Monday, July 31, 2017

One little, two little, three little hymnals. Four little, five little, six little hymnals...

My friend Snowbrush out in Oregon noticed the new header on my blog and left a comment that began, "Maybe your church is ready for a new edition of its hymnal."

It made me chuckle. Actually, there have been several editions of the Methodist Hymnal since that particular one was published. More about that later in this post.

Snowbrush also said, "I left my last comment while listening to "With Heart and Voice," which is a weekly program of religious music. Its original presenter was an Englishman named Richard Gladwell (sad to say, but the current presenter is not his equal) who served on a bomber during WWII, but ended up living in the U.S. Though Gladwell was an Episcopalian, he received the Benemerenti medal from the pope."

Having never heard of the Benemerenti medal, my naturally inquisitive self ("Curiosity killed the cat" according to my mother, but my wife adds, "Finding out brought it back") had to learn more. I learned that Benemerenti means "well-deserved" in Latin and the medal has been awarded many times by many popes since its creation nearly 200 years ago. The current version looks like this:

The design of the medal does change from time to time. Here's what it looked like in 1984. This particular medal is on display in the Cork Public Museum in Ireland:

(Photograph by Bjørn Christian Tørrissen, used in accordance with the terms of CC BY-SA 3.0)

"While studying your new blog format," Snowbrush continued, "I noticed that the book in the photo is a very old Methodist hymnal, and I was rather hoping that you would say more about it. I was also wondering if any of the old Methodist hymns have since been "cleaned up" in terms of gender references (one of the most appalling instances that I've heard was changing "Father, Son, and Holy Ghost" to "Parent, Child, and Holy Spirit")."

The Methodist Hymnal up at the top of the blog (here's a smaller photo for those of you who don't scroll) was given to me by Mrs. Joan M., who found it among her mother’s things after her mother died two or three years ago. It is quite small and contains lyrics only, no musical notes. And lest you think I placed a very large cup next to a normal-sized book, here is the book next to my very wrinkly hand to give you some perspective:

This book is the oldest item in my home. I have a maple rocking chair my mother bought me when I was four (1945), a torchiere-style floor lamp from my wife's mother's living room (circa 1940), and my maternal grandmother's triple-strand of pearls that she wore at her wedding (1897), but the title page of the little book of Methodist Hymns indicates a publication date of 1845:

Snowbrush added, "I own several hymnals (Episcopal, Church of Christ, and Southern Baptist--the latter arrived by way of Peggy who, as you might recall, grew up in an observant Southern Baptist household), some of them old. I also have various Episcopal prayer books, some of which are SO old that they contain references to debtors' prisons, and have prayers for prisoners who were about to be hung."

As it happens, I own several hymnals also. On either side of my computer monitor and keyboard is a six-foot-tall bookshelf with five shelves each (let's see, five shelves times two bookcases, that's, er, um, carry the four, divide by seven, that's ten shelves in all) that I put together with my own two hands, ten shelves of books in our bedroom sitting area, and the highest shelf in the left side bookcase contains these:

I was going to add that Methodist Hymnals traditionally begin with Charles Wesley's, "O For A Thousand Tongues To Sing My Great Redeemer's Praise" (the 1845 version does) but a quick check of the dark blue one on that shelf burst my bubble. It is from the 1930s and begins with "Holy! Holy! Holy!" -- so much for supposed traditions.

Snowbrush's comment ended with a request: "I usually listen to religious music on Sunday morning, but my private collection isn't great, so I'm wondering if you could offer some suggestions, preferably something newer than Bach but (ideally, though not necessarily) a bit older than the Fanny Crosby era. I prefer music that includes singing."

That is a hard one. I was going to suggest several Charles Wesley hymns, but his lifespan overlaps Bach's. So does Isaac Watts's. So does George Frederic Handel's. There are many, many hymns from the mid-to-late nineteenth century, but that's Fanny Crosby's era. What to do? What to do?

I am recommending that Snowbrush and everybody else listen to the oratorio Elijah by Felix Mendelssohn. There are some wonderful selections in it including "If With All Your Hearts Ye Truly Seek Me" and "O Rest In The Lord, Wait Patiently For Him" and "Then Shall The Righteous Shine Forth As The Sun In Their Heavenly Father's Realm" and -- my favorite -- the gorgeous choral number "He Watching Over Israel Slumbers Not Nor Sleeps."

