Universalism in shape notes

I discovered a "lost" Universalist hymn of lament by J. S. Warren (1829-1905) -- in shape notes, no less -- in the odd meter. It comes from Warren's Minstrel (Columbus, Ohio: 1857). In the 1984 reprint edition, John Lawrence Brasher notes (p. xix) that

For a full appreciation of Warren's Minstrel, one must have an understanding of Universalist doctrine and the activities of the Universalist Church in early Ohio. . . . In the will of James Warren, Jr., the opening phrase "In the name of the Benevolent Father of all," reflects his adoption of these tenets.

The tune "Mary and Joseph Seeking the Savior (Luke ii, 45)" is the title of the tune and evidently the theme, but we at BITB World Headquarters find the tune a bit daunting. (And my scanner isn't working or I'd include it.)

Might make a good early Lent anthem, if it found the right musical partner.

Cease a while ye winds to blow,
Cease a while ye streams to flow,
Hush'd be ev'ry ruder noise;
Methinks I hear my Saviour's voice.

Loud I'll call, I'll make him hear;
'Tis I that calls, Savior dear --
'Tis not He; why this delay?
Why let thy wand'rer lose his way?

There's the vale, the hill, the tree'
Hark! a voice, methinks 'tis He'
'Tis not He, and night comes on --
Oh, where's my lovely Savior gone!

Desert island selection #1

Getting back to which five books I would take to a desert island.

Since I get to choose, I'm assuming there is some purpose in me being on a desert island. Perhaps personal growth. I'll work with that.

Also, I'm only going to choose from books I actually own. If it is that needful, shouldn't I have gotten it by now? And if I don't have it, how would I know?

OK, down to business.

1. The Church Hymnary, Third Edition

If I only had five books to bring, I'd probably pass on a book of liturgy, since I have enough of a handle on that to shape my worship from the Bible I'm bringing (but not counting in my five).

Hymnals, on the other hand, have long been a repository for personal meditation. Study a hymnal and you'll learn what the compliers believe. Study a good hymnal, and you might find yourself believing something worth believing.

Naturally, I'd want something compact and rich: the hymnal version of a fruitcake. Full of well-chosen standards and rich with singable psalms. The Church Hymnary, Third Edition (1973, hereafter CH3) fits the bill. It was the defacto hymnal of non-US Presbyterianism. In time, the various national Presbyterian churches "withdrew" and created their own hymnals, leaving CH3 with its native Church of Scotland. CH4 is due out any time now, but since it is strictly a domestic product, I'm a little wary of whether I'd like it or not. On the other hand, Rejoice and Sing and Voices United are the current hymnals of two Union churches -- the United Reformed Church (mostly in England) and the United Church of Canada -- that have Presbyterian (and earlier editions of Church Hymnary) legacies and both are fabulous. R&S may well be my favorite hymnal in print; alas, it cannot be sold in the United States. (I got mine on our honeymoon in London. True love is being allowed to shop for hymnals on one's honeymoon.)

So first I would take my collection of 695 hymns and psalms, which in the melody edition, is little larger than a pack of 4x6 index cards.

Universalist hymn-writers remembered

March 23 is the death anniversary of two Universalist hymn-writers. Given there weren't all that many, this is a significant coincidence.

Thomas Lake Harris (1823-1906) was born in England but grew up in the United States, where he eventually became a Universalist minister. He was in his 30s when he wrote his hymns, or rather when "they were verball communicated by individual spirits." OK. The best of the bunch, according to Henry Wilder Foote, is "O earth, thy past is crowned and consecrated" which was #354 in Hymns of the Spirit (the red hymnal). The second of three verses:

O Earth! thy present too is crowned with splendor
By its reformers, battling in the strife;
Friends of humanity, stern, strong and tender,
Making the world more hopeful with their life.

Byron G. Russell (c1850-1930) was also a Universalist minister, "serving the Standing Stone, Pennsylvania" church (Foote) and authored one hymn, of praise, also found in the red hymnal, #11: "Our Father, unto thee." The last verse:

And may our hands reach out
To those who round about
Demand our love.
In every hour of need
May we their pleadings heed,
Till earth becomes indeed
Like heaven above.

These details were in Foote's "Catalog of American Universalist Hymn Writers and Hymns" (1959), typewritten report "compiled for the Hymn Society of America."

