Sunday, January 25, 2009

Beyond praise in Praise Music

Like an anthropologist studying Southeast Asian aborigines (or the workings of a large corporation), I'm occasionally leaving my ’28 Prayer Book parish for a rock band ACN parish. Each time, I think about what’s similar and different to Anglo-Catholic worship, for two reasons. First is to better understand this tenuous compromise that is ACN (now Common Cause, soon to be a new province). The second is to help identify what portions of Anglo-Catholic worship are essential to preserve, and to be able to better articulate those arguments both to the Evangelicals and the High Church Progressives.

Today (as with a few months ago) I want to focus on the theology of the hymnody — i.e. the concept of Christianity contained within the lyrics. So a Sanctus accompanied by a rhythm guitar (or even a drum set) may not be my cup of tea — or timeless Christianity — but that’s for another time.

This morning, the rock band (3 singers, 2 guitars, ukulele, bass, drum, keyboard) played the service music and six songs. Five of the songs were in the bulletin; I don’t have the lyrics to the sixth, but the one line I remember (“Praising my savior all the day long”) suggests it was Frances Crosby’s 19th century hymn Blessed Assurance, albeit with an updated tune and/or arrangement.

Several things jumped out at me. All of these songs were essentially about praising God. Representative is “Shout to the Lord,“ composed in 1993:
My Jesus, my Savior, Lord, there is none like You;
All of my days I want to praise the wonders of Your mighty love.
My comfort, my shelter, tower of refuge and strength;
Let ev'ry breath, all that I am, never cease to worship You.
Some of the songs had an element of faith — usually promises to continue to worshiping, adoring or loving (but not obeying) God.

The other thing that the songs were was highly egocentric and emotionalistic: in 5 of the 6 (including Crosby’s hymn), the word “I” or “my” appears in the very first line of the song, and repeatedly after that. The song is about how I (interestingly, not “we”) feel about God — seemingly an outgrowth of the personal savior theology of evangelical Protestants combined with the narcissism of the Baby Boomers, “me” generation and Millennials. This may be a good sales strategy for the contemporary culture, but is it Christianity?

So the hymns are about me and my feelings (more precisely, the songwriter’s feelings). What is remarkable from reading and listening to these praise songs is how little we learn about God. Yes, he’s a great God, a comforting God, sometimes a powerful God, but what is he beyond that? If the point of liturgy or sacred music is to instruct (NB: Handel’s Messiah) or reinforce belief, what good do these songs do?

For that matter, except for the occasional reference to “your Son,” it’s hard to recognize the God of praise songs as being a Christian God, let along a Trinitarian one. Again, this fits today’s American civil religion — or even a generic New Age deity — but is it God the Father, Son and Holy Ghost?

It goes without saying that if the faith is (as Lutherans argue) is a combination of both law and gospel, praise music is all gospel love and no obedience or submission to the law. Of course, it’s possible to include repentance in the emotional expression of the first person: Exhibit A is Amazing Grace, which also testifies to the specific sola gratia promise of our benevolent God.

The juxtaposition this morning was striking, when the sermon of repentance was followed by the Rite II confession of sin — surrounded by sin-free, confession-free, obedience-free praise songs. When I asked the rector about the contradiction, he conceded that it was a known weakness of CCM — and then said I should talk to the “Worship Leader” (band director) because he chose the hymns. I used to resent rectors/pastors who interfered with the music director’s hymn selection — but at least hymns come from within a doctrinally approved hymnal. Now, it’s clear to me that any rector who doesn’t set parameters for hymn lyrics (either by picking a hymnal or approving specific songs) is abdicating his responsibility for the religious instruction of his flock.

The other thing that was notably absent was the Bible, the inspiration for so many timeless hymns. Alongside Hymnal 1982, in the pews this morning was another hymnbook: Renew!: Songs & Hymns for Blended Worship from Hope Publishing; inside, hymns 98-135 were listed as “Biblical Songs.” But today’s praise songs could not be traced back to any particular event or passage of Holy Scripture.

