Virginia Theological Seminary’s Center for Liturgy and Music, under the capable direction of Ellen Johnston, held a conference entitled “The Once and Future Hymnal” on October 23 and 24. The stated purpose of the gathering was to initiate a conversation about hymnal revision, not to begin plans for a new hymnal or even to create a process for revision. is workshop followed a similar conversation in two parts entitled “ e Once and Future Prayer Book” held at first in June at VTS, and then in October at the School of Theology at Sewanee. e Most Rev’d Frank Griswold and the Rev’d Dr. Lizette Larson Miller were among the featured speakers for the earlier conference, and their remarks are available at http://www.liturgyandmusic.keyhallonline.org/the-once- and-future-prayer-book/.
Linking these paired conversations echoes the initiative of the 1970s simultaneously to revisit the two principal resources of liturgy for the denomination, namely the Book of Common Prayer (1979) and e Hymnal 1982. As these two volumes near their fortieth anniversary of use, thoughts of succession are irrepressible. e Center for Liturgy and Music’s goal for this conference was to evaluate whether such considerations are valid, timely, and relevant to the church’s mission and identity. ese two conferences were under the joint auspices of the Center for Liturgy and Music and Sewanee and were not organized by the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music, yet the SCLM was aware of the planning and endorsed these gatherings. In addition to Ellen Johnston, who serves as both director of the Center for Liturgy and Music and a member of the SCLM, another member of the SCLM, Ms. Jessica Nelson, attended the hymnal conference. e implicit endorsement of the SCLM lent weight to the proceedings as well as implied that the SCLM would take into consideration the opinions expressed at the conference.
With the assistance of VTS professor, the Rev’d Dr. William Bradley Roberts, Ms. Johnston assembled an august panel of thinkers, musicians, poets, theologians, and scholars for this two-day conversation, and she organized the conference in a highly linear, balanced series of talks, allowing ideas to flow freely and to build effectively. On the periphery of invited panel members, David Schaap displayed copies of the many hymnals published by Selah Publishing. His exhibit was a tangible and appreciated presence evincing the strength of contemporary hymnody. While he did not present in a formal session, Mr. Schaap’s wise perspective as a publisher of hymns infused yet another expert voice into the conversation. Throughout the conference, Ms. Johnston’s careful attention to detail and pacing kept the gathering on task without ever feeling hurried or regimented. VTS served as a gracious host, inviting participants to join the Seminary community for services in the newly completed Immanuel Chapel, allowing use of Addison Hall for most sessions, and providing a lovely backdrop with its stately campus and grounds. Many conversations between sessions occurred naturally as conferees walked the grounds, including the beautifully preserved ruins of the previous Immanuel Chapel, which has been converted into an outside space for meditation. e roughly seventy participants (in addition to the fifteen featured presenters) enjoyed frequent opportunities for conversation and camaraderie, much like the annual Conferences of the Association of Anglican Musicians.
The conference began with worship in Immanuel Chapel, using the propers of the feast of St. James of Jerusalem. Said Morning Prayer was followed by the Holy Eucharist, with music led by Thomas Smith on the ne new Taylor & Boody organ, and an engaging sermon by the Rev’d Dr. David Gortner, Associate Dean of Church and Community Engagement and Professor of Evangelism and Congregational Leadership. e service, part of the Seminary’s daily routine, significantly used materials from e Hymnal 1982 and Lift Every Voice and Sing II, presenting a seamless integration of two of the musical resources authorized by the Church. While the service did not include any overt accommodation of the conference, it did establish a useful baseline for discussions about the range of music in use by Episcopal congregations.
Monday morning: Plenary address and Discussion with Ecumenical Partners
Following a brief time for registration and refreshments, the Very Rev’d Dr. Ian Markham, Dean of the Seminary, greeted the participants. Ms. Johnston then summarized “The Once and Future Prayer Book” conversation, highlighting its bipartite structure. Dr. James Litton offered opening remarks, drawing on his experience as a member of the Editorial Committee of The Hymnal 1982. Dr. Litton’s affable style and avuncular presence set a tone both relaxed and thoughtful. He cited the distinctive appropriateness in the location of the conference, based on a 1970s string of mid-year January sessions at the Seminary focused on exploring new developments of liturgy and music. Dr. Litton recalled that these colloquia were familiarly called “rant and chant” sessions, and they served as a laboratory to try new hymns and styles of service music. They ultimately influenced the Standing Commission on Church Music and provided a venue for the emerging presence of the Rev’d Canon Frederick Williams and the Rev’d Norman Mealy. Dr. Litton then brie y recounted the steps toward fashioning a new hymnal. He highlighted the decision to move the service music to the front of the hymnal to emphasize the importance of sacramental action within the liturgy. His comments provided useful contextualization for the discussion, giving continuity to our considerations as part of a wider development of worship and liturgy. Dr. Litton underscored that the Editorial Committee closely evaluated the immediate past before embarking on new creative activity. His gentle, steady perspective regarding what worked well and what the committee could have done better offered wisdom and direction to guide the ongoing development of our printed liturgical resources.