Here's the first one (3:18), and you should look for the others on Youtube yourself.

I'm grateful to Snowbrush for inspiring this post. I need all the help I can get.


  1. “Having never heard of the Benemerenti medal”

    I had never heard of it either.

    "Curiosity killed the cat”

    What a horrible thing to tell a child, and it’s a rare companion to the nine lives theory, and to the fact that cats outlive dogs.

    “here is the book next to my very wrinkly hand to give you some perspective”

    I get to see my friend’s hand—oh the joy! It’s a healthy looking hand as far as I can tell—good circulation and all that. I see that you can still fit into your wedding ring. Because I only weighed 125 when I was married—and 175 now—the day that I could wear my ring is long gone, but I don’t like rings anyway. I do wear a little squirrel that hangs from a chain around my neck, and it represents Peggy to me for reasons that would take more space than I would dare to claim in the comment section to your blog.

    “As it happens, I own several hymnals also.”

    Who would have guessed it?!

    “ten shelves in all) that I put together with my own two hands”

    I’m impressed, although I would be more impressed if you had built it by the light of a new moon with one eye covered and one hand tied behind you.

    “This book is the oldest item in my home.”

    I don’t suppose you collect rocks. My oldest rocks are around 40-million years old, but since it is possible to “own” rocks that are between 3 and 4-billion years of age, I can hardly boast. I think my oldest thing with a human associations is “Family Prayer Book” and is by Bishop Brownell. It’s 809 pages in length and was printed in 1841. I wish I hadn’t bought it (because of space issues), but now that I have it, I’m loathe to let it go and would worry about how it would fare if I did let it go. I feel responsible for all my things, but especially for the ones that I cherish the most and the ones that have been loved and protected by generation after generation of people. I should think that to neglect such a book would be a sin. Indeed, it seems to me that all things are alive, and therefore all things have rights. Every item that goes into the garbage represents a failure…While we’re (or at least I’m) on the subject of age, I would be remiss if I failed to point out that, to my knowledge, Oregon’s oldest object with a human connection is way older than Georgia’s oldest object with a human connection. In fact, it’s the oldest item with a human connection that has been found anywhere in North America. I offer the story of that item for your consideration as a blog topic: . And again:

    I appreciate the suggestion and listening to them now. When I joined the Episcopal Church I greatly missed the gospel songs that I grew up with in the Church of Christ. Now I’ve come to love the music of the Episcopal Church. My favorite hymn—Abide With Me—is sung in many churches. Since you like suggestions for posts, why not write a post about the circumstances of the song’s lyricist at the time he wrote Abide With Me? He was staring death in the face, and I suppose he believed what he wrote, although I’m unclear as to where belief ends and hope begins.

  2. We grew up with 'curiosity killed the cat too.' And 'satisfaction brought it back'. Curiosity is one of my defining characteristics so I am glad of the addendum. Some days I feel like the oldest thing in our home but, as is true in Snowbrush's home, rocks have a better claim to the title.

  3. I would like to inspire another blogpost. It is something I have often wondered about. In the north of England and indeed in The Midlands every village of any size has two churches. There will be the ancient parish church - perhaps dating back to Norman times or beyond - and there will be a brick built methodist church from the nineteenth century (many have now been converted to other uses). What I want to know is this - Why did methodism blossom in the nineteenth century? Presumably those who turned to methodism had previously just visited their local church (Church of England) in previous times. What caused this change?

  4. An interesting as coincidentally I've taken an interest in Methodism myself of late. I have been researching the history of our house and it transpires that it was built by a Primitive Methodist minister to form part of his annuity in the 1880s. But he wasn't just any old minister - James Garner was one of three brothers who at various times were each President of the Methodist Conference. And our home was named Leake House in honour of his place of birth.

  5. “Why did methodism blossom in the nineteenth century?”

    Hello Robert! Are you okay? Did Yorkie stump you? I am eagerly awaiting your answer to his question so that I won’t be forced to do my own research. If memory serves, the Wesley brothers were priests, and were initially more interested in reform than in separation.