As an aspiring musician, it seems like there’s an opportunity here. Start with an eternal Christian message from the Hebrew or Patristic scripture — or maybe one of the many great medieval hymns. Give it a modernized paraphrase comparable to the TEV or Living Bible. Then set it to a four chord progression, add base line and drums, and then typeset it using a standard music scoring package. Voilà! We’d have hymns for all those Rite II ACN/Common Cause types who feel bad about dispensing sugary sentimentality no vitamins in their weekly praise music.

Friday, January 23, 2009

New home for CyberHymnal

One of my goals here is not just to provide information on hymns, but where to find such information. On the righthand side of the blog I've been listing links to some well known resources.

In response to my post earlier this month on the TEC/Continuing Anglican property fight, hymn blogger Leland Bryant Ross posted a (slightly off-topic) comment about the current dispute over CyberHymnal. (Last month I linked to Ross’s blog post about Christmas carols, but I don’t link to his blog on the right side because we generally have divergent goals, in opposite corners of the church music 2x2.)

In his comment early this morning, Ross wrote
It is my hope that you will see the parallel between the unfairness of the court's decision, in this matter, and the unfairness of the ISP's hijacking of, and that you will change your links to The Cyber Hymnal™ to point to its true current location at rather than, as you currently have it, pointing to the ISP that stole the domain name from the actual hymnalist.
Actually, I don’t see much of a parallel, but that doesn’t mean that I’d want to see important content hijacked.

From what I can find right now, this looks to be one of those he said, she said conflicts. The new home doesn’t say much about the conflict
Many have asked what will hap­pen to the do­main name “” the le­gal owner (Word.Net) is un­will­ing re­lin­quish it, so we can’t use the old URL. In ad­di­tion, our site search fea­ture will not be ful­ly func­tion­al un­til search en­gines have had time to re-in­dex the site at its new URL.

Please spread the word about the new URL & ask Web sites to up­date their links! God bless…
The most detailed discussion I could find of the dispute was in a series of reader comments to a Dec. 26 posting to the Reformed Angler, which includes a few readers who say they’ve corresponded with the anonymous (pseudonymous) CyberHymnal founder.

Taking the discussion as face value, it appears that some company at will have the old content (perhaps with new organization), and another company (possibly aided by the original founder) will have the old content and newer content at Of course, the former will get all the website traffic and links for many years. The latter is calling itself TheCyberHymnal™ to create a new brand distinct from CyberHymnal.

I don’t know much beyond that: perhaps the full story will come out over time. Given that is offline for now and TheCyberHymnal is developing new content, at Leland’s suggestion I’ve changed the link to the latter.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Bp. Iker on the future of Anglo-Catholicism

The last few decades have raised questions about the definition and future of Anglo-Catholic worship. On Friday, the man who effectively is the leading spokesman for American Anglo-Catholics, Bishop Jack Iker of the Diocese of Ft. Worth, gave a talk that paints a troubling portrait (at best). Bp. Iker was speaking at the Mere Anglicanism conference in Charleston, South Carolina.

Bp. Iker’s talk is posted at Virtuosity Online. He sets the stage by noting the history of the Anglican Communion:
For three centuries, the Anglican Church knew relative peace and concord through an arrangement known as the Elizabethan settlement or, as the more cynically minded might prefer to call it, the Elizabethan compromise. Dating from the time of Queen Elizabeth I, Anglicanism was marked by a common ordained ministry, common creeds, and a Book of Common Prayer that provided for a good amount of freedom in belief and practice, within those boundaries. High church and low church, anglo-catholics and evangelicals saw many things differently and worshipped in very different ways, but nonetheless they were members of the same church, a national church, under the ultimate governance of the monarch and the ultimate authority of the Holy Scriptures.

As the British empire grew and expanded around the world, so did the Church of England. As colonies were established in America, and Africa, and Asia, so were colonial churches established, each with a common spiritual and liturgical heritage. As one writer has observed, "The ingredients of colonial Anglicanism were the same everywhere: Crown, Parliament, episcopacy, Prayer Book, English law, English theology."
He then traces the history of the ad hoc and relatively weak governance mechanisms of the communion, contrasting those with alternatives (notably conciliarism) that have yet to be adopted.