Representatives from the editorial committees of two other denominational hymnals broadened the conversation by way of sharing their processes. The Rev’d Martin Seltz of Augsburg Fortress spoke about the creation of the hymnal, Evangelical Lutheran Worship, which built on the work of smaller publications such as With One Voice, This Far By Faith, and Libro de Liturgia y Cántico. He began his remarks by dismissing the illusion that a broader choice of styles and types of hymns establishes a comprehensive approach. The goal of including a wide range of musical selections is to increase the representation of disparate constituencies within a larger community. Inclusion of diverse styles lends agency to sub-groups, recognizes the breadth of community, and allows a reciprocity in making experiences of other constituencies common to the wider denomination. Diversity expresses the aspirational self-identity of a denomination and is a statement of who a denomination wishes to be. Assembling a new repository of hymns also affords the opportunity to find expression for new theological perspectives. As the shared theological identity of the Church evolves, new hymns are necessary to articulate belief accurately. Pastor Seltz cautioned that these statements must nonetheless represent historically accepted expressions and honor the repertoire of memory. Altering beloved texts must be undertaken with extreme caution to preserve the identity of the tradition. In recognition of this tension, he advocates an accommodation of deliberate inconsistency. Elizabethan imagery, antiquated syntax, and views of Creation that are at odds with scientific truth appear frequently in core hymnody; yet the value of tradition outweighs the negligible benefits that would come from altering familiar texts. At the same time, Pastor Seltz underscored the benefit of working with a repertoire based primarily on translated materials. An American Lutheran hymnal draws strength from allowing wider changes in translation, in that the source material remains unaltered. He also echoed Dr. Litton’s view that the “primary test of a hymn is to praise God and support the celebration of the sacraments.” In closing, he singled out the largest lesson of the Lutheran process: they could have used more time. Revision of a published repertoire requires communal consideration and generous time for discernment.
David Eicher served as Hymnal Editor for Presbyterian Publishing Corporation during the period of the creation of Glory to God: The Presbyterian Hymnal, published in 2013. Mr. Eicher offered a detailed description of the editorial committee’s process, from selection of members through the evaluation of potential materials and ultimately to the introduction of the new hymnal. He emphasized their desire for “inclusive language for humanity and expansive language for God.” He also dealt with practical considerations like the reconsideration of psalm-based hymns. Whereas the editors of the 1990 Presbyterian hymnal had sought to draw attention to the historical significance psalms have had to Presbyterians through the grouping of psalm resources in the center of the collection, the editors of Glory to God recognized the lack of understanding most congregants and even musicians had about this organizational principle. They accordingly strove to maintain the primacy of psalm-based hymns, yet they integrated them throughout the collection thematically. Mr. Eicher characterized this organizational shift in psalm-based materials as a pragmatic approach to achieve the lofty goals of the 1990 hymnal. He acknowledged that the “Psalter” arrangement of the earlier volume subscribed too much to the governing editorial philosophy and did not correspond to how congregations actually use the hymns. Mr. Eicher tacitly offered this resolution of the earlier hymnal’s awed implementation of worthwhile editorial goals as a model for refining the organizational principles of e Hymnal 1982 to better reflect parish practice.
Monday Afternoon: Achievements of The hymnal 1982 and Discussion of Developments in Musical Style
William Bradley Roberts and Marilyn Haskel led a multi-media survey of the musical collections endorsed by the Episcopal Church. They began by recognizing each member of the Editorial Committee of e Hymnal 1982. They then evaluated its success in fulfilling the Committee’s five stated objectives: to create a collection that is both lofty and practical; to prepare a body of texts for the spiritual edification of the Church; to restore music that has lost its vitality; to reflect the contemporary sensibilities of the Church; to strengthen ecumenical relationships; and to envelop practicality within a statement of aesthetic excellence. Dr. Roberts expounded lovingly on the last part in particular, emphasizing its clean layout that promotes ease of use. He also pointed out that The Hymnal 1940 was the first mainline Protestant hymnal to include a spiritual, namely “Were you there,” and that The Hymnal 1982 builds on this groundbreaking step with expansion of not only spirituals but also other folk idioms such as Native American, Latino, African, and Asian repertoires. The committee, in Dr. Roberts’s assessment, sought to be visionary in its work, articulating a prophetic voice that did not avoid risk.
Marilyn Haskel expanded this tribute to include the supplements that have followed the hymnal. This movement was greatly encouraged by the 1988 Lambeth Conference’s call for a “Decade of Evangelism.” The aspiration of the Episcopal Church was to promote a diversity of musical styles as a response to the desire to reach a diversity of people. This goal led to the creation of collections that draw from African-American traditions (Lift Every Voice and Sing II) and materials representing feminine contributions to the church (Voices Found). Ms. Haskel posed the question, “is it possible for the Episcopal Church to continue its perception as a denomination of musical leadership without new activity?” She explored the idea of supplements as a context specifically designed to engender experimentation and exploration. They provide groundwork for the future while being essentially temporary.
