Looking for the next age of hymnals

Long time readers know that I love hymns, and I love hymnals, but I’ve been buying comparitively few lately. There are fewer new ones to buy.

As it happens, I took hymnology in 1995 (or 1996?) while in seminary. In those days, the Hymn Society of the United States and Canada was housed at Texas Christian University, where I went to school. The place was right, but so was the time, as 1995 was at the end of the peak of the last great generation of hymn book publication.

The generation began –or was anticipated — in 1980 with the Episcopal church producing its current hymnal. The wave began in earnest in 1989, when the United Methodists and the Christian Reformed Church produced theirs. In the early 1990s came ones from the Church of the Brethren, the Presbyterian Church (USA),  and a new edition of the Southern Baptist hymnal. The Unitarian Universalist hymnal Singing the Living Tradition (1993) is, of course, in that wave. The Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and United Church of Christ’s were just coming off the press.

After that, in the United States anyway, the attention turned to supplements. New hymns for and from ethnic and cultural minority communities. New hymns not in English. New hymns to prompt ecumenical and global concern. New hymns to vex the people in the pews. Lots of little books, but few grand projects. (The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America’s 2006 Evangelical Lutheran Worship is an exception among the larger Protestant denominations.)

Later. I’d forgotten about Glory to God, a new (2013) Presbyterian Church (USA) hymnal. Odd, since there was a kerfuffle about leaving out a favorite hymn that hit the hymnal-watching press.

A couple of hymnals, to consider our own New England tradition, can be considered votes of no-confidence for the UCC’s current book, but that’s but a footnote. We have to wait for the next wave. I’ve looked at them here and here.

What will a new hymnal look like for Unitarian Universalists? The current one is 21 years old. And because it’s inadequate as a stand-alone book for Christian worship, Christians in the Unitarian Universalists are left without a good option. Use Singing the Living Tradition and supplement. Use Hymns of the Spirit (1938) and supplement. Use another denominational hymnal — the Disciple’s Chalice Hymnal, for instance — and supplement. But this last choice works less well for any new Unitarian Universalist Christian church because they’re two decades old, too!

I will be looking at two hymnals in coming days. Neither is ideal, but each has its own strength, and I’ve not heard either given serious consideration. Please stay with me, as I navigate this.


Categorized as Hymns

By Scott Wells

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


  1. I grew up Methodist and when our little country church got the red hymnals issued by the UMC they refused to use it, preferring the stay with the old little brown ones (wishing I could remember the names of them). As a compromise they started using the red ones during “preaching” and still used the old brown ones for “Sunday school.” This was during the ’60s. I visited not long ago and they still have and use the old brown hymnals–battered but holding on.

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