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.

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