These assessments of the achievements of past publications pivoted naturally into a panel discussion concerning how musical styles have continued to develop in the past thirty-five years. Participants in this discussion were Dr. Michael Hawn, Dr. Carl MaultsBy (who graciously stepped in at short notice for Carl Haywood, who was unable to attend), Andrew Sheranian, and Keith Tan. Dr. Hawn brought not only his experience as director of the Sacred Music Program at the Perkins School of Theology of Southern Methodist University, but also his interest in ethnomusicology. He spoke expansively on how music can embody identity, both for individuals and societies. Congregations have an identity, and this is formed and represented by their musical repertoire. is “chicken and the egg” perspective of hymnody owing from and creating identity is charged with associated concepts of how cultural contexts and theological prescriptions evolve within and through liturgical observance of a congregation, ethnic group, or other demographic. Dr. Hawn provided the example of the Mennonite Church as a way to specify these dynamics in an historical case study. He succinctly traced the development of Mennonite hymn singing, both a product and agent of the denomination’s theology and observance, leading to the broader observation that careful articulation of the aspirations of a denomination leads to the hermeneutic of a hymn repertoire. Identifying what Episcopalians believe their vocation to be can bring about its own language that will interpret this theology in poetic expression. In the hands of Dr. Hawn, this idea of “discovering” the hermeneutic of a hymn repertoire contained a lightness and playfulness that invites exploration and experimentation.
Carl MaultsBy traced the development of black sub- Saharan African diasporic music styles as performed in American churches since the time of The Hymnal 1982’s publication. While, as Dr. Roberts pointed out, the Hymnal expanded the representation of spirituals, and even included African folk material, the ongoing development of music in various streams that reach back to African roots requires a careful survey in order to best represent these trends in any new printed material. Dr. MaultsBy pointed out that musical practices in African cultures stem from practicality rather than ceremonial theory. The materials of music in these communities are common to sacred and secular environments, with texts that are frequently intentionally ambiguous. This fluidity of genre can confound compilers of an ecclesiastical anthology, yet it also expands the material available for inclusion. Dr. MaultsBy cited the release of Richard Smallwood’s important 1982 recording “I love the Lord” on the album, The Richard Smallwood Singers, as a gospel tradition corollary to the significance of the publication of The Hymnal 1982. The Smallwood song, which appears in Lift Every Voice and Sing II, represents a progression of gospel music from broadcast (aural tradition) to hymnal inclusion (literary tradition). Increased appearances of accompaniments built on jazz harmonies and syntax hark back to the blurred line between sacred and secular in African musical tradition. At the same time, the essentially improvisational construction of music owing from the sub- Saharan diaspora confounds a single accurate notation as a printed volume necessitates. In no aspect of music and its notation is this more felt than in the changing rhythms of this repertoire. New Jazz Swing, Salsa, Caribbean music, and other sub-genres continue to influence each other and create an ever-changing rhythmic landscape. Dr. MaultsBy cites diversity and synthesis as the dominant trend in music of the African-American community, and this eclecticism also draws influence from traditional church anthem repertoire and conservatory style. To illustrate these points with concrete examples, Dr. MaultsBy offered conferees copies of a published sampler drawn from GIA’s new hymnal One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism: An African American Ecumenical Hymnal, which Dr. MaultsBy helped edit.
The voice that spoke for preserving Anglican tradition came from Andrew Sheranian in his role as Organist and Master of Choristers at the Parish of All Saints, Ashmont in Boston. Mr. Sheranian summarized the situation at All Saints, Ashmont as a place with “men and boys in the choir, two pipe organs, and no piano.” While his arrival at the parish is relatively recent, he recounted hearing many stories from parishioners of the hurt and pain that came from the period of Prayer Book and hymnal revision. He cited neurological research that shows the brain experiences exclusion in the same way it experiences pain, and that for the parishioners in Ashmont, the feeling of being ignored as changes were dictated to them left an imprint of discomfort. Mr. Sheranian pointed out that this perception of exclusion occurred even as the introduction of new materials was intended to be inclusive. At present, the congregation continues to use The Hymnal 1940 and to wrestle with maintaining traditions in the midst of great social change. The boy choir is primarily, or even at times exclusively, composed of African-American children, yet all the faces in the stained-glass windows of the church are of white people. No one has ever proposed breaking the windows or replacing them, so they are required to discuss them and the marginalization that could be inferred from them. The same can be true of hymn texts. Desire to promote an inclusive language should not lead us to “break the stained-glass” of our traditional hymns. Mr. Sheranian ended by imploring the conversation to recognize the need for at least a strain of conservation in the wider consideration of hymnal revision.
