By Robin G. Jordan
At the time The Hymnal, 1940 was compiled, choral music and choirs were at their height in the Episcopal Church. Where Morning Prayer was the main Sunday morning service, it typically was a choral service with the organist playing voluntaries before and after the service and the choir chanting the Psalms and the canticles and singing one or more anthems. The Hymnal, 1940 was compiled with the expectation that the churches using the hymnal would have an organ and an organist and a choir and a choir director and the acoustical environment of the church would be favorable to plainsong and Anglican chant. With The Hymnal, 1940 the Joint Commission on the Revision of the Hymnal sought to promote the cathedral choral service as the ideal form of worship for all congregations in the Episcopal Church. This is a totally unrealistic model for most Continuing Anglican churches in the twenty-first century. Only a few have the musical resources and the favorable acoustical environment to pull off this type of service with a measure of success.
A more realistic model for these churches is found not in the worship of the medieval cathedral and monastic church but in the homelier worship of the auditory churches of the seventeenth, eighteenth, and early nineteenth centuries. The congregation was the primary musical resource of these churches. The principal form of church music was the metrical psalm. Metrical versions of the Gloria Patri, the Ten Commandments, the Prayer Book canticles, the Creeds, the Gloria in excelsis, and the Lord’s Prayer and a selection of hymns and Scriptural paraphrases were also sung. The tunes were familiar and few in number and the singing was led by the parish clerk and a few members of the congregation who could sing with confidence. What instruments were played, were used to provide the right pitch. The worship of these churches was tailored to the resources and circumstances of the church, not to an unrealistic ideal.
With a chronic shortage of clergy in a number of the Continuing Anglican jurisdictions, several congregations often may share a priest. Morning Prayer once more has become the main Sunday morning service on most Sundays. A visiting priest may celebrate Holy Communion with a particular congregation on one Sunday of the month.
This development has created a host of problems for congregations that have traditionally looked to a member of the clergy for leadership in the five essential church functions of evangelism, discipleship, ministry, fellowship, and worship. These functions stem from the Great Commission that our resurrected Lord gave to his whole Church before he ascended to the right hand of the Father. They are not only critical to the numerical and spiritual growth of a church, the expansion of its ministries, and its advance in missions but also to the continuance of its viability. Having overly relied in the past on clergy leadership, these congregations are ill-prepared to go it on their own, so to speak. The members of the clergy who have provided leadership to these congregations have themselves been ill-equipped to lead a church in the twenty-first century and have left the congregations that they served likewise ill-equipped.
The lack of a priest of their own does not release the members of a small church congregation from their obligation to carry out these five functions in fulfillment of the Great Commission. On the day of our Lord’s return they will be required to give an accounting of what they did in the service of the Kingdom. Their church does not exist to serve them. It exists to serve God. It exists to serve other people on His behalf. God has placed them in a particular community and region to be missionaries to that community and region.
This may come as a surprise to some congregations. They have always thought of missionaries as folks with a special calling who travel to far off places to spread the gospel. But the fact is all Christians are called to join God in his mission. The reason that they exist as a church is that God has need of more workers in a particular part of his vineyard. For this purpose God has gathered together the members of a congregation into a church, not to fulfill their needs but to serve God Himself and to serve other people on His behalf.
A not uncommon reaction to this news is “But we’re a small church. We don’t have a priest.” What size a church is and whether it has a particular type of leader, however, does not matter. A number of Anglican provinces, the Anglican Church of Kenya, for example, are employing networks of small congregations, each congregation served by one or more lay readers or catechists, to reach and engage the unchurched population in a particular district. In China thousands and hundreds of thousands are coming to know Christ through the ministry and witness of house churches—small gathering of Christians meeting in apartments, shops, and similar venues for Bible study, worship, prayer, and fellowship. The apostle Paul tells us that God uses people of no consequence—the nobodies—in the eyes of the world to accomplish his purposes (1 Corinthians 1:26-29).
The Great Commission has implications for how all congregations worship on Sunday mornings irrespective of size. Among the implications are that Sunday morning services must be meaningful and appealing to outsiders as well as inspiring and edifying to members of the congregation. Visitors must come away, not only having heard the good news of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ but also thinking to themselves, “those folks take the worship of God seriously.” In all things a congregation’s worship must glorify God.
This article series takes as its model for the small Anglican church a more congregational form of worship than the cathedral choral service. The articles were prepared with attention to the implications of the Great Commission for the worship of the small Anglican church.. They cover not only the music for the service of Morning Prayer but also the conduct of the service itself. They seek to take advantage of the wide selection of hymns and worship songs to which the Gulbransen Digital Hymnal DH-100 CP, the Gulbransen Digital Hymnal DH 200, and similar digital hymnal players give access. While recognizing the limitations of the small church congregation, they seek to help the small church congregation to overcome these limitations.
This article series was inspired in part by an article by the late Peter Toon, “Worship Simply, Engage in Mission Joyfully: How to Grow a Traditional Church,” which was at one time posted on the Prayer Book Society USA website but for reasons unknown to this writer was removed from that website following Dr. Toon’s untimely death. In the article Dr. Toon suggests a number of ways that Continuing Anglican churches can free themselves from the 1950s type of experience and model into which they have become locked and move into the twenty-first century. Among these ways is to make selective use of more recent forms of church music along with making more creative use of traditional church music.
This article series is taken from an occasional paper that I put together for the worship planners of a small Anglican church and in which I offered suggestions on how they might make better use of the digital hymnal player that the church uses to accompany congregational singing. A peculiarity of the The Hymnal, 1940 is that the Joint Commission on the Revision of the Hymnal changed the names of many of the hymn tunes. The Hymnal, 1940 was compiled after the outbreak of World War II in Europe in 1939 and the hymn name changes reflect the growing anti-German sentiment in the United States at the time. While their digital hymnal player contained a substantial number of the hymn tunes used in The Hymnal, 1940, a large number of these hymn tunes were listed under different names from the hymn tune names used in The Hymnal, 1940. (The Hymnal 1982 was listed in the digital hymn player’s instructions as one of the hymnals for whose hymns it is programmed to provide musical accompaniment . However, the original names of the hymn tunes have been restored in The Hymnal 1982. A number of the older hymn tunes that are no longer widely used have also been retired.) The digital hymnal player also contained many tunes of newer hymns or hymns not used in The Hymnal, 1940, which would be useful additions to the congregation’s hymn repertoire.