We need a good hymnal

Do Universalist Christians need a new common liturgy? Despite my obvious interests and opinions, I think the answer is no. The 1790 Philadelphia Convention, called in part to adopt a common communion liturgy, didn't. Universalist practice has included well-formed trinitarian liturgy, worship as window-dressing for platform speaking, the polite hymn sandwich, and praise in the "frontier" mode (save for the "anxious bench".) No one form tried to dominate the others, and local variation ran through each "school". There seems little reason to try and adopt a uniform style now.

I would like to see liturgical renewal, and I would like to be in a church which local custom was mature and jubilant liturgical worship, but what we need first and formost is a common hymnal, or a commonly-held hymnal, both for congregational worship, and as a basis for a spiritual renewal.

Earlier, I quoted hymnologist Erik Routley as to the uses of hymnals. In Protestant hands, they serve a second function as a lay devotional and a way of learning church teaching. (Little wonder that one of the earliest Universalist items in print was a denominational hymnal.) Unlike today, hymnals were once personal property, with perhaps a few copies kept for visitors. I used to see this as evidence of cheapness; now I see it as an endorsement of the affection people had (and some have today) for the word which is both read and sung. And more than that: the hymnal is really a book with the laity in mind. In this age of tradition-combing and lay-empowerrment, it strikes me as a bitter irony that the status of the American hymnal is so low, especially in the post-War generations. I don't think the reasons for this unfortunate situation are all that mysterious.

First, hymnals today usually belong to churches, not individuals, and so literally "aren't ours." Unless you own one, there's little opportunity to browse through it, much less learn from it. Second, in churches with a backwards orientation, the hymnody (with the rest of the worship) is so "protected" that it ends up ossified and completely out of the living concern of new Christians. Third, and on the flip side, language reformers have been so keen to change the language, settings, and selections of those hymns which do have a freehold on the worshipers' hearts that they feel abandonded by the hymnal compliers. I'm glad to see that the "language wars" are about over, with a truce and compromize in evidence.

So, what do we do now? How do we get a hymnal back into the hands of the faithful, to be used at home as well as church. We need to select one. Let's not pretend we have the strength, skill, or money to make our own. "Custom" hymnals, far too often cheap-looking and tacky, are prey to local quirks. And, though it might seem like a small point, most hymnals are physically too large. They look and feel more like encyclopedia volumes more than handy guides. An English Unitarian minister asked me asked how the elderly and arthritic were expected to hold Singing the Living Tradition, the 1993 Unitarian Universalist Association hymnal. He had a point; his church used the small words-only Hymns of Faith and Freedom, and it is small enough to keep in a handback, and cheap enough for everyone to own. (Get one if you're in London; the indicies are worth the GBP 8.50 alone.) By contrast, the SLT was at its publication the most expensive hymnal on the American market, and is still nearly twice as expensive as parallel editions in other denominations.

Plus (and need I say it?) the SLT has so little for Christians that I never refer to it anymore; I also don't think it has very much musical merit.

I want a hymnal that draws from good, ecumenical hymnody but also has a number of familiar favorites, has a working selection of psalms (and, ideally, other service texts), is easy to carry, and ideally comes in a large-type edition for those with poor eyesight.

I can't say I've found a single suitable work in the United States under these criteria.

The Hymns of Faith and Freedom comes close as its single edition is better for the pooer-sighted than most American hymnals, but there are no psalms. The United Refomed Church's Rejoice and Sing is very close to the mark, but it may not be sold in the United States. (I got mine when last in London.) Unfortunately, there's no information about it online.

So far, the best contender is the 1973 Church Hymnary, Third Edition which is used all over the world in Reformed churches, but is most identifed with the Church of Scotland. It doesn't have many prose psalms (but a good selection of metrical psalms) and enough service elements to hold a Sunday service, and particularly a communion service without a printed order of worship.

The good news is that a new edition is in the works, so I hope to get a copy when it appears.

If it follows in the track of the third edition and the revised (second) edition, this will be hard to beat, and will come in a number of formats. (I treasure my paperback revised edition copy; 728 hymns and liturgical elements, but no tunes, and small enough to slip into a jacket pocket.)

