What hymnal to choose for UU Christians?

Saturday night, Hubby and I watched the pilot episode of country-church-based Britcom, The Victor of Dibley (1994). I remember that from the look of the hymnals and the announced numbers that it was Hymns Ancient and Modern. Not a bad hymnal to have as a reference work; I do.

That year was about the end of the last wave of American hymnal publishing. It began with an early entry by the Episcopalians (1982), crested I say with the United Methodists (1989) and Presbyterians (1990). The Unitarian Universalists had just published the gray hymnal the year before.  Like cicadas, hymnals come in fairly predicable cycles with long periods of dormancy between generations. At present, in the fallow, we get  supplements and planning committees. The recent (2006) ELCA book of worship is something of an island: a rule-proving exception. I don’t expect the next generation to begin publishing for another decade, all talk of the death of hymnals notwithstanding.

I mention this tidal flow of hymnals because it was some time back then — I forget which year — that the Council of Christian Churches within the Unitarian Universalist Association, concerned that Singing the Living Tradition had too few Christian hymns to be useful and that the 1937 Hymns of the Spirit was too old, wanted to recommend a hymnal that the remaining Christian churches might use.

There was a report, but little came of it — I think because there was no option so wonderful. The British Unitarian Christian Hymns of Faith and Freedom was words-only. A local Congregationalist hymnal Hymns of Truth and Light (though adopted by First Unitarian, Weston) and the NACCC’s Hymns for a Pilgrim People (another “island”) were not yet out by report time. My own favorite, Rejoice and Sing, from the United Reformed Church (UK) is not available for sale in the United States.

Which begs a question — if not for Christian churches in the UUA, then at least for Christians in the UUA, perhaps in small groups — what hymnal would appeal? And for reference sake, what “near-UU” hymnal should one own?

4 Replies to “What hymnal to choose for UU Christians?”

  1. Hi Scott.

    Since I’m spending most of my time with them these days, I think both ‘Worship In Song’ by the Friends General Conference or ‘Hymnal’ by the Mennonite/Brethren Conference might be worth a look for either UU Christian churches or small groups.

    And you might remember that I think that the Chalice Hymnal by the Disciples is wonderful.

  2. If memory serves (and it rarely does, these days, except poutingly) the First Parish in Weston has its own hymnal which it privately printed and published, but which might be available as a template for a second edition if the rest of oUUr Xtn folk found it compelling enough.

  3. This is a good question, Scott. I must admit that for at least one Council church (mine) the hymnal selection is largely organic. We use the old Pilgrim Hymnal (which has been rebound a few times) and Singing the Liberal Tradition. It may be worth noting that in our case, the “non-Christians” (at Eliot this is a relative term) were more comfortable with Pilgrim as it reminded them of their churches of origin. It was the younger postmodern Christians who wanted andother hymnal with inclusive language and so chose the SLT…

  4. Kim — I love the two hymnals you mention. Both would need a lot added to get the Unitarian (Universalists wrtote few still-used hymns) classics most Unitarian and Universalist Christians would expect. Of course, that might just have to be.

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