Keith Tan offered a perspective pointed in the exact opposite direction without being contradictory of anything Mr. Sheranian said. In fact, Mr. Tan’s approach as Music Minister of Christ Church Episcopal in Richmond, Virginia is very similar to Mr. Sheranian’s philosophy at All Saints, Ashmont. Both musicians respond to the community each serves without trying to steer the congregation along a different path. Mr. Tan characterizes Christ Church, Richmond as a young suburban parish that will celebrate its twenty-fifth anniversary next year. Worship at Christ Church uses praise bands and an audio-visual team. They use music written by Amy Grant, Michael W. Smith, and others of the Contemporary Christian crossover genre. The tools Mr. Tan employs include SongSelect, lead sheets, and CCLI materials, rather than Anglican chant and organ stops. These resources, however, are set within liturgy that follows the Book of Common Prayer without alteration. Mr. Tan referenced the lack of service music (settings of the Sanctus, Memorial Acclamation, etc.) written in Praise and Worship style as a frustrating limitation. This is also true for songs of lament and music for Advent. Because they must draw from more traditional sources for much of this music, ow within a worship service can be difficult. The worship team at Christ Church will alternately treat traditional hymns in a Praise and Worship performance style and soften Praise and Worship songs with an influence of traditional hymn performance practice. is affords the musicians a large canvas for their creativity. This approach is founded on the statistical evidence that 99% of recorded music sales in the United States are for music in genres using a steady drum beat. Classical/choral music claims only 1% of sales. Mr. Tan also cited a survey sponsored by the United Methodist Church of congregations in Southeast states. In a seven-year period from 2008–2015, 73% of congregations using contemporary music saw attendance increase, while 27% saw a decrease. Among congregations using traditional music in the same time window, 19% saw an increase in attendance while 81% saw a decrease. Mr. Tan concluded by observing that Contemporary Christian Music is one of the strongest spirits that has swept the Church across the world in our lifetime. Further, the increased interest in using ancient texts with music in the vernacular of culture speaks to the broadest possible segment of society.
In the question period that followed, discussion arose about leading music in styles in which parish musicians have not been trained, such as African-American Gospel or Praise and Worship. Dr. MaultsBy encouraged aural immersion to lead to familiarity. Dr. Hawn expanded this point through principles of ethnomusicology. Fidelity to a style, whether it is Baroque performance practice or American Spirituals, is a process, not an end goal. If we wait until we have absolute mastery to speak in a musical language, we will never say anything. Additionally, there is no single right way to do anything, from plainsong to world music. We must learn parameters and move in a generally accepted “correct” direction without aiming for a target of performance that does not exist. This led naturally to the point that the goal of worship is, in the words of Mr. Sheranian, “excellence regardless of style.” Mr. Tan observed that the function of music in a service is worship, thus if a specific style is outside the congregation’s vernacular, it may not even be appropriate to adopt it. Dr. MaultsBy sagely observed that the question of style is inherently charged with emotion. Matters of taste mask a reluctance to expand an understanding of other styles of music. is does not imply, as Dr. Hawn continued, that we disregard our emotional response to style. Style and content are interrelated and inseparable. The trend is increasingly moving toward acceptance of many styles. Culture at large shows a preference for an admixture of genres and musical forms. The response to this is in creating worship with authenticity. Bringing cultural trends into consideration raised the issue of whether Christians should be following secular trends when we are called to follow eternal principles. Mr. Tan responded that the Christian counter-cultural part of discipleship is in content, not in style. The idea of God coming
to earth, continued Mr. Tan, was to embrace culture, the very meaning of the word incarnational. This was one of the more provocative statements made during any of the roundtable discussions and would have merited more debate to elucidate both sides. Unfortunately, no dialogue sprang up around this. Mr. Tan intelligently articulated this side of the argument, and as the Episcopal Church seeks to incorporate—or at least coexist with—Praise and Worship music, a full examination of this perspective will be necessary.
The question-and-answer period was marked by mutual respect, a willingness to consider alternative points of view, and an openness to trial and error. Towards the end of the session, Dr. Hawn observed that one of the things making this so difficult is that we, as employed worship leaders in church settings, are seen as experts. The professional character of most parish musicians is typified by a desire to “get everything right.” As the conversation plainly showed, however, we must stumble our way into change with a willingness to ask for help and seek out the experiences of others. He encouraged participants to try things out in less public forums, rather than working out details within the liturgy of a congregation. He also called for musicians in the Episcopal Church to recognize and embrace our own ethnicity. He encouraged us to look at the poetry of Wesley and the music of Vaughan Williams in the same way we would examine world music. The overarching facet of understanding any artistic expression is the context in which it was created and is recreated.
