, but with the Book of Common PrayerThe Hymnal 1982 and Wonder, Love, and Praise all, there are only so many books we can fit into our pew racks in the nave.

For convenience, I confess to often planning hymns from Wonder, Love, and Praise (WLP) as Communion hymns, when worshippers have time to switch books and find the new hymn. However, in recent months we have “branched out” by using WLP hymns as processional hymns, Sequence hymns (at the Gospel), and now a departing procession hymn.

This Sunday (Oct. 11) we will sing “Gracious Spirit, give your servants” (new text, familiar tune Abbot’s Leigh) as the closing hymn. In Mark’s Gospel, Jesus says that the “first will be last, and the last will be first.” In his hymn text, the Reverend Carl Daw transcribes Jesus’ words with, “Word made flesh, who gave up glory… taking on our human nature to redeem the last and least.”