This is Not the Word of the Lord!

Column by Bishop John Shelby Spong on 27 June 2007 0 Comments
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Where can I find the hymns, etc. written to express the beliefs your

writings have developed?


The hymns for which you search are available but sometimes you have to

look very hard to find them. Hymnals are important aids in most worship

services but they are also expensive, so they cannot be reproduced much more

than once or twice a century. My own church revised its hymnal in 1942 and

again in 1983. If all churches would move to big screens on which the words

of the hymns could be displayed, this deterrent to good music would be


The 1983 edition of my church's hymnal was chaired by one of our great

church musicians, Raymond F. Glover, who had experience as organist and

choirmaster in many churches (including St. Paul's in Richmond, Virginia),

as well as by being the Professor of both Church Music and Voice at one of

our principle seminaries. Ray is also a first rate church liturgist and

that talent aided him greatly in his quest to bring some exciting new music

to Episcopal pews. Nonetheless, that commission was surrounded by the

weight of traditional church music from medieval plainsong to 19th century

piety and 20th century social gospel themes. Because hymnbooks must be

broad in their appeal, there is also in our latest hymnal some of the music

of what came to be called the renewal movement.

I still believe that most hymnody has not yet embraced the theological

revolution that has occurred in the past 100 years. Very few of our hymns

reflect this shift in understanding God from "a being up there or out there"

to what Paul Tillich called "the ground of being." Very few have escaped

the "fall" mentality of "original sin" or sacrifice mentality of rescue

theology, all of which has been rendered inoperative in a post Darwinian

world. One of the reasons for this is that very few hymns have yet been

written that engage these contemporary themes.

I like the work of Fred Kaan in England, who was one of the most

prolific hymn writers of the last century. I look for his hymns in the

hymnals of every church I visit. None of them are in the Episcopal

hymnbooks yet. I also greatly enjoy, even treasure, the hymnal of the

United Church of Canada that is called Voices United as well as the official

hymnal of the United Church of Christ in America. Those two publications

have made the best effort to get beyond the "Atonement Theology" that

focuses on death, blood and sacrifice that plagues so many hymn books.

I hope this helps. I encourage you and all my readers who are so

inclined to examine the possibility that you might be one who can write the

hymns the Church needs both today and tomorrow.

John Shelby Spong




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