Monday Evening: Hymn-sing
Participants were treated to a program in Immanuel Chapel entitled, “Singing with Martin Luther: A Hymn Sing in Commemoration of the Beginning of the Protestant Reformation, October, 1517.” The Center for Liturgy and Music co-sponsored this event with the Reinicker Lecture Series of VTS. Dr. Gail Ramshaw, Professor Emerita at LaSalle University and Past President of the North American Academy of Liturgy, shaped a program alternating sixteenth- century Reformation texts (most by Martin Luther) and tunes with contemporary hymns (many with contemporary tunes) from the Lutheran tradition. Unlike many hymn sings, Ms. Ramshaw focused exclusively on music without any readings or extensive spoken elements. She did serve as master of ceremonies, giving helpful and succinct background on hymns and tunes. Thomas Smith led singing from the Taylor & Boody organ with imaginative accompaniments, strong rhythmic guidance, and an effective mining of the instrument’s considerable resources. The net impact of the event, however, distracted from the focus of the conference in some peculiar ways. While the opportunity to celebrate the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s Ninety-Five Theses only comes once, marking this event within the context of evaluating the future of the hymnal for the Episcopal Church was at cross purposes. Even with the coincidence of the date looming in the observant consciousness of participants, a hymn-sing celebrating our Anglican hymn heritage (a tradition that certainly includes contributions from Lutheran Protestantism) would have corresponded more fittingly with the other events of the two days. Ms. Ramshaw also over-programmed the event with too many selections to allow singing all stanzas of the hymns, and time constraints even precluded singing a few of the hymns altogether. She chose Wir glauben all’ as the opening hymn, and several conference participants positively remarked that this was the first time they had sung the hymn known to many only through organ settings. Ms. Ramshaw introduced the time-saving truncating of hymns beginning with this first selection, which meant that we sang only two-thirds of the text of the creed. It set the precedent that we were not allowed to enjoy any hymn in its totality through common expression, which would have been a worthwhile exercise in this erudite context. Even the voluntaries that framed the hymn-sing bear comment in that Mr. Smith started with a work by Herbert Howells and concluded with a piece by Gary Davison. Both selections were attractive compositions and lovingly rendered by Mr. Smith, yet their choice heightened the impression of a lack of focus. German Protestant hymn tunes and their texts inspired one of the most significant bodies of organ literature beloved by almost all organists and primary in our training. Choosing two representative selections from the corpus of Baroque organ chorales would not have seemed derivative or gratuitously predictable. Additionally, contemporary organ literature based on Lutheran hymn tunes (such as pieces by Petr Eben, Naji Hakim, and Bert Matter) would have been an equally compelling choice. In all, the event, worthy as its intent was, did not cooperate with the otherwise tightly focused conversation over the span of the two days.
Tuesday Morning: Plenary Address on Cultural Developments Since 1982
The second day of the conference began with an intellectually stimulating lecture by the Rev’d Dr. Francis H. Wade, longtime Rector of St. Alban’s Parish on the grounds of the National Cathedral. Dr. Wade is a remarkably engaging speaker and penetrating thinker. His comments brought the cultural environment in which we work into sharp focus. He began by fixing 1982 in clear consciousness by ticking off a number of facts: Ronald Reagan was President, the USSR was the only other world power, Apartheid and the Berlin Wall were both standing, and the geopolitical landscape was dominated by nation-states. The NASA Space Shuttle program began in 1981 and would suffer a setback with the Challenger explosion in 1986. In spite of the uncertainty this tragedy brought, science continued to make steady progress. In the face of uncertainty due to the shift from Cold War politics to a geographically ambiguous War on Terror, culture continues to move forward. The Christian Church seems to be stymied and unable to change and adapt. Dr. Wade lamented this fact because it is the Christian Church that is steward to something essential to society. He observed that in the 1940s public schools regularly held Christmas pageants and that even non-Christians could derive something of value from the narrative. Our loss of cultural narratives results in the loss of a shared experience, and this pulls at the fabric of our society.
He pivoted to examining the state of the Church, noting that the period that produced the 1979 Book of Common Prayer and e Hymnal 1982 also saw the ordination of women and a shift to an understanding of ministry that is rooted in baptism, rather than clerical ordination. This is embodied in the creation of Lay Eucharistic Ministers and harks back to the Baptismal Covenant as the source of theological authority for all Christians. These shifts naturally change the emphasis of worship from transcendence— which characterized worship in the first part of the century as exhibited in Morning Prayer—to immanence, as elevated in the communal weekly celebration of the Holy Eucharist. He boldly claimed the necessity of both transcendence and immanence, yet admitted the impossibility of conveying both simultaneously, particularly in corporate worship. He exhorted the conference participants to recognize that as we are charged with stewardship of the shared experience of worshipers as it is articulated in hymnody, we must also allow for experiences both transcendent and immanent. The task as he laid it out is frustrated and complicated by changes in cultural values of membership and regular participation. Decreasing frequency of attendance, reduced emphasis on joining parishes, and growing engagement online are complicating e orts to create a shared experience.
