Thursday, March 24, 2016


I reflected during "O Sacred Head Now Wounded" tonight that there are not many of us left who remember old hymns - and I am among the younger ones. A young dinosaur.

Ah well.  The church got along fine for a thousand years before Bernard of Clairvaux, and when he is forgotten in the next hundred years or so, will get along for a thousand years after that. Looking up the link, I learned that Bernard is no longer considered the poet behind the hymn.


Unknown said...

In the mid 80's I was in a campus christian fellowship group that sang the old hymns with vigour, and the big 12-to18000-person Urbana missions conventions up through that time used the hymnary in worship extensively. I've always had thoughts of taking some of the deeper ones to contemporize the lingo and write a tune and meter more appropriate for "contemporary worship band", but have never come up with any adaptation worth distribution wider than my own circular file.
After a while, one does get a little bit tired of "jesus, jesus jesus; jesus, jesus jesus; jesus, jesus jesus; copyright, all rights reserved". I've discovered that singing that "copyright, all rights reserved" line is a sure way to offend the people around me in the service.

james said...

It depends on where you go. On a trip I stopped in at a local church for Sunday services, and they had the "10-commandments" plaque up with the hymn numbers for the morning, the same way they did mumble mumble years ago.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Unknown - I'm going to work out a tune to that.

James, we have the plaque with the hymn numbers for first service. But first service has a lot of people over 60. Not many under, actually. We have a good choir, good accompanists, and the Covenant has a strong hymn-singing tradition. But we have gone down 40 people in average attendance at that service over five years - even after inheriting about 20 Presbyterians whose church dropped its traditional service. I stand at the back and add ten years to all the people I see. Some will be dead, some will be shut-in, some will find it a harder and harder effort. All in all, that service is gone, but the people attending still think it should not change one bit. It's the rest of us who are wrong, not preserving the old hymns so that the children can be part of Church continuity.

I deeply understand, but I also have gone down to death with a church not so long ago and don't see any reason why this subchurch is going to survive.

james said...

The place I visited had a younger age mix, which is why I brought it up.

I know what you mean. I serve in the chapel service, where the average age is quite high, though with a few youngsters brought along. No hymnals, but it uses largely classic songs and has a more participatory feel. (Acoustics are way better, too, for both the congregation and the stage singers.)

Perhaps that's not fully just: in the amplified service more people go in for hands above the head swaying, which is another form of participation. Dionysian vs Apollonian, I guess.

If I ran the show (perhaps it is just as well I don't) I'd push for a structured service with more responsive prayer and recitation, communion every week, and a slightly shorter sermon. If you rely on music for instruction and reminder, as we often seem to do by default, you need music with lyrics that are deeper and more thoughtful than most praise choruses. If you include more explicit responses like a creed during the service, the music matters a little less.

Christopher B said...

You are certainly not the youngest dinosaur. I think I've got ten years on you, and my wife ten on me, and we've both talked with people our ages and in between who still enjoy classic hymns and church songs. It will survive, or at least could, if the knee jerk reaction wasn't blaming the music for declining attendance.

Our current church has the advantage of two good worship spaces and leadership teams so a traditional service is run concurrent with a contemporary one instead of being shunted to an inconvenient time or location.

BTW, I fondly remember the hymn number plaques from my home church. Saved fumbling with the bulliten to find the number.

Earl Wajenberg said...

And a hardcopy paper hymnal saves the confusion and irritation when the crew running the prompter screen can't keep up with the worship team.

james said...

Or when you fumble-finger the mouse button...

Assistant Village Idiot said...

There is an advantage to the prompter screen, though. People have their heads up and their voices go up and out, increasing the volume naturally, which creates fellow-feeling. Singing down into the book muffles the sound.

james said...

And some of the congregants would have trouble holding a hymnbook (though they're the ones who probably know them by heart). Tradeoff--you lose the notes. Nothing's perfect.

Texan99 said...

We have a plaque with the hymn numbers on it, and they're listed in the service bulletin as well, then called out before each hymn. It's a standard Episcopal service, with a liturgy, readings, a Psalm read responsively, a lot of liturgy with responses, and a sermon that I've never timed but probably is in the 10-minute range, plus communion. It all takes just under an hour.

Since our music director retired, we've gone in less for the stuff from "Wonder, Love and Praise" and are back to the 1980 hymnal. I often glance at the composition date at the bottom of the page: if it's 18th-century or before it's likely to be to my taste. Whoever chooses the hymns tends to coordinate their lyrics with the readings from the lectionary, and the sermon usually takes off from there, too. No stage, no projection screen, a small amount of amplification for the choir for special parts.

During the Lenten vigil in the wee hours of Saturday morning, I picked up a book I found very moving: something like "Alive and [something] in the Ordinary," written by a Southern woman who became an Episcopal priest rather late in life. It read like brief but well-constructed sermons.

A happy Easter to you all.

Retriever said...

We have the hymn numbers up and the bulletin (go Episcopalians!) also a spectacular bunch of choirs (boys, girls, and mediocre volunteer adults who are still good hearted. ) The kids audition, two of mine were in over 8 years. the classic Anglican repertoire so it resonates w one's tribal unconscious. Then Bach, Mozart, Britten, and occasional regrettable modern atonal c$&p to keep the young choir director from dying of boredom. We had one asst who played at my mother in law's funeral who went on to play at Carnegie Hall. My point is: WOW em with glorious music and bring tears to sinners' eyes and hope to the forlorn. Works for me. And I'm someone who used to sing in such a choir as a kid in a similar Gold coast Episcopal church (my dad called our parish "the DuPont family at prayer" but I just preened in my red robe and white ruff).

I still belt out the hymns. When I worked for a Catholic child welfare agency the nuns made me lead the praise songs as Catholics don't sing. YeGads! those things were a nightmare to sing, all over the place! I sounded like a tortured cat.

Nowadays I notice that my parish has many more social climbing nouveau riches or refugees from Catholicism than boring cradle to grave Anglicans like my family for generations. Nobody around me sings. They are afraid to be off key, or of not knowing the tune. I frequently nudge people and say"if God can put up with me. He must like everyone's voice!" But people have this fear of giving offence of sounding bad. IMHO that is valid if one is in a choir. But congregational singing is all about joyful noise, and no snarking or judging allowed.

I am often moved to tears when I hear my autistic kid belting out a hymn off key. Perhaps it bothers the people nearby, but I know it pleases God, to whom my kid feels close at that moment.

I am tired of the modern praise songs and Jesus is my boyfriend garbage. Of course I listen to some of it. I'm partial to some Xian hip hop (to my children's disgust) . I basically find the content of modern Xian songs to be shallow. I like the lyrics to medieval hymns. The Victorian stuff leaves me pretty much cold. Sappy rubbish. I like martial stuff, exhortations to crusades, heroism, evangelizing savages like the Irish or Scots or whomever...we like the Heliand Gospel in our family.

We had St Patrick's Breastplate at our wedding, plus Deutschland uber Alles. Oops. glorious Things of thee are spoken. I'm a dinosaur.