Monday, November 26, 2007

Where to get that free hymnal

While traveling for the Thanksgiving holiday, I visited a small ACA parish worshipping out of a rented duplex. Not surprisingly, they used the familiar 1928 BCP and 1940 Hymnal. What was unfamiliar was the stamp on the front:
Operation Pass Along
805 CR 102
Eureka Springs, AR 72632
Sure enough, there’s a website, which notes that 135,000+ books have been forwarded under this ministry since 1972 for just the cost of postage. One would have to guess that the bulk of the shipments have been 1928 BCP and 1940 Hymnals rendered surplus when replaced by their 1979 and 1982 counterparts.

OPA is one to be one of a series of ministries sponsored by the Society for Promoting and Encouraging the Arts and Knowledge. Another ministry is The Anglican Digest, today edited by Rev. Kendall Harmon, director of communications for the TEC diocese of South Carolina — but best known as the creator of the blog named after Titus 1:9.

OPA seems to be one of the few efforts supported by both the Episcopal left and right. Perhaps it’s because reuse is far more environmentally (and economically) sound than recycling. Or perhaps just because it’s the Christian thing to do.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Preserving traditional faith and worship

Even if 16th century theologian Richard Hooker did not (as often claimed) give us the metaphor of the 3-legged stool (scripture, tradition and reason), tradition has played an important part in providing a continuity of scriptural interpretation over the millennia: most Anglicans could tell you something about what happened in the First Council of Nicaea, even if they couldn’t give you the year (325).

From the narrow prism of my personal tastes I once assumed that traditional worship and traditional liturgy (specifically music) go hand and hand. Casual observation of the unfolding American schism show that’s obviously not the case. The theological traditionalists leaving PECUSA (TEC) since the 2006 General Convention (and over the past 30 years) have included both those with modernized worship and those with traditional worship.

These two traditionalists groups seem to go by the labels “evangelical” and “Anglo-Catholic,” represented by Trinity and Nashotah seminaries, which finally realized last month that they have more similarities than differences. Similarly, of the dioceses heading for the TEC exit, Pittsburgh (Bp. Duncan) represents the evangelicals while San Joaquin (Bp. Schofield) and Ft. Worth (Bp. Iker) represent the Anglo-Catholics. The Anglo-Catholics (my homies) seem to like the 1928 BCP and the 1940 Hymnal, while the Evangelicals seem to be Rite II from the 1982 Hymnal and perhaps even non-hymnal music.

But again, this is an excessively narrow view of Anglican worship in North America. In fact, both forms of music are common on the progressive (modern theology) side of the aisle.

Most visible are the modern theology and music, a faction I’ll call “Blowin’ in the Wind,” in homage to the social gospel folk music epitomized by the Mary Travers version of the Bob Dylan song. These ultra-modernists have brought us a series of politically correct “hymnals” — even more modern and PC than Hymnal 1982:

  • African-American: Lift Every Voice & Sing (1981) and Lift Every Voice & Sing II (1993)
  • Feminist: Voices Found (2003)
  • Other PC theology: Wonder, Love & Praise (1997)
This is also the quadrant of the most extreme cases of the TEC, as with this example recounted by David Virtue a week ago:

The Sunday after General Convention I returned to my home parish for Gay Pride Sunday and participated in a Disco Mass for which gays and lesbians turned out in force. The opening hymn was a beautiful jazz rendition of ‘Over the Rainbow.’ Musical offerings came from gay men in sequined tank tops and from the Director of Music who was ushered into the service singing a disco number complete with go-go girls. The queen of St. Mark’s appeared in full drag to deliver the homily and the closing hymn was, Sister Sledge’s ‘We Are Family.’"

At the same time, there are many high church progressives, including the majority of the participants in the Anglican Music (no relation) mailing list, a refuge for high church organists and music directors. They are often found in the big urban cathedrals in liberal dioceses, where gay rights are more salient than in the suburban churches. My first encounter with this was on a business trip many years ago to San Francisco, where I attended Church of Advent near Union Square, and found that their definition of “inclusive Anglo-Catholic” did not include traditional theology. So this actually suggests four alternatives:

High Church Progressives
Hymnal 1982

Hymnal 1940

Blowin’ in the Wind
Wonder, Love and Praise


A microcosm of this 2x2 division can be found (for now) in the Diocese of El Camino Real, which installed Rev. Mary Gray-Reeves as its first female bishop two weeks ago today. The installation took place not at the small cathedral in downtown San Jose, but at St. Andrews in affluent Saratoga, which features high church worship complete with the most modern of theology. Each of these four quadrants are currently represented in the Diocese of ECR:
  • High Church Progressives: epitomized by St. Andrew’s, a sanctuary (tellingly) dedicated by Bp. Pike in 1963. At the recommendation of a former parishioner, I attended a service here five years ago. Only the second rector in fifty years, his sermon talked about updating the faith for the 21st century, which should have been an an early warning sign. After he denied the divinity of Jesus Christ, I should have walked out but I was too shocked to react. Here are my contemporaneous notes of what he said:
    He said the big issue of updating the faith was the conflict between science and religion. He said we know now that rain is caused by weather systems, and diseases is caused by bacteria and the breakdown of cells. He went on: “The writers of the scriptures didn’t know that. Jesus didn’t know that.”
  • Blowin’ in the Wind: this is most of TEC and I’m assuming this is most of the diocese, at least in liberal Northern California. These are services I try to avoid.
  • Anglo-Catholics: St. John’s Chapel of Monterey is a 1928 BCP parish established in 1894 by C.P. Crocker and C.H. Huntington, half of the “Big Four” railroad barons who created the Central Pacific Railroad and with it the western part of the transcontinental railroad. The parish once drew heavily from Fort Ord before the base closed in 1994.
  • Evangelicals: St. Edward’s in San Jose is a member of the Anglican Communion Network, with visitors from Bp. Duncan but a decidedly modern take on worship style. As the website proudly proclaimed earlier this year:
    Our 10 am Sunday service is a contemporary update of our traditional service. If you are familiar with Episcopal, Lutheran, or Roman Catholic worship, you will still recognize the pattern of the service. The structure is the same but the music is really contemporary. Now when some churches say they have contemporary music they mean music that was written in the 1960s. We like some of that music as well, but lets get real for a moment...those are golden oldies. When we say contemporary, we mean this year or even the past five years. We do occasionally sing old hymns and even golden oldies, but when we do its usually with a remix to bring it up to date. At the moment, our Music Ministry is enamored with “Jesus loves me” Punk Style! It rocks.
Without any direct evidence, I suspect that the traditionalists will not be remaining in the diocese much longer. The coverage of the installation by the San Jose Mercury and the LA Times (the latter pilloried by GetReligion) did not give much indication of the theology or administrative policies of Bp. Gray-Reeves. However, given the people who selected the bishop (and her controversial predecessor) I suspect she will be among the most liberal and aggressive in the national TEC.

If so, St. John’s and St. Edward’s will be leaving the diocese of ECR, just as most of the traditionalists left the Diocese of San Diego after it got a new liberal bishop. With California law unsettled right now, it’s not clear if they will be leaving with or without their sanctuaries, but this thin remnant of theological diversity within the diocese (and much of the TEC) is unlikely to last much longer.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Is liturgy fragmenting with the culture?

In my previous attacks, er, comments on modern worship style, I had assumed a stylized dichotomy of Anglican worship: centuries-old high church hymns, and modern guitar masses complete with praise bands. I realized that was an oversimplification, but since I only attend churches where the argument is over allowing music newer than Vaughan Williams, I was content to lump all "modern" worship into one pile.

This of course blurs the distinction within both hymn-based and non-hymnal modern worship. The former would be formal hymns with organ that happen to be composed since 1960 -- some with sound theology and some not, some with sappy tunes and some real music. The latter would cover a wide range of praise music, from a simple guitar mass to an amplified praise band.

I'd previously praised Terry Mattingly's coverage of this topic, as with his interview last year on KFUO. Thus, it's not surprising that TMatt has contributed two other observations on the topic this month to his GetReligion blog.

On Veterans Day, he commented on a NY Times article on a Southern California megachurch that has three main bands (and many lesser bands) to cater to various tastes. To Terry, this one quote says it all:
“When you start a church,” said Tom Mercer, 52, the senior pastor, “you don’t decide who you’re going to reach and then pick a music style. You pick a music style, and that determines who’s going to come.”
To which TMatt -- the Baptist-turned-Epsicopalian-turned-Orthodox worshiper -- commented:
So is there anyone in the church older than Boomer rock? Are there any ties that bind this congregation to the church of the ages? It would seem not.
I agree with Terry: I hope my grandchildren will someday be singing Rock of Ages (to Toplady), Isaac Watts, Wesley, and all the other classics of hymnals 100 (or 200 or 300) years ago.

But then today he posted a really thought-provoking postlude, in which conservative NY Times columnist David Brooks notes the fragmentation of the popular music genre.
The 1970s were a great moment for musical integration. Artists like the Rolling Stones and Springsteen drew on a range of musical influences and produced songs that might be country-influenced, soul-influenced, blues-influenced or a combination of all three. These mega-groups attracted gigantic followings and can still fill huge arenas.