Dr. Wade then turned to the issue of diversity, pointing out that the sixty-fifth General Convention in 1976 included one resolution that used the word “diversity,” and that resolution began with language “ministry to racial and ethnic minority persons…” (emphasis given by the speaker). The 2009 General Convention had over a dozen resolutions that referred to diversity. He cautioned that diversity has taken on a romanticized view of a mythologized civil rights struggle. Church culture has a growing tendency to see inclusion through a lens of the Church’s active participation in the fight for justice in race relations. Dr. Wade likened this to the fourth-century shift of asceticism from the austerity suffered by martyrs when civic institutions persecuted Christians, to a spiritual practice of self-denial (a sort of “new martyrdom”), once civil governments began adopting Christianity as the state religion. In the same way, the Church is reimagining diversity, now that it is not a response to the extrinsic conditions of culturally sanctioned racism. Dr. Wade summarized this by saying, “We know people ought to be together, but we haven’t articulated why.” And in widening the circle of inclusion, the Church has failed to foster theological diversity or to articulate the value added by diverse voices. Diversity, he said, is a good step but not a goal. e goal of the Church is community. He humorously heightened the point by pointing to Dulles Airport as an unparalleled example of diversity on every score: economic, racial, ethnic, sexual, gender, etc. e operators of the airport, however, spend no energy in creating community among travelers. The Church must strive for community with clear vision and clearly articulated reason.
This led Dr. Wade to clarify what he had hinted at at the beginning of the talk regarding the essential contribution that the Church has made to society: He views the Church as the repository for culture’s value of mystery. Just as the legal system is society’s repository for justice, the Church contains seminal explorations of that which precedes life, that which is the purpose of life, and that which follows life. The Church is the vessel of hope, and the Church’s decline is seen in the loss of a cultural sense of purpose and hope. Instead of claiming this responsibility with dedication and determination, the Episcopal Church has instead provided the world with entertainment by bickering over transient issues and bringing lawsuits over property.
Dr. Wade voiced optimism that the Church can reclaim its role as a repository of mystery and hope through a revival of theological integrity in our liturgy and hymnody. He sees the process of revision as an opportunity to scrutinize texts, whether they be from the psalms or even beloved hymns, to test whether they do truly express the Gospel as we are led to believe it and preach it. His call was not for theological purity but integrity.
In the period allotted for questions following the presentation, one participant questioned whether Dr. Wade really advocated the revision of psalms. He was emphatic in affirmation. In his lecture, he referred specifically to Psalm 149:7-9:
7 To wreak vengeance on the nations * and punishment on the peoples;
8 To bind their kings in chains * and their nobles with links of iron;
9 To in inflict on them the judgment decreed; * this is glory for all his faithful people. Hallelujah!
He cited this as a particularly venomous message that we would not be eager to voice in the aftermath of the deplorable misappropriation of Christian language in the August Charlottesville demonstrations. He also likened passages like this in the psalms to the Leviticus passages outlining dietary restrictions. Singing the Psalms softens the message of the words, making them palatable. He called for a careful examination of all texts (and here he included the beloved hymn “Lift high the cross”) to eschew theology we have been led away from by the Holy Spirit.
In answer to the observation that races don’t worship together because they don’t live in proximity to one another, Dr. Wade shifted the perspective. He observed that in a highly mobile society with easy access to transportation, we make choices based on value. Church attendance has suffered as parents prioritize children’s sports commitments. If the Church can articulate the value of worship, we have an opportunity to lay claim to a greater place in weekly schedules. In the same way, if we can express a genuine need for building a racially diverse community, we can legitimately compete for the attention of a wide range of demographics. The crisis, as he sees it, is one of expression, which in Christian terms is referred to as evangelism.
Dr. Wade recalled the beginning of his talk by pointing out that in 1982 American society was marked by a conviction that the worst was behind it. e emergence from the tumult of the 1970s, beginning with military involvement in Viet Nam, continuing through the crisis of Watergate, and culminating in the Arab oil embargo, opened an opportunity for the 1980s to embrace relief. In 2017, with an increasingly uncertain world of danger possible in any venue and at any moment, the cultural consciousness is that the worst is all around us.
Our response to this despair ought to be to live into the value that the Church has. Ascertaining whether the Church has a vital mission requires living as if it does, in order to find it so. is, he said, is the meaning of discipleship. We must hold on to the bedrock character Anglicans share as a Church that values questions. We must embrace not only our symbols, but also that to which the symbols point us. The goal is not to have answers, but to find them. Just as marriage includes the art of disagreeing well and the principle that if two people agree on everything one of them is unnecessary, the Church is at its best when it celebrates its differences. Our diversity is our greatest richness, and it exposes the Truth. Lines from any two points can intersect, and God’s calling to us is to find these intersections between cultures, genders, groups, and individuals to discover eternal truths.
