New hymnals in!

They’ve been in for a while, truth be told. Not ready to review them, but each is larger that I thought it might be. 2014-05-24 16.01.50 There is the words-only edition of the United Church of Canada’s Voices United and the Church of Scotland’s Church Hymnary 4 (purple) with the words-only Unitarian and Free Christian Hymns of Faith and Freedom, Church Hymnary 3 (melody edition) and Church Hymnary Revised (pocket words-only) for size comparison.

2014-05-24 16.02.30

Unitarian worship resource for Union soldiers

This small 1865 American Unitarian Association assortment of rousing songs and Bible readings (arranged for unison or responsive reading, and with headings like “Those who turn from Holiness are condemned”) isn’t explicitly for Union soldiers, but songs like “Arise, New-England’s Sons!” and “The Massachusetts Line” weren’t likely to appeal to Johnny Reb.

The Soldier’s Companion: Dedicated to the Defenders of Their Country in the Field by Their Friends at Home.

The found would-be Universalist hymnal

The discussions around these hymns and hymnal posts on that walled garden, Facebook, have been far more lively that the comments here might suggest. Thanks to commenters here and there.

A bit of alternative history. The Universalists didn’t have to be consolidated with the Unitarians. There was as an eleventh-hour attempt to stop it. (Which produced an interesting print artifact; I’ll talk about that later.) So the Universalists might have remained independent, or clubbed in with a Congregationalists — there were talks — and ended up with the United Church of Christ or the National Association of Congregational Christian Churches. Some Universalist churches that opted out of the UUA did end up joining the latter body — I recall the names in the 1990s — though I’m unsure if any are extant. (Universalist National Memorial Church is an honorary member.)

I’m not saying that such an outcome would be desirable, only possible. And they would have come up with their own ways and resources.

I had this in mind when I re-reviewed the 1992 Hymnal: A Worship Book, a Brethren and Mennonite book. I couldn’t help but think that in might be good for Christian Universalists, or a Universalist-federated church. On the one hand, it’s got ecumenical standards, Unitarian classics from the like of Barbould, Hosmer and Longfellow, and cheery Gospel songs like “God be with you till we meet again” (which ended worship at a church I used to supply.)

It just feels Universalist. And since the Universalists in the Southern states started as Brethren, I suppose that’s right. Alas, like Singing the Living Tradition, it’s entry at is almost empty, so it’s hard to make a comparison with other hymnals.

It’s inexpensive ($15) and well-made, though I’ve heard that they warp if they stand up in a hymn rack. A nice selection of worship resources, too.

And that might be the end of it: a useful hymnal in certain restricted (unlikely, really) circumstances. But then there are the supplements.

Two more substantial works are Mennonite-specific, but the little ones have modern hymns and some Taize (it seems) plus “Gathered Here in the Mystery of This Hour,” “Siyahamba” and something called “Spirit of Life.”

A parallel development, in an alternate world, indeed…

This will be the last hymnal post until my ordered books show up; until then, I’ll turn to other matters, including worship theory.

Another hymnal found: for Unitarian mission

While looking for the source of an obscure responsive reading, I came across this little service book: Mission hymnal of the Unitarian Laymen’s League. Despite it being undated, and Internet Archive dating it to 1900, it is in fact later. Unless the Unitarian Laymen’s League had the powers of time travel, as it includes a hymn dated August 9, 1929. (It predates Hymns of the Spirit, 1937, for closer dating.)

Its tone is serene yet vital: a religion of rest of dyspeptic captains of industry, I wouldn’t half guess. Its purpose: to help establish Unitarian preaching stations, and more spiritually developed men. Yet, at first glance doesn’t seem to suffer the excesses of “muscular Christianity” from the generation before.

Two interesting points:

  1. It has a hymn by a Universalist. “We praise thee, God, for harvests earned” by John Coleman Adams. (A God-free version exists in Singing the Living Tradition as “Our praise we give for harvests earned,” #294.)
  2. The directions for prayer have a certain Unitarian resonance:

You say, however, “I do not believe in prayer.” Even so, this does not obviate the necessity of daily spiritual exercise. Retire every day into the silence of your own thoughts, there commune with the highest you can possibly conceive.

Historic hymn and worship resource: something for the Humanists

Hello, Humanists? I hope you don’t feel too slighted on this blog; it’s only that I feel a particular mission to the Christian part of liberal religion and Unitarian Universalism in particular. But many of the same hymnological themes I’ve been writing about recently (and many of the worship themes I’ll be turning to) have parallels in the “churchly” side of turn of the twentieth century radical dissent, the spirit of which is the inheritance of Religious Humanism and Ethical Culture.

See the following three resources editored or written by Stanton Coit. I’ve written about the second two before, but the first seems to be recently scanned and published.

