Thursday, June 28, 2007

Enforcing consistency in worship

Once upon a time, picking an Episcopal church was easy. The sermons and people varied, but the theology and the liturgy were pretty similar. In the 20th century, everyone used the same hymnal for the 40 years and the same prayer book for 50 years.

Of course, during the 1960s, consistency of theology and liturgy in ECUSA began to fracture. On the former, we now have what CANN calls the ongoing “Carnival of the Anglican Crisis.”

On the liturgy, we now have two official rites within the 1979 BCP, to the degree that people follow the BCP. Although there’s nominally only one official hymnal, we also have Lift Every Voice & Sing II (1993), Wonder, Love & Praise (1997), and Voices Found (2003). The reality is that some Episcopal parishes do guitar masses, and some do bells & smells.

Of course, such variation is a broader issue within the contemporary Christian church. In the LCMS (the moderately conservative US denomination), pastor-blogger Paul McCain exhorts his colleagues for a little consistency:
To suggest that the better way for the church to order herself is for there to be the greatest amount of liturgical uniformity as possible strikes some ears as a call for a slavish formalism, some even go so far as to use the word “legalistic” whenver this comes up. … It seems that some in the Lutheran Church have dismissed discussion of the dangers of liturgical diversity and the blessings of the great possible liturgical uniformity. Why? Sadly, in an era that has witnessed a trend toward doing whatever is right in the eyes of an individual pastor, or congregation, the blessings of liturgical uniformity are being woefully neglected. We have lost our understanding of the blessing and advantage of striving to have as common a liturgical practice as possible.Preaching

The thought that a pastor would, from Sunday to Sunday, reinvent the church’s worship service was an alien thought to the Lutheran Confessors, and hence the Lutheran Confessions. …

Some might assume that my remarks are directed only toward those who have chosen to embrace “contemporary worship” or “blended worship” with its Sunday-to-Sunday “newness.” But that would be a mistake. I would also direct these remarks to those who choose to “do their own thing” in a more traditionally liturgical direction: that is, those who choose to embellish and otherwise change the church’s received liturgies in a direction that they regard as “better” or “more faithful” or “more liturgical.”
I saw Pastor McCain’s comments when they were posted 10 days ago. Then last night, I was reading a few chapters from a book I bought almost 10 years ago at the Georgetown U. bookstore, Documents of the Christian Church (2nd ed.). In the section on “The Reformation in England,” the book included excerpts from Elizabeth’s Act of Uniformity (1559), mandating the use of the 1552 Book of Common Prayer (which was soon replaced by the 1559 BCP). Legalese being what it is, the text is hard to follow, but here’s a flavor:
And that if any manner of parson, vicar, or other whatsoever minister, that ought or should sing or say common prayer mentioned in the said book, or minister the sacraments, from and after the feast of the nativity of St. John Baptist next coming, refuse to use the said common prayers, or to minister the sacraments in such cathedral or parish church, or other places as he should use to minister the same, in such order and form as they be mentioned and set forth in the said book, or shall wilfully or obstinately standing in the same, use any other rite, ceremony, order, form, or manner of celebrating of the Lord's Supper, openly or privily, or Matins, Evensong, administration of the sacraments, or other open prayers, than is mentioned and set forth in the said book … or shall preach, declare, or speak anything in the derogation or depraving of the said book, or anything therein contained, or of any part thereof, and shall be thereof lawfully convicted, … shall lose and forfeit to the queen's highness, her heirs and successors, for his first offence, the profit of all his spiritual benefices or promotions coming or arising in one whole year next after his conviction; and also that the person so convicted shall for the same offence suffer imprisonment by the space of six months …
Of course, Elizabeth I was dealing with the aftermath of the English Reformation (begun by Henry VIII and reversed by Mary I), and had yet to deal with the pluralism of Protestant worship that produced Presbyterians, Methodists, Baptists, Congregationalists and Quakers.

The Episcopal church (or even the global Anglican Communion) is too weak to enforce even a fraction of what Elizabeth achieved. But it seems difficult to raise children in “Episcopal” (or “Anglican”) worship if the next time you move (or switch parishes within the same community), you get a completely different style of worship.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

The British get hymns

Saturday’s online edition of the The Times of London had a wonderful article by Bp. Geoffrey Rowell celebrating the art of hymn-making and hymn-singing.