The speech had three new points — all about women’s ordination — that I had not previously seen raised in the Continuing Anglican saga. First, as a then-PECUSA bishop attending Lambeth last summer, at three different times (including a plenary talk) Bp. Iker raised the issue of the declining tolerance of clergy opposed to women’s ordination, but his comments in these forums were censored from the official record of the conference. Second, while he praises Bishop Duncan and the Common Cause Partnership, he notes that the ordination of women is, in effect, the elephant in the room of the new North American province and will need to be addressed sooner rather than later.

Finally, he notes the gap between Anglican thought on the subject and the remainder of Christendom:
It must give due consideration to the reality that the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church, which together comprise over 80% of the world's Christians, have already spoken on this issue [WO] and that unilateral actions on our part have already seriously damaged ecumenical relations for the future. Are we willing to submit to the mind of the whole church? Are we really committed to abiding by common consent as determined by general councils?
In my reading, Bp. Iker is saying that the future of Anglo-Catholics may not lie as a province in communion with Canterbury, but as Anglican Rite Catholics. On the one hand, this is an opportunity, to borrow and collaborate in developing sacred music with church musicians representing some 50? 70? million Catholics in the U.S. (plus millions more English-speaking Catholics in the rest of the world).

On the other hand, since Vatican II, Catholic worship in the US has drifted away from the traditional liturgy. The dominant supplier of Catholic church music in the US, Oregon Catholic Press, has the same goal of modernized worship through annual (or more frequent) release of liturgy books such as Today’s Missal.

For centuries, Protestants have borrowed hymns from each other and from Catholics as well. So the challenge may not be writing the hymns, but establishing a large enough, coherent audience for Anglo-Catholic worship that justifies compiling a new hymnal that emphasizes timeless liturgical worship, rather than trendy lyrics and music.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

About this blog (2009)

Last updated January 10, 2009

The goals and orientation of this blog have evolved since the original plan, so here is an updated statement, with links to illustrative postings.

This weblog is offered in humility by a poor miserable sinner, who often errs and strays like a lost sheep. Corrections, comments and suggestions are always welcome.

The blog is about the preservation of Anglo-Catholic liturgical worship — and its associated music — into the 21st century. The main focus is preserving three aspects of worship:
  1. what is best from the past five centuries of Anglicanism (e.g. hymns of Watts, Vaughan Williams);
  2. what we inherited from Catholicism at the time of the split from Rome (e.g. Gregorian chant and other medieval plainsong), and
  3. what we have borrowed and shared with other liturgical Christians during those centuries (e.g. the music of Bach and Wesley).
The main focus is advocating such Anglo-Catholic music, both in its form (the tunes) and in its content (the lyrics).

However, standing for such principles necessarily means drawing a line of separation against others. A major theme is offering a cogent argument in favor of timeless Christian forms of worship and against attempts to modernize the faith to conform to a postmodern culture, whether that be through CCM (Christian Contemporary Music) or politically correct, “inclusive” lyrics.

The author is a layman, choir member and would-be musicologist who was raised an Episcopalian, but has found that the Episcopal church of his childhood has been eradicated from most parishes within PECUSA (which now calls itself TEC). This blog is thus sympathetic to those Continuing Anglicans of North America, whether the Schism I parishes and provinces inspired by the Congress of St. Louis, or the Anglo-Catholic contingent within the Schism II churches that are forming the North American Anglican Province (née Common Cause Partnership).

Although this blog often cites from PECUSA hymnals such as Hymnal 1940 (my favorite) and the decidedly inferior Hymnal 1982, it also draws on the seminal English language hymnals, especially the two great Church of England hymnals: Hymns Ancient & Modern (1861) and The English Hymnal (1906).

One major goal of this blog is thus to air ideas about what should be done for the New Anglican hymnal (date and title undetermined), which the Schism I and/or Schism II churches will someday create to replace Hymnal 1940 and Hymnal 1982.