I’m still hoping to get or copy his 1914 Social Worship, but it’s quite hard to find around here. Perhaps a trip to Brown University Library over General Assembly.

Review: other lists of Unitarian Universalist "canonical" hymns

Saturday’s blog post (“Fifty Shades of Unitarian“) wasn’t the first time I’ve worked up lists of what might be “canonical” hymns in the Unitarian and Universalist traditions. Because this looks back over several decades, it necessarily includes only old hymns, which is useful (to a point) for finding hymns that have entered the public domain. (This makes alterations easier, and obviates licensing issues.)

See these posts, too; some research, some opinion, a couple of resources:

Goodness! I’ve written a lot about this.

Fifty Shades of Unitarian

So, what are the “standards” of Unitarian hymnody? Lacking an objective standard, I’ve looked at the question one of two ways: hymns commonly found in Unitarian hymnals, by Unitarian authors; and those chosem by leading lights. This blog post assumes the later.

The Unitarian faith set forth in fifty Unitarian hymns” by American Unitarian Association (1914)

Each entry has a common structure: an entitling theme of what particularly Unitarian sentiment is expressed in the hymn (omitted here; will appear late as sermon meditation fodder), a relevant passage or two of scripture, the hymn, suggested tunes, and biographical stub of the hymn author. In the introduction, we learn that, “With three exceptions the hymns and poems in this collection are taken from the Unitarian Hymn Book [presumably the New Hymn and Tune Book; also 1914].…The selections on pages 9, 29, and 56 are verses which are adapted to reading or reciting rather than for singing.”

This is far from all good Unitarian hymns that existed then, much less encompassing what good non-Unitarian hymns the Unitarians sing. (Naturally, the Universalists had their own favorites, but there tended to be a lot overlap.) And not all of these hold up over the last century.

So, how did this list square with the succeeding Universalist, then the three suceeding Unitarian (and ) Universalist hymnals, to today? For what it’s worth, Singing the Living Tradition has more “survivors” than any other comtemporary hymnal, in the United States anyway.


  • HOTC1917: Hymns of the Church (Universalist, 1917)
  • HOTS1938: Hymns of the Spirit (joint Unitarian and Universalist, 1938)
  • HCL1964: Hymns for the Celebration of Life (Unitarian Universalist, 1964)
  • SLT1993: Singing the Living Tradition (Unitarian Universalist, 1993)

[table  width=”500″]

‘O Beautiful my Country!’,Frederick Lucian Hosmer,47,238,388,240,
Calm on the listening ear of night,Edmund Hamilton Sears,34,315,159,,
Christian rise and act thy creed,Francis Albert Rollo Russell,24,,282,,
“Eternal One, thou living God”,Samuel Longfellow,10,,367,246,345
Father in thy mysterious presence kneeling,Samuel Johnson,18,293,229,,
Father let thy kingdom come,John Page Hopps,42,,336,,
Father thy wonders do not singly stand,Jones Very,17,,41,,
From age to age how grandly rise,Frederick Lucian Hosmer,11,,423,231,105
Go not my soul in search of him Thou wilt find him there,Frederick Lucian Hosmer,20,,58,88,
God of the nations near and far,John Haynes Holmes,48,217,399,,
“Hear, hear, O ye nations, and hearing obey”,Frederick Lucian Hosmer,49,240,398,194,
I cannot think of them as dead,Frederick Lucian Hosmer,54,362,202,73,96
Immortal by their deed and word; Like light around them shed,Frederick Lucian Hosmer,27,,203,,
In the cross of Christ I glory,John Bowering,36,338,190,,
It came upon the midnight clear,Edmund Hamilton Sears,35,317,162,287,244
It singeth low in every heart,John White Chadwick,55,244,451,,
Life of ages richly poured,Samuel Johnson,23,,337,172,111
Light of ages and of nations,Samuel Longfellow,12,,75,248,189
Lord of all being throned afar,Oliver Wendell Holmes,7,,16,38,
Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord,Julia Ward Howe,46,241,567,,
My God I thank thee may no thought,Andrews Norton,52,,,,
Mysterious Presence source of all,Seth Curtis Beach,14,,63,130,92
Nearer my God to thee,Sarah Flowers Adams,19,171,245,126,87
O God whose presence glows in all,Nathaniel Langdon Frothingham,40,,60,,
O Life that maketh all things new,Samuel Longfellow,44,,416,54,12
O Light from age to age the same,Frederick Lucian Hosmer,31,,464,255,
O Lord of life thy kingdom is at hand,Marion Franklin Ham,39,,332,,
“O Love divine, that stooped to share”,Oliver Wendell Holmes,53,289,188,,
O prophet souls of all the years,Frederick Lucian Hosmer,22,,421,233,272
O Thou great friend to all the sons of men,Theodore Parker,25,93,209,,
O Thou in lonely vigil led,Frederick Lucian Hosmer,43,,171,,
O Thou whose Spirit witness bears; Within our spirits free,Frederick Lucian Hosmer,15,,52,74,
One holy Church of God appears,Samuel Longfellow,51,170,407,261,
Our Father while our hearts unlearn,Oliver Wendell Holmes,26,,235,,
“Our God, our God thou shinest here”,Thomas Hornblower Gill,38,,9,36,
The ages one great minster seem,James Russell Lowell,50,,417,,
“The clashing of creeds, and the strife”,Henry Wadsworth Longfellow,29,,,,
The Light along the ages Shines higher as it goes,William George Tarrant,37,,197,,
The Lord is in his Holy Place,William Channing Gannett,16,,73,,
“This is the ship of pearl, which, poets feign”,Oliver Wendell Holmes,56,,,,
Thou Grace Divine encircling all,Eliza Scudder,21,87,224,,
Thou Life within my life than self more near,Eliza Scudder,8,,81,,
Thou Lord of Hosts whose guiding hand,Octavius Brooks Frothingham,28,,310,,
“Thy kingdom come,—on bended knee”,Frederick Lucian Hosmer,45,211,338,,
We come unto our fathers’ God ,Thomas Hornblower Gill,30,,363,15,
We love the venerable house Our fathers built to God,Ralph Waldo Emerson,32,,466,,
We pray no more made lowly wise,Frederick Lucian Hosmer,13,,274,188,
“When thy heart, with joy o’erflowing”,Theodore Chickering Williams,41,204,280,226,
Where ancient forests widely spread,Andrews Norton,33,,27,,
Whither midst falling dew,William Cullen Bryant,9,,,,