But cultural history has pivot moments, and at some point toward the end of the 1970s or the early 1980s, the era of integration gave way to the era of fragmentation. There are now dozens of niche musical genres where there used to be this thing called rock. There are many bands that can fill 5,000-seat theaters, but there are almost no new groups with the broad following or longevity of the Rolling Stones, Springsteen or U2.
Brooks ties it back to modern marketing:
[Springsteen guitarist Steven Van Zandt] describes a musical culture that has lost touch with its common roots. . . .

If you go to marketing conferences, you realize we really are in the era of the long tail. In any given industry, companies are dividing the marketplace into narrower and more segmented lifestyle niches.
In other words, there will never be a single "contemporary" worship style for those who reject traditional liturgy, but a pluriform of alternatives.

The modernists in liturgical music make two major arguments: we need to be modern to be relevant (or popular or to reach young people), and every era has added contemporary popular music to the liturgical canon. I have never considered the former to be a serious intellectual argument, but rather a matter of personal preference.

The latter, however, seems a valid rebuttal to those who would freeze back in 1906 or 1940. Whatever I might say about most of the additions to the 1982 hymnal, for example, I think Hymn 335 is a keeper: it was used for the 2005 communion celebrating the unification of two continuing Anglican provinces.

After thinking about it for several years, I've come up with an answer: I'm not rejecting everything in the new hymnal, but most of the new stuff is mediocre and will soon be forgotten. I only want that music that will be used 100 years from now. Most of it is not going to stand the test of time, just as there are hymns by Luther or Watts or one of the Wesley clan that have deservedly fallen into disuse.

Meanwhile, I think the fragmentation of popular culture will make traditional hymnody more not less important. If there is no common thread among the various "contemporary" worship music (whatever that might be), then the only thing sure to survive is that which has already stood the test of time and can make the claim of continuity across the generations. A hundred years from now, I'd bet none of today's top 50 hits of CCM (or anything from Wonder, Love and Praise) will be used, but Christians will still be singing Ein feste burg, Adeste fidelis and Sine Nomine. Maybe those in English-speaking parts of the world will still call themselves Anglicans.

This makes it even more important that we preserve what is known about the writing and performance of 500 years (or more) of Christian hymnody.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Happy Remembrance Day

Today was both Veterans Day and a Sunday, and thus the observance of this major national holiday fell on the actual day.

Most history buffs know that the holiday dates to the 1919 signing of the Treaty of Versailles, marking the end of the Great War. In the U.S., holiday was known as Armistice Day beginning in 1926, but was renamed Veterans Day in 1954.

In the U.K., it’s always been Remembrance Day, and poppies are worn to commemorate the horrible deaths of trench warfare in the fields of Flanders. I first heard the term back in 1976, in a passing reference made by Alastair Ian Stewart in his offbeat love song, "Sand in Your Shoes." (Most boomers only remember the title track, “Year of the Cat”).

I did not know until this morning that Remembrance Day is also the official name in Canada, but Canadian comic strip artist Lynn Johnston this morning published a poignant tribute to one of the main characters, 86-year-old WW II vet Jim Richards, father of the cartoonist’s alter ego (Elly Patterson).
In observance of the date, the closing hymn today was Hymn 512 in the 1940 Hymnal. (The Navy hymn without the Army/Air Force references of Hymn 513). It was a bittersweet choice — the hymn is a favorite of mine, but for some reason opening the page to the hymn brought a tear, because of the reminder of my father (a World War II vet at whose funeral we sang Hymn 513). I lost it twice briefly while singing the hymn, although it appears nobody noticed.

However, after the service the choice became a bittersweet one for the entire congregation, as our rector announced he was resigning in the next month to become a Navy chaplain. I admire him greatly for making this difficult choice, and respect him (like all other military personnel) for making the sacrifice most of us are unwilling to make. But we now are left hoping to find a strong spiritual and pastoral leader, which is not a situation any parish wants to be in.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Some other interesting websites

In my free time, I've been researching other sites for topics relevant to Anglican liturgy and hymnody. Here are a few that I've found:
  • Music in Anglicanism, a small set of scanned public domain (mostly expired copyright) books and reports about music in PECUSA and the Church of England. It's part of the overall Project Canterbury online archive.
  • The Anglican music e-mail list, which seems to be mainly TEC choirmasters asking (or bragging) about what music they're going to perform next Sunday, but also includes resources and pointers to other sources.
Not specifically Anglican are
  • Choral Public Domain Library, which archives materials with expired copyrights (90 years old or more).
  • The Gregorian Yahoo Group, with both discussion of Gregorian chant and also an online repository of scanned files.