Tuesday Midday: Panel Discussions on Developments in Technology and Language
The session on technical aspects of hymnal publication and distribution called back David Eicher, Marilyn Haskel, and Martin Seltz, and it also included input from Nancy Bryan, editorial director of Church Publishing, Inc. The session was the most interactive of the two days, with no one speaker holding the floor for any great length of time. Since the topics at hand were purely practical, this session was also the briefest. In this conversation, panelists and participants discussed the benefits and limits of a printed collection that identifies a fixed repertoire. It gives commonality to parishes and dioceses across the country, yet it also implicitly excludes material, especially hymns and music written after the hymnal’s publication. Marilyn Haskel endorsed the Hymn Society in the United States and Canada, encouraging all to join. She summarized the online resources of the Hymn Society, many of which are open to non-members. Near the end of the discussion, the question arose concerning canons that delineate which hymnals are permitted for use in the Episcopal Church. Clarification came from various sources that the canons of the Church have been changed to allow music from any source as long as they are consistent with scripture and the Book of Common Prayer. David Eicher and Martin Seltz also advocated a truly pan-denominational list of hymns that are common across traditions, and they called for awareness to ensure that these hymns appear with the same language, modernization, translation, etc.
Three hymn poets led the discussion on changing language. Mary Louise “Mel” Bringle, Susan Palo Cherwien, and the Rev’d Dr. Carl P. Daw, Jr. represented a wide diversity of contemporary hymn authorship, yet the three presented together with mutual regard and admiration, making this conversation highly enjoyable. Ms. Bringle, who served on the editorial committee with David Eicher for Glory to God, began the discussion by returning to the experiences of revising the Presbyterian hymnal. She said that the three most frequent questions the committee fielded concerned the color of the book’s binding, the weight of the book, and whether they were changing “the words.” She continued by saying that surprisingly those asking the last of these questions were equally divided between expressing fear and hope that the words were changing. Hymns are, she said, deeply rooted in faith, and altering them, especially capriciously, touches something deep within the spirituality of people. On the other hand, altering words of hymns has a long tradition. Ms. Bringle said that the implicit question is, “Why don’t we sing what the author wrote?” when in fact we rarely sing hymn texts as they were originally written. Our job, as hymn professionals, is to help to demystify the process for congregations. She proposed that rather than focusing on justifying why changes should be made, those involved in revision work should question why texts have been sung in the past. Establishing the reasons that texts were written, accepted, and promoted can point to the true value of those texts and can help chart what other, newer texts should be included and written. As an example, she left the open-ended question of why masculine pronouns have been in use, both for references to God and to humanity, for so much of history. She called on the gathering to reflect on what this convention of language signals about our culture. Recognizing that a hymnal is a practical collection of resources for worship fixed to a particular time and group of people, the contents of that anthology must operate within its context as an agent of spiritual expression without calling attention to itself. As alterations to language are made, care must be taken to avoid damaging rhyme scheme, metrical patterns, and memorable phrases that have implanted themselves in collective memory. Ms. Bringle proposed that sometimes having questionable yet beloved hymns appear alongside new texts that serve as counterweights to dated language is superior to altering words that reside within the consciousness of a group. On the other hand, traditional texts that do not carry the identity of the “classic” can bear changes without damage. In closing, Ms. Bringle encouraged an expansion of language to go beyond binary concepts of gender and an anthropomorphic centrism in images of creation. As a matter of practical procedure, she highlighted the primacy of good research and transparency in the hymnal revision process. She ended with an admonition that hymnal committees need two mottoes: fortune favors the brave, and fortune favors the tactful.
Susan Palo Cherwien’s remarks were less concrete and more abstract. She spoke poetically about the process of writing hymns and concentrated on her own approach. She posed a number of unanswerable questions that could prompt useful reflection and introspection, such as, “Are we using evocative incarnational language in our hymns?” Her questions were rather neutrally couched, making no value implications on the answer, yet inviting thoughtful consideration.
If Ms. Cherwien’s brief presentation picked up on the theoretical side of Ms. Bringle’s comments, Dr. Daw’s continued the concrete side. He began by citing Ray Glover’s motto for e Hymnal 1982 committee: “we should always be able to sing what we believe and believe what we sing.” He delineated the difference between agency and authority. Hymnal committees may have the ability to alter hymns, but they do not have the authority to change the theology of a group. He also pointed out that language is unstable and that words change in meaning and take on new meaning over time. A text may come to imply something very different to a later generation, through extrinsic changes in vernacular, and this is beyond the control of a poet. Dr. Daw suggested that those involved in curating hymn repertoires need to be imaginative as they push boundaries. He claimed that the highest calling of anyone involved in hymnody, from authors to hymnal committees to worship leaders, is to provide access to mystery. Hymns, in this understanding, are icons, images that mean more than what they depict. Hymnody is poetry that exceeds its own ontological essence. One powerful tool in opening windows to greater meaning is the reclaiming of linguistic roots. Dr. Daw lamented the current vogue of avoiding the word “Lord” as overly male. He established the etymology of the word from the Old English hláfweard, meaning “loaf- keeper.” Whereas Dominus is intertwined with hierarchy, Lord has a direct relationship with the concept of provider. He called upon church musicians to accept boldly our role as educators and urged us to help bring meaning to our heritage in order to keep it relevant to our present faith. Tradition, in his perspective, is the part of our past that connects us to the future. However, he cautioned against blindly repeating traditional conventions, acknowledging that any statement of belief is inherently incomplete. Hymn collections should never arrest the growth of theology. As Anglicans, we recognize that our belief tradition has developed and continues to develop. Once a concept is printed in a book and sung by a group, a fallacy arises that this concept is complete and final. We must always be open to an ever-unfolding system of belief.
