Beacon Song and Service Book considered

I misremembered the name and some of the details of the Sunday school hymnal Derek and I like. The Beacon Song and Service Book, unlike the later (1935, not earlier) joint Unitarian-Universalist Hymns of the Spirit is a Unitarian only production. Judging by the dates of some of the now-classic hymns, this relatively small volume must have debuted some stunning new hymn texts, including Jacob Trapp’s “Wonders Still the World Shall Witness” and the little chorus — which I wonder if anyone uses any more — “As we leave this friendly place . . . .” Vincent Silliman wrote several, translated more and also added a few stanzas here and here, some of which I had thought were original. Others like Marion Frankin Ham’s “Ring, O ring, ye Christmas bells!” — not so much.

While I can do without patriotic hymns in this and every hymnal, I was stunned by another political-social movement that made its mark: trade unionism, as seen in hymns of human solidarity and the honoring of past heroes. There is a — well — heroic quality to some of the hymns that is plainly missing today and has been replaced with introspection verging on narcissism. I was singing though this little hymnal last night and realized I knew about half of 331 hymns, choruses and service music selections (and am sure I could have picked up a few quite easily.)  With themes exhalting human community, religious pioneers, spiritual freedom and the love of nature, I think this work might hold up better today for “mainline” Unitarian Universalist congregations than first thought.

If I was in a small, long-established and theologically-mixed (but mostly theist)  congregation, I would seriously consider using The Beacon Song and Service Book for the adult congregation if there was a mold-free box in the attic.

Does anyone else have experience of this book?

11 Replies to “Beacon Song and Service Book considered”

  1. Those heroic human-solidarity hymns — I call them the “universal brotherhood” hymns — actually emerged in the period around the publication of the 1914 Hymn and Tune Book, where the earliest of them made their debut. Others were written in the 1920s; Jacob Trapp collected even more in another mid-1930s Humanist hymnal he published in Salt Lake, where he was minister in the ’30s. They’re part of the social-gospel tradition’s hymn legacy, and in Unitarian circles that’s where most of John Haynes Holmes’s hymnody should be placed.

    Ironically, even though it’s this tradition that is the most direct precedent for the social-justice hymns in the UU tradition today, almost all of it has been abandoned. I suspect it has everything to do with the number of times the word “brotherhood” is used: Sexist!

  2. Oh, I meant to mention this: A “Christian Register” review of the 1914 hymnal — one that most of us, if we’re even aware that it existed, assume to be old school of the oldest sort — complained about the shift from personal piety toward social-consciousness. Charles Wesley was out; the social gospel was in. Reading that review opened my eyes to the culture shift that was occuring in Unitarianism between 1910 and the mid-1930s, as the tradition moved from its “lyrical theism” years toward the social gospel, the emergence of humanism, and tragic liberalism of James Luther Adams.

  3. BTW, Trapp’s hymnal is one of the touchstones for a lot of my concern about limited hymnal selection in the UUA and the possibility of alternatives.

  4. What would it take to publish a new edition of the Beacon Song Book? Maybe we don’t need to completely re-invent the wheel.

  5. I serve a congregation of the type you describe, but we only have two copies of the BSSB on the premises. I’ve only thumbed through it a couple of times, but did notice how much more umph there was to the social justice-oriented hymns — which even have resounding cries for (gasp!) our own accountability for injustice. Your post makes me want to look at it again for some things to try out this year.

  6. Doesnt that make Unitarians a bit late in the Social Gospel movement??
    Not much in the vanguard were they?
    Certainly Presbyterians and Methodists were there in the late 19th century…..

  7. During my internship I came across the Beacon Song and Service Book. I pointed it out to my supervisor. He commented that he thought it was one of the best hymnals we had ever published. A couple of months later I realized that the order of service at the internship site was following the general pattern of those in the Beacon Song and Service Book. They were the pattern of worship in my internship supervisor’s children’s worship at church when he was a child. It did work though in his childhood and in adult ministry.

    In the two UU Christian congregations that I served I often turned to the Beacon Song and Service Book for readings and prayers.

  8. Following Larry’s comment — I saw an exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC some years ago about the development of popular fashion in the twentieth century. It suggested — correctly I think — the progress in adult fashions is to make them more like athletic and children’s clothing. I suppose these were two places where it was acceptable to simplify the custom without appearing to make radical changes (or look slovenly.)

    While I wouldn’t mind seeing adults dress better — a topic I’ll generally leave to Victoria Weinstein — I have seen the migration of children’s norms into adults’ worship, and some are quite good. Like this hymnal.

  9. I too love this hymnal and love the Hymns for Young People section. I do however, like patriotic hymns, and I think that it is OK for us to have at least a few in there. Here are some I like”The Battle Hymn of the Republic” (yes I know how you feel Scott) “America the Beautiful”, “This Land is Your Land,” and since I’m married to a Canadian -“O’ Canada.” I understand the importance of keeping nationalism out of the pulpit, and yet I also think that it’s important for liberals to claim ownership in our nation, and being able to sing a few “National Songs” is part of that.

  10. StevenR, yes, I think it’s fair to say that Unitarians were a bit late to the social-gospel movement — but only a bit. The sort of worship trends that get captured in a denominational hymnal are usually in place for a decade before achieving the kind of denominational consensus that a hymnal represents.

  11. Parisa, if there are only two left then the others have sprouted legs and walked off. There used to be a couple dozen. Mrs. Fausto and I borrowed one, and if we haven’t returned it yet we will. Have you checked with the DRE and Music Director?

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