In praise of the words-only hymnal

Anyone who has read my blog over the last few days can see I’ve been interested in hymnology, and particularly how it affects the lives of Unitarian Universalists. I keep looking for an ideal solution, particularly for those us who come from particularly small congregations of Christian Unitarian Universalists, and I will continue to look and comment on the subject.

To that end, I recently ordered two words-only hymnals. These are Voices United from the United Church of Canada, and Church Hymnary 4, from the Church of Scotland. Because both of these books are imports, I got the words-only editions because frankly they’re cheaper, new or used. They’re also smaller, which is also a consideration given how many hymnals I bought over the years. But there’s something more than that: these pocket words-only hymnals also serve as books of prayer and actualized theology.

Words-only hymnals are, essentially, collections of poetry, but unlike others in the genre they are intended primarily to be heard aloud and to be used in groups. Even so, I’ve found myself — from time to time — dipping into hymnals to better understand what I’m feeling and give some language to it, if not always a tune. I’ve found comfort and solace in hymnals, and disproportionately in the little ones, missing the music, where I might be intimidated by symbols I don’t comprehend well enough to learn from. And there have been times that a hymn has the power either structured or free prayer does not, and that leads to better understanding (not the same thing as a better explanation) than an idea of God confronted head-on.

It would be nice to offer — or at least locate — such a resource so it may kept in every home, in a day bag, and finally in the heart.

Singing in church with recorded music

I keep running into sites — Unitarian Universalist but mostly not — with MP3s or other files with hymn tunes ready to use as accompaniment for churches without an instrumentalist. Presumably ones that could be described with one or more of the following adjectives: small, poor, remote, fragile or disorganized. A church for which this is better than nothing.

These sound files follow CDs which did the same thing, and even special electronic players — but these belonged to the 1990s and 2000s and were quite expensive. And a free option is better than none. Or is it?

So now we have a resource, and probably a need. But what we don’t have are directions of how to use them. Am I supposed to cue them up on my phone, with a huddled few singing to a tinny MIDI? If not, then what? And what about the tempo. Or the number of verses.

Does anyone use these successfully? And if so, how?

This is a sincere appeal for ideas or resources.


Distributed activity: filling in Singing the Living Tradition at

If you look at the Singing the Living Tradition page at the über-useful site, you’d think it has two hymns in it.

I think the hymn-interested Unitarian Universalist community should fix that. So first, does any one have a clean spreadsheet or list of all the first lines? If not, can we build one?

But ideally it would include most (or all) of the following:

  • Hymn Number
  • Title
  • First Line
  • Publication Date
  • Refrain First Line
  • Original Language
  • Original Language Title
  • Notes
  • Text Person Name
  • Text Person Relationship
  • Text Year
  • Text Language
  • Text Copyright Statement
  • Text Source
  • Meter
  • Tune Name
  • Key
  • Tune Person Name
  • Tune Person Relationship
  • Tune Year
  • Tune Copyright Statement
  • Tune Source

Work to help the common good, if a niche common good. Anyone interested? I’d be glad to take the lead.