Another major goal is to share the ongoing musical education of Anglo-Catholic musician, who hopes to learn by reading a wide range of materials, both primary sources (e.g. Hymns A&M) and commentary. The latter includes books on hymnody (e.g. Dr. Ian Bradley’s Book of Hymns), as well as bloggers who write about liturgical music, such as Dr. Catherine Osborne of the CoE and Vicar Josh Osbun of the LCMS.

Monday, January 5, 2009

An end to Schism II?

Katharine Jefferts Schori and her sidekick David Beers seem to have won a knockout blow against Schism II churches with today’s unanimous ruling by the California Supreme Court against parishes seeking to keep their property after leaving the Diocese of Los Angeles.

Since the decision sends the case back to Superior Court, St. James Anglican hopes to win in trial court, but with the Appeals and Supreme courts against them, it’s definitely an uphill fight.

The California justices seemed quite uninterested in two seemingly strong arguments. First, local donors paid to build and support the churches, effectively saying “we don’t know what their intent was so we’ll ignore that fact.” Second, that the land is titled in the name of the local churches (a sleight of hand that was called out in a concurring opinion by Joyce Kennard).

The justices relied heavily upon the infamous Denis Canon (Canon I.7.4), but perhaps without considering evidence that the Canon might have never been passed into church law. As the Anglican Curmudgeon notes, they also ignored 400 years of common law that requires both parties to assent to a change in the terms of a deed.

If the California decision holds — and it will take years to say for sure — this is likely to strip real property from at least four Los Angeles and three San Diego parishes that have left since Schori was elected Presiding Bishop. It also puts the Diocese of San Joaquin into jeopardy, assuming that 815 is allowed standing (as it was here, and contrary to 1500+ years of the bishopric) to join litigation.

More importantly, the PB and her chancellor can now deter any future parishes from leaving PECUSA. (The success of Virginia parishes is unlikely to set a precedent that influences courts in other states). Instead, individuals will leave their parishes and the empty churches will be sold to raise money to support an increasingly top-heavy hierarchy.

To me, this ruling will stall the momentum of the Schism II (i.e. the Anglican Church in North America aka Common Cause) for a decade. The endowment gifts made by good loyal Christians will accrue to the benefit of the revisionists who now control PECUSA. And the CC faithful will be scrambling to find buildings to house and maintain their existing parishes rather than planting new ones.

I wonder whether this will instead strengthen the Schism I provinces and parishes, which while small and fractured, are stable and tend to own their property. Will PECUSA refugees join established parishes rather than try to build new sanctuaries?

What does this have to do with this blog? At some point, the Continuing Anglicans will need to create a new hymnal to replace Hymnal 1940 and Hymnal 1982, if for no other reason than to stop paying money to augment KJS’ retirement fund. (We may have to start with the New English Hymnal or Hymnal 1916, since copyright on these books has expired).

If the revision is controlled by Schism II, it will have the same compromises as the 1979 prayer book and Hymnal 1982, including “inclusive” language mangling of old favorites. The TEC-sponsored Hymnal 2020 could be so beyond the pale that even the Evangelicals will recoil in horror — limiting our revisionism to 1982 rather than 2020 — but that would be a small consolation.

If, however, the revision is controlled by Schism I — perhaps augmented by FiFNA defectors from PECUSA — we may have an update to the early 20th century hymnals without incorporating the Baby Boomer and feminist “modernizations” of the culture and theology.

Don’t get me wrong. I grieve for all the time, money and energy that the Schism II faithful will have to expend over the next 20 years to get back to where they were before 2003, and pray that they somehow gain a reasonable settlement (as was once proposed in Virginia) and are able to devote their energies to saving souls from modern-day heresies.

However, I would just as soon avoid importing the PECUSA liturgical controversies (between Evangelicals and Anglo-Catholics) into efforts to create a New Anglican hymnal for US parishes. A more focused group of Anglo-Catholics would produce a more faithful compilation of traditional Anglican hymnody for use in the 21st century.