Wednesday, June 1, 2011

PECUSA hymnals: first 130 years

In reading about the American prayer book, I found interesting snippets of history regarding the PECUSA hymnals of the 19th and early 20th century. The source was William Sydnor, The Real Prayer Book: 1954 to the Present (1978).

The end of Chapter VII (on the 1892 BCP) and beginning of Chapter VIII (on the 1928) summarize American hymnals up to that date. (No mention is made of Hymnal 1940.) According to the book, the American church distributed hymns as follows:
  • 1786: 51 hymns, 8 pages of tunes, appended to end of proposed prayer book
  • 1789: 27 hymns (no tunes) as an appendix
  • 1826: 212 hymns (no tunes) appended to the prayer book
  • 1828: tune book published by Rev. Jonathan Mayhew Wainwright
  • 1871: 502 hymns in first stand-alone hymnal
  • 1896: 679 hymns
  • 1916: 559 hymns, adding 126 and dropping 200. Sydnor favorable quotes a contemporaneous account that praises Hymnal 1916 as “a visible demonstration of the liberality of the [General] Convention to new devotional demands.”
Of course, regular readers know that PECUSA has since published two main hymnals, Hymnal 1940 and Hymnal 1982.

It turns out that this history came from the preface to the Hymnal 1940 Companion, a must have book for any Anglican musician. (By now I would also own the companion to Hymnal 1982, except that it’s multiple books totaling hundreds of dollars, which I am acquiring as I can find them available used.)

Although it’s the only book I’ve found about the history of the American prayer book, I can’t say I care for the book overall. It was written as an apologia for the 1979 prayer book and in the sort of temporo-centrist conceit common to that century, claims that the vast transformation of industrial society justifies new approaches to worship and theology. As with Oremus, it also justifies modernist revisionism with the claim “things were always changing anyway.”

Actually the Brits managed just fine with one prayer book for 300 years. The late Peter Toon argued that if you changed the thees and thous, it would make a fine prayer book for 21st century Americans.

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