And I'm looking at Voices United, the hymnal of the United Church of Canada. Sooner rather than later I hope to get a copy, and will report back then. (A Canadian friends gives it the thumbs' up.) Until then, note that three indices can be downloaded at the information site.

Routley on hymnals

This quote from the famous hymnologist Erik Routley will put my later posting into context.

It is one thing - and a not unpleasurable thing - to confine the hymnal to church, and to sing from it there without much thought. It is far better to have a copy at home and either occasionally or regularly to read from it, or to play from it (if you can play), and to become personally familiar with what it contains. It is, I think, a generation that has almost passed away that regularly did this; but I did in my own youth know seniors who kept their hymnal next to their Bible, read from both at their prayers, and snatched both if they were suddenly taken into hospital.

Universalist hymnals

Going back to improve the non-blog part of Universalistchurch.net. Added a small, slightly annotated page of the Universalist hymnals I own. It is far from done, but enough to convince doubters that collectively Universalists knew something about hymnody, even if they weren't the most talented or prolific hymn writers individually.

Universalist hymnals

Favorite Christmas carol (graded by emotion)

I am particularly touched by the cow (all white and red), and the sheep with curly horn.

Jesus, our Brother, strong and good,
Was humbly born in a stable rude,
And the friendly beasts around Him stood,
Jesus, our Brother, strong and good.

I, said the donkey, shaggy and brown,
I carried His mother uphill and down,
I carried His mother to Bethlehem town;
I, said the donkey, shaggy and brown.

I, said the cow, all white and red,
I gave Him my manger for His bed,
I gave Him hay to pillow His head;
I, said the cow, all white and red.

I, said the sheep with curly horn,
I gave Him my wool for His blanket warm,
He wore my coat on Christmas morn;
I, said the sheep with curly horn.

I, said the dove, from the rafters high,
I cooed Him to sleep that He should not cry,
We cooed Him to sleep, my mate and I;
I, said the dove, from the rafters high.

Thus all the beasts, by some good spell,
In the stable dark were glad to tell
Of the gifts they gave Emmanuel,
The gifts they gave Emmanuel.

Twelth century anonymous

Universalist hymns for a choir

I just got an email asking:

I am looking for a few Universalist hymnals -- with words and music (preferably parts) for our small a cappella choir performances.

Any suggestions you could give me on titles, sources, etc. would be

This was my reply:

Depends on how formal the litugical style you want. By far and away, the most popular hymnal of the postbellum period was the somewhat folksy Church Harmonies, and I'm sure there are zillions of copies in different editions left in church attics and basements, especially in Maine, I'd guess. Try, too, Ebay: I've gotten two copies from it, paying about $6 a piece.

If you want something more formal, try the less-popular 1917 Hymns of the Church or the 1937 joint Unitarian and Universalist Hymns of the Spirit. The later, kept in print until 1981 and known as "the red hymnal" will be easier to find. Perhaps an older church in your area. Hymns of the Spirit also has a good selection of populist Universalist standards in the back -- hymn 546 onward -- that "do not enter into the general scheme of the book" (read: "They're lowbrow." But don't believe that.)

If you're looking for something with more historic (antebellum) interest, you'd do well to get (Ebay again) a copy of Hymns for Christian Devotion, the Gospel Liturgy, or Hosea Ballou II or Streeter's Universalist Collections. Expect to pay about $20 for any of these, and you'll have to set them to a period tune since all are words-only hymnals.

Hymnals for Unitarian and Universalist Christians to watch

For a while, the locally produced Hymns of Truth and Light of First Congregationalist Church (UCC), Houston, Texas has appealed to me as a good alternative for both the ten-year-old UUA produced Singing the Living Tradition and the much older joint Unitarian and Universalist hymnal (Hymns of the Spirit) that we use here in Washington. Indeed, it seems like a blend of the latter hymnal and the Congregationalist Pilgrim Hymnal brought up to date. It is my understanding that a member church of the UUA has adopted Hymns of Truth and Light as its own.

Now there is another hymnal I'm looking towards: the yet-unnamed 2004 hymnal of the National Association of Congregational Christian Churches (NACCC). There's a good amount of information about this hymnal at their site, including a list of hymns retained from (of course) the Pilgrim Hymnal

Link: NACCC New Hymnal Committee