I wanted to leave right away.
That was not because of the congregation, or because of the ministers.
My parish has a more or less lively congregation.
It has superb ordained ministers.
The parish prides itself on being “progressive”, and I have no quarrel with that.
So, why did I want to leave?
It was on account of the hymns for the day, which were anything but progressive. That’s not the fault of the parish. It’s the fault of the Episcopal Church hymnal.
We opened with “On Jordan’s bank the Baptist’s cry” (Episcopal Hymnal #76), and ended with “The King shall come” (Episcopal Hymnal # 73). These two (predictable) Advent hymns share banal, prosaic and pedestrian texts; and dreary tunes. Neither of them has a word or melody which might excite the imagination.
So we sing them on account of their familiarity. Indeed they are so familiar that we do not have to think about their miserable texts. (Were we to examine the texts we would be tempted to say “that’s crap which I do not believe”).
Truth to tell, we also sang a hymn which was new to the congregation “Who is this crying at Jordan?”, (Episcopal Hymnal # 69). It has an unexceptionable text, set to a good and challenging tune.
Here’s the problem.
The first hymn dates from the 18th century. The last dates from the 19th century. Only the middle hymn was from the 20th century – (but it is written as if World War II, and the Holocaust, and the age of nuclear weapons had never happened).
In other words, (with all due respect to the wisdom of earlier generations), we are compelled to sing words from previous times –words which do not speak to our present situations or to the mission of G-d in 2009/2010: -- as ever mission of justice to the oppressed.
Through the exclusive use of the 1982 Episcopal Hymnal, we are compelled to sing a theology which chiefly is sin and self focused, and has rarely a word about the justice of G-d, or the plight of the oppressed, or the goodness of creation.
We are also compelled to sing hymns which are almost invariably written in western Europe or north America, Our hymnal all but ignores the rich hymnody which is the gift of African, South American and Asia Christians.
The hymns we sing contradict or dilute the progressive and universal worlds of the bible, and of the life of faith of a world-wide Church.
But I am glad that I did not walk out of Church this morning, for boy-oh-boy we were fed and nurtured by a magnificent sermon. The preacher has promised to send it to me, and I will publish it soon.
Lord above – may we be fed 92% by the preaching and by the sharing of the bread and wine - but no more than 8% by our dried up hymns.