Congregationalist hymnal is OK

Pulling old, dropped topics out of the hopper. I ran across the receipt for the National Association of Congregational Christian Churches hymnal I bought, to browse and ostensibly to review here, and made a cursory start then. (And a mention here.) That was two years ago.

Frankly, I don’t think we’re missing all that much. The red cover and name — Hymns for a Pilgrim People — should tell you what it aspires to be: an update of the long-lived and much-loved Congregationalist Pilgrim Hymnal.

There is a market for such a hymnal, and not just the moderate to conservative mainline (if not evangelical; traditionalist might be more accurate) part of the United Church of Christ, where most of the Congregationalists in the United States ended up. The current, favored UCC hymnal (already anachronistically) entitled The New Century Hymnal is a beast I shall never love, and somehow its production says to me that I can never really ever be a part of their fellowship. It tries so hard to do good, but the changes of the English — even when I’m unfamiliar with the hymn, so it’s not just sentiment — are very often hard on the ear.

So back to the Hymns for a Pilgrim People.

No comment about the music, because I’m unqualified to comment. The text selection is desirably middle-of-the-road Protestant, if more sentimental than I would tolerate. On the other hand, hymn numbers 29 and 30, facing, are “Bring, O Morn, Thy Music” by Unitarian minister William C. Gannett and “Earth and All Stars” — the one about test tubes — respectively, and I like those. There’s something for everyone in their fellowship, which is obviously pretty broad. But nobody’s going to use much, much less all, of it.

Gender-inclusive options are available for unaltered hymns, seen too in the Disciples of Christ Chalice Hymnal, but these are found in old standards, like Gospel songs, where people who like them would resent the changes if made in line. The typography is clear but artless. The complete psalter is convenient. The interlined prayers, clearly by NACCC luminaries, are best ignored.

It’s OK. I have a hard time stirring myself to say much, and as a Google search will show, it didn’t draw much attention from others either — mostly church notices that a copy is available to sponsor. If I supplied a church that had it I could live with it. If I lost my copy I wouldn’t buy another.

By Scott Wells

Scott Wells, 46, is a Universalist Christian minister doing Universalist theology and church administration hacks in Washington, D.C.

1 comment

  1. It’d be wonderful if denominations could collaborate on something like — the infrastructure would probably need revamping a bit, so that you can have, say, SATB and plain versions, and customize which of the alternate lyrics you want to use — you’d then be able to just specify which versions of which hymns you want to include in your hymnal, just like you can create custom spins of Linux distributions by using automated tools that take as input the list of packages you want.

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