After noting (and lamenting) how the church once celebrated the saint’s day for John the Baptist, he segues into a discussion of the role of song in worship — whether by John’s father Zechariah, the Psalms, or in Jewish tradition.

It really is a wondeful essay. The most germane paragraph is this one:
The Reformation brought about a great renewal of Christian music and hymnody. In England, apart from anthems for choirs, it was late coming, for the only popularly sung resources which went with the Prayer Book service were metrical versions of the psalms. It was the Methodist revival of the 18th century, and the genius of John Wesley, and in particular of his brother, Charles, together with Isaac Watts, which began the great tradition of English hymnody.

There are further discussions of the role played by Wesley and another hymn-writer 100 years later in spreading the faith:
[Christopher Wordsworth] said said, “the first duty of a hymn-writer to teach sound doctrine, and thus to save souls”.
Although 750 words isn’t much room to teach about 2,000 years of Christian hymnody (or even 500 years of Protestant hymnody), I commend the article for further reading.

We’d never see this article in a mainstream American newspaper: the article works in a mainstream British newspaper because of a common cultural and religious heritage. Sadly, in 50 years that faith and shared heritage will be gone from England, through a combination of indifference and immigration by other faiths. In the US, we may (or may not) still have Christianity, but either way the trend is towards even less commonality in liturgical tradition. Even medium-sized denominations that once had a common canon are shifting towards local option and thus, it seems, no two parishes worshipping alike.

Hat tip: Original cite by Kendall Harmon in Titus 1:9.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Sampling Anglican Worship

While this is a blog about Anglican liturgical music, there is no such music without liturgy and worship. So during my visit to London I tried to visit as many parishes as possible: four in four days (evensong at Westminster Abbey, weekday mass at St. Mary’s Bourne Street, a concert at St. Michael’s Croydon, and the early Sunday mass at St. Bart’s the Greater).

Alas, there was only one congregation hymn in the lot, Friday night at St. Mary’s. But there was organ music and a choir at all my visits except Sunday morning, when I attended a spoken mass because I had to leave too early to catch any choral mass.

At Westminster, I sat on top of the earthly remains of former PM Sir William Gladstone. Of course, this was a performance for tourists, t-shirts and all. I’m not sure if practicing Christians were even among the majority, with only about 40% reciting the Apostle’s creed (although some could be from non-liturgical parishes or of other languages). Those seated late at the abbey outnumbered the entire congregation at St. Mary’s or St. Bart’s.

I learned a little about church music and about differences in worship between American and English Anglicans.

The Westminster service reminded me of something I learned when singing and studying music in college. There is cathedral music, and other music. Not surprisingly, the Tallis Magnificat and Nunc Dumittis sounded stunning when sung by the choir school boy trebles (aka sopranos) and their professional male counterparts. One of the 20th century pieces was OK (if you like that sort of stuff), but the other was just a bowl of mud in the long reverb sanctuary.

The second thing I learned was that — graduation music notwithstanding — I didn’t care for Sir Edward Elgar, and I still don’t. He may be a national hero to some, but to my ear he doesn’t hold a candle to the better stuff by Rutter and Britten, let alone Tallis, Handel, or Ralph Vaughan Williams. It wasn’t the choir’s fault — at times, they sounded like a good symphony orchestra choir rather than a church choir (although they had nearly as many sopranos as the other three parts combined).

On worship, I learned two things overall that caught me by surprise. Instead of pews (benches) and kneelers (pull-down kneeling stands), all but one of the churches had chairs, and all had kneeling cushions. I don’t know if the pew thing never caught on, or if the chairs were acquired to allow more flexible space utilization (wedding receptions? birthday parties?)

But the most relevant insights (for this blog) came gradually at bookstores and directly in the congregations. At the three parishes (tourist stop Westminster didn’t count), the standard pew hymnal is “words only,” with one offering “melody” upon request and all reserving “full tunes” for the choir.

As far as I know, none of the major denominations have even printed a words-only hymnal in the US. I’ve been in a few parishes that had melody-only hymnals (particularly in a chapel), and the 1982 Hymnal has unilaterally dropped the harmony from some hymns. But after visiting lots of parishes in the last five years, I’d still say full harmony is the norm in the pews.

