Monday, September 10, 2012

30 years ago: Episcopal Church revises its hymnal

On September 9, 1982, the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America adopted a revision of its hymnal, adding some hymns, dropping others, and revising lyrics to eliminate masculine language:

"The Hymnal 1982 retains the best of the past and sets forth many riches of our own time. [The Standing Commission on Church Music] looked for theological orthodoxy, poetic beauty, and integrity of meaning. At the same time, the Commission was especially concerned that the hymnody affirm 'the participation of all in the Body of Christ the Church, while recognizing our diverse natures of children of God.' … Texts and music which reflect the pluralistic nature of the Church have been included, affording the use of Native American, Afro-American, Hispanic, and Asian material" (Preface, The Hymnal 1982, Church Pension Fund, 1985).

According to an Associated Press article filed September 9, 1982 that appeared in The New York Times the following day:

The new collection, a result of a decade of work by scholars, poets, musicians and theologians, is the first hymn book revision in 42 years for the denomination's 7,578 congregations.

Among other changes, James Russell Lowell, the 19th-century American writer, is out and W.H. Auden, the Anglo-American poet who died in 1973, is in. About 40 per cent of the book involves new hymns.

Lowell's lyrics for "Once to Every Man and Nation" in the old hymnal were voted out of the new book as the delegates made several refinements late Wednesday. But Auden's poem "He Is the Way" was voted for inclusion among 262 new hymn texts for the revised hymnal, to retain 347 of 600 numbers in the old book.

In the three hours of debate and voting on the new hymnal, some old-time hymns that had enthusiastic advocates were deleted in the prolonged discussion.

Among those delted were "He's Got the Whole World in His Hands," "I Need Thee Every Hour," "Turn Back, O Man," and "The Battle Hymn of the Republic..."

...In other convention actions, the bishops approved recognition and provisional intercommunion with three Lutheran denominations that have voted to merge. The House of Deputies has yet to act on the matter...

...In the debate on the hymnal, some songs that were recommended for deletion by a hymn revision commission headed by the Rev. Marion Hatchett of Sewanee, Tenn., were restored in floor action by the bishops or deputies.

These included "Now the Day is Over," "America," "I Sing a Song to the Saints of God," "Almighty Father, Strong to Save," and "Stand Up, Stand Up, for Jesus."

Lowell's poem was dropped because it seems to deny a Christian premise that God repeatedly forgives people and gives them many chances to mend their ways, Mr. Hatchett said. The opening verse reads:

Once to every man and nation
Comes the moment to decide,
In the strife of truth with falsehood,
For the good or evil side;
Some grerat cause, God's new Messiah,
Offering each the bloom or blight,
And the choice goes by forever
'Twixt that darkness and that light.

A hymn text by Rudyard Kipling, England's first Nobel Prize winner in literature (1907), was deleted because it was "uncomfortably imperialistic," the commission said.

The hymn was Kipling's "Recessional," an 1897 poem also called "God of Our Fathers, Known of Old." The offending words were in the last two verses:

If, drunk with sight of power, we loose
Wild tongues that have not Thee in awe,
Such boastings as the Gentiles use,
Or lesser breeds without the Law--
Lord god of Hosts, be with us yet,
Lest we forget--lest we forget!
For heathen heart that puts her trust
In reeking tube and iron shard,
All valiant dust that builds on dust,
And guarding, calls not Thee to guard,
For frantic boast and foolish word--
Thy mercy on Thy People, Lord!
Syndicated columnist Andy Rooney, who was not a Christian, criticized the new hymnal in a column that appeared in the September 20, 1982 edition of the Philadelphia Inquirer:

"The Battle Hymn of the Republic" is out of their new hymn book, for example. Can you believe that? There won't be any more singing: "In the beauty of the lilies Christ was born across the sea,/With a glory in His bosom that transfigures you and me..."

...Several years ago, after a bitter argument in church hierarchy, women were admitted to the priesthood in the Episcopal Church. Now, church leaders are going even further by eliminating references to sex in the hymns. Where a hymn uses the word "brother" or "son," they're changing it to a word with a neuter gender, like "disciple" or "child."

At the meeting where the changes were approved, the Episcopalians had an argument over whether or not to leave in the patriotic hymn "My Country, 'Tis of Thee." It was left in, but I imagine the people who didn't want it were sixth grade English teachers who sais that there was no such word as 'tis in the dictionary.

We'll close today by singing the first three stanzas of "Onward Christian Military Personnel."

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