Tuesday Afternoon: Plenary Address on Theological Developments Since 1982
The final formal element of the conference was a probing look at the state of theology in church culture given by VTS New Testament professor, the Rev’d Dr. Katherine A. Grieb. She covered a daunting amount of information in a very short time, yet she organized her talk brilliantly to allow more than a cursory glance into her topics. Theology is, according to Dr. Grieb, extremely responsive to contemporary concerns, and the growth in sensitivity to gender, economics, power issues, sexuality, and other dynamics evinces a lively interaction between theologians and the larger culture. The concept of atonement is in great flux, with principles of salvation related to ransom and sacrifice posing greater problems as time goes on. She claimed a desire to suppress all references of sacrifice (the Pascha nostrum), while acknowledging that this is impossible in that careful examination of intertextual inferences of Pauline letters shows that this concept is older than Paul himself. Imagery of Christ as ritual sacrifice is immutable by virtue of its primacy in the tradition. She pointed out that Jesus died the most ritually unclean way a Jew could die, he died outside the Holy City, killed by pagans next to a trash dump; yet within a span of twenty years, early Christian theologians had refigured it as a sacrifice to make it the most holy way for him to have died. She observed that this difficult and unresolved theological question places great demands on hymnody. Dr. Grieb observed that our world is still a violent place and that people tend to underestimate the damage war does to society as well as to individuals. In the face of such callous disregard, the Church is called to develop a language that does not rely on violence to express God’s love. Hymn repertoires will be challenged, as substitutionary atonement theory continues to lose currency with congregations. Incorporating historical hymn language that is built on the images of sacrifice will pose one of the greatest difficulties in codifying hymn anthologies of the immediate future. In response to a question that had as a premise the assumption that the Episcopal Church has little actual doctrine, Dr. Grieb expounded eloquently on the locus of our doctrine residing within our liturgy. She identified the Book of Common Prayer and The Hymnal 1982 as constituting our doctrine, which elevates the care that must be taken in revision of these texts.
Closing Discussions, Worship, and Entertainment
Following the rich presentation of ideas and stimulating perspectives, the conference concluded the formal programming with a break into small groups to discuss the material of the conference. Ellen Johnston prepared three questions for each small group to answer, guiding the breakout sessions gently. After a period of dialogue, Ms. Johnston reconvened the assembly to allow each group to summarize its individual reactions. Given the wealth of ideas stimulated over the day and a half, the feedback was predictably wide-ranging. e lessons learned from synthesizing the various viewpoints of this conference will only slowly bear fruit over time as the consideration of hymnal revision begins to take shape.
Conference participants were invited to attend the seminary’s Evensong in Immanuel Chapel sung by a schola of seminarians; they ably navigated Stanford’s Evening Service in B-flat and the Richard Ayleward Responses. This liturgical cap on the conference served as a fitting reaffirmation of the richness of Anglican tradition that must be maintained during any revisions to prayer book and hymnal. Sung Evening Prayer, in this context, was a reminder of the lineage we have as Anglicans, an inheritance of which we are called to provide careful stewardship, even as we seek to promote its growth and evolution.
Ms. Johnston had arranged for a delectable dinner in the refectory for the conference participants, and much conviviality ensued over good food and drink. At the conclusion of dinner, we were treated to a splendid recital by James Martin, an accomplished performer with an impressive biography. Mr. Martin prepared an engaging program encompassing jazz, spirituals, rhythm & blues, and Howells with admirable singularity of purpose. Just as Evensong was a liturgical bookend for the conversation, the evening that followed was an enchanting opportunity for camaraderie that we, as Anglican musicians, treasure.
Discussion leading to a new hymnal for the Episcopal Church is only in its very beginning stages. Repeatedly throughout the conference, wise voices of experience stressed the imperative to move slowly and deliberately. The durability of The Hymnal 1982 allows even more space for a careful, methodical process. The Church is in the midst of significant change, theologically, demographically, and politically. Our liturgical texts deserve scrutiny as we continue to use them in a changing context. Similarly, we have much to learn from the texts we have inherited, and we must not be hasty to alter our traditions to t a passing perception. This is a pivotal moment for the Episcopal Church, one pregnant with opportunities for growth. It is the responsibility of every church professional, whether ordained or lay, to exert careful stewardship of our traditions, and particularly of our liturgy, as we endeavor to establish the context for the worship for the next generation.
Jason Overall is Canon Precentor and Director of Music of St. John’s Cathedral in Knoxville, Tennessee, where he oversees a growing program, including an intergenerational choir and an active concert series. Also active as a composer, Mr. Overall has choral works published by Paraclete Press and is currently completing an opera commissioned by the Marble City Opera Company.