    What I don’t understand about the Methodists compared to the Episcopal Church (Anglicanism’s American branch that is forever at risk of being expelled from the Anglican Communion due to the Episcopalians’ liberalness, especially in regard to the rights of women and homosexuals to hold any and all offices within the church), is how people who had previously been Anglican’s and presumably loved ritual could so abandon ritual that their services became as plain as those of the Southern Baptist’s. I really don’t get it. I just know that outside of Anglicanism and Catholicism, most Christian churches bore the socks off me.

  6. All,. I'm still here, I am not ignoring you, really I'm not. It has been been only four days since I put up this post -- which can seem like an eternity but is really only 96 hours -- but it has been veddy, veddy busy around here of late as this week I completed the first three sessions of what should become about 40 in all of cardiac rehabilitation; shopped for groceries twice; filled the car's petrol tank with, guess what, petrol; taken Mrs. RWP out to lunch twice and breakfast once, although we did eat at other times as well; paid beginning-of-month bills; reconciled my bank statement with my checkbook ledger; and this morning we had an unscheduled trip to the dentist that resulted in someone's having a tooth extracted. That leaves very little time for doing much of anything except collapsing at the end of the day.

    To answer Lord Pudding's question, Methodism blossomed in the nineteenth century because John and Charles Wesley were born in the eighteenth century. It could not have blossomed in the nineteenth century if they had not been born until the twentieth century.

  7. “It has been been only four days since I put up this post”

    But you had been seriously ill, you know, and I am not an optimist. It’s also true that I run more on my emotional time than on Greenwich Mean Time (the word “mean” discouraged me about it when I was still a wee lad). Hence, here I am, now, quite some time after your initial post, my erudite comment to that post, and your final comment in which you sought to curry favor with foreigners by using their lingo…. I hope that it doesn’t bother you that my comments are often about as long as your posts—if you weren’t so stimulating, you wouldn’t get so much out of me.

    “filled the car's petrol tank with, guess what, petrol”

    Do you mean to say that American cars run as well on petrol as do British cars, or else that you have a British car, and it won’t run on gasoline? Finally, does petrol cost more than gasoline, and isn’t it true that you have a Japanese car?

    “reconciled my bank statement with my checkbook ledger”

    I used to do balance our checkbook, but when the Internet started taking care of it, I let it go, but Peggy wasn’t content, so now she verifies that the Internet did it right. I don’t even remember the last time I wrote a check, so when I say “balance a check book,” what I really mean is “balance an electronic copy of an automatic deposit and payment registry.” Would I be wrong in guessing that you balance an actual paper copy of your check registry?

    “To answer Lord Pudding's question, Methodism blossomed in the nineteenth century because John and Charles Wesley were born in the eighteenth century.”

    That kind of remark causes me to suspect that you have a source of income other than this blog. Look here, Rhymes, if you want people to suggest topics, that, by golly, give serious thought to their suggestions. I thought that this was a very good question (I could tell it was a good question because I found it interesting), and while I think the answer might have something to do with the split between Anglicanism and Methodism occurring gradually, I’m really not certain, but since you’re a faithful Methodist scholar, I would love to know what you have to say, if you would be so kind as to indulge at least two of your readers by addressing it.

  8. Snowbrush, goodness gracious, great balls of fire, what a long and involved comment! I hope it is a sign that you are feeling somewhat better while waiting for your "wee surgery"'s also a pleasant surprise to learn that you find my posts "stimulating" (that was a compliment, wasn't it?)...petrol, gasoline, it's all the same to me, but they do not cost the same as petrol is sold in imperial gallons and gasoline is not, but price is only an outward difference, I suppose. I'm confused, but you knew did you know I have a Japanese car? Did I divulge it somewhere along the way or are you clairvoyant in addition to your other attributes? We drove Toyota Camrys for years but currently have a Nissan (nee Datsun) Murano. I prefer the bank sends me a paper copy of my statement each month because I want to have a physical, tangible copy of my transactions if we ever lose the grid, so no, you would not be wrong in your guess...I repent in sackcloth and ashes for the somewhat flip and not all that amusing answer I gave Lord Pudding regarding why Methodism blossomed in the nineteenth century, and I intend to address the subject more seriously in a separate post soon. Until then, regards.