We want to sing what we believe, and believe what we sing. These words were issued by Ray Glover, General Editor of The Hymnal 1982, to members of the committee working to create that particular book.

On October 23rd and 24th, I attended a conference at Virginia Theological Seminary entitled “The Once and Future Hymnal Symposium.” Over the course of two days, we heard many voices speak about The Hymnal 1982 and its supplements (Lift Every Voice and Sing II, Wonder Love & Praise, and Voices Found). There has been some discussion in recent years about considering a “new” authorized hymnal for The Episcopal Church. This conference was designed to generate thoughts on our hymnals and consider what has changed in both our world and our church since the release of The Hymnal 1982.

The Hymnal 1982 preceded my arrival into The Episcopal Church, so it is the only hymnal I have known. I have enormous respect for it. Time and again, I have been inspired and impressed by many of its hymn and service music offerings. Its music and texts very much at the center of my spiritual life and I know of others who feel the same. I’ll freely admit that I’m not one who is hoping for a new hymnal because I believe there’s so much richness in the current book still to be discovered. Additionally, I worry about who would be in charge of making some important decisions on what is included in a new hymnal. I am not the only person with these concerns.

At the same time, I recognize that there have been many wonderful hymns written since 1982! I’d like to see additional supplements which would continue to expand the music we can draw from without supplanting the bedrock musical foundation we have in The Hymnal 1982. As many of you have heard me state frequently, I fully believe that God continues to inspire composers writing for the Church today. I want us to continue to celebrate these gifts.

One of the most interesting comments I heard was from our parishioner The Rev. Dr. Bill Roberts. Bill pointed out how the compilers of The Hymnal 1982 were willing to take risks. While not all of the risks were successful, many of them were. The risks they took allow us to enjoy the remarkable musical offerings of David Hurd, Calvin Hampton, and others. Bill questioned if we’d really want a hymnal committee that would not take any risks and only play it safe? I’d definitely say no!

While it is not uncommon to hear people complain about hymnal committees making editorial decisions regarding texts – replacing certain words with others – we were told many examples of beloved hymn texts we know well which were changed from the author’s original wording. Many of the hymn texts of Isaac Watts and Charles Wesley were altered many years ago to become the familiar words we now know.

It is likely that a new official hymnal will not appear until General Convention first authorizes a new Book of Common Prayer, and that does not seem imminent. So, I believe we have several more years to familiarize ourselves with The Hymnal 1982. This does not disappoint me. And, with any luck, I’m hopeful that it won’t arrive until after I’ve retired.