After we sang the one hymn at St. Mary’s, I asked how they sang without the music. One said “I’ve been singing it for 30 years” while the other admitted “you have to learn it from the organ.” At St. Michael’s, they admitted that a few parishioners preferred music, so it appeared that about 20% of their hymnals (handed out upon entry) were the melody variety.

Picture: Sanctuary of St. Michael’s, Croydon.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

English Hymnbook Shopping

Inspired by Catherine Osborne’s blog (and with some advice from Dr. Osborne herself) during this week’s visit to London I set aside time for hymnbook shopping. Using her tips, as well as the Internet (notably UKCBD and Tentmaker), I narrowed my search down to four stores, which I visited (in between other business) over three days. Below are the stores (in order visited)

Chapter Two
Transit Stop
Rail: Woolwich Arsenal
Tube: Westminster
Tube: West Finchley
Rail: Stoke Newington
Bus: Dunsmore
Hymns Ancient & Modern


The English Hymnal
Songs of Praise. Enlarged edition
The New English Hymnal
† They only had the limited printing (500 copies) of the Centenary Edition

§ New copies are
New Standard Edition

Overall, I was pretty successful in my shopping this weekend:
  • Hymns Ancient and Modern. This was the first standardized British hymnal. I bought three at Chapter Two: 1st Edition with Appendix (1869); 2nd Edition with 2nd Supplement (1906); Standard Edition (1916). Because there were so many editions, I need to compare these and do some research to see if I need any more.
  • The English Hymnal (1906). This is the book Dr. O praises without ceasing, and features Ralph Vaughan Williams as music editor (and composer of several new tunes) and Pearcy Dearmer as editor of the texts.
  • Songs of Praised, Enlarged Edition (1931). The original 1925 edition appears to have quickly gone out of print, but used copies of the 1931 are readily available.
I didn’t buy these in-print hymnals, available new at several stores and at Amazon UK:
  • Hymns Ancient & Modern, New Standard Version (1983). Probably has a nostalgia value for hymn singers, but no historical significance for my interests in tracing the impact of English hymnals upon those in the US.
  • The English Hymnal, Revised Edition (1933). Also edited by Vaughan Williams and Dearmer. This is the hymnal used by two generations in the Church of England, and has significant changes from the earlier edition. This is to Dr. Osborne what the 1940 Hymnal is to me. Obviously I’ll have to get it, but I decided not to pay £37 for a new copy at this time.
  • The New English Hymnal (1986). No influence (yet) on American hymnals, but I might someday get it to contrast the parallels between Hymnal 1940->Hymnal 1982 and TEH->NEH.

As it turns out, my greatest successes were at the two used bookshops, Chapter Two (East of The City) and Pendleburys (behind the Stamford Hill library). Both had 1½ racks of used hymnals, although Pendleburys' was temporarily out of most of the COE books. Overall, the Chapter Two books were older and cheaper, with almost nothing at Pendleburys printed before WW II. Fittingly, Pendleburys is in the annex to a church (Stamford Hill United Reformed Church) — as Chapter Two once was, until their landlord church needed the space back and they had to move.

Both also had an assortment of other Protestant English hymnals (Baptist, Congregational, Methodist, Presbyterian). However, I hadn’t researched those before I came, and so didn’t have a shopping list. To analyze the parallel development of Hymns Ancient & Modern and The English Hymnal, I will be getting The Church Hymnary (Church of Scotland and allied Presbyterian churches), both in the original (1898) and revised (1927) editions, but probably not the third (1973).

I plan on going back to both stores on a future trip. SPCK had only a token used collection, but because of its location (just south of Westminster Abbey) is more convenient than any of the others. Cornerstone was very friendly, but not a place for researching liturgical music; it was almost identical to a standard U.S. “Christian” bookstore, so that it had any hymnals at all suggests the dominant role that Anglican worship plays (or once played) in England, compared to the centuries-old religious pluralism of the US .

The hymnals I saw more often than any other were The Celebration Hymnal (must be the current bestseller), Complete Mission Praise and the Redemption Hymnal (1951, but now back in print). Both are outside the scope of my current interest.

I also acquired some interesting books on hymns, which will be another posting. Only Pendleburys had any sort of assortment of books here, with three shelves (half of a rack) on hymnody, so that’s how they got my money.