As part of the preparation for this summer’s General Convention, the Standing Committee on Liturgy and Music has commissioned a report from CPG’s research division on revision of the Hymnal 1982.  The report includes details of the results of surveys conducted designed to ascertain the level of support or lack thereof for a revision of the Hymnal 1982. There was little by way of huge surprises in the report. Below, I offer a few highlights from the report without too much comment.

One factor emerged which seemed a surprise to those administering the survey.

The group that was most resistant to the idea of revising the hymnal are those under 29 years of age. They are the most resistant by a large percentage. The report concludes, on page 57,

“Respondents in their twenties and younger are statistically different than the rest of the respondents, reporting the least interest in desiring worship music to reflect their personal musical tastes. This proves counter to the “common knowledge” theory that younger congregants are looking for a more modern or popular-music experience at church.”

The survey found that those “whose age is significantly above or below 50 are less likely to support revision. Middle-aged Episcopalians are more supportive of revision than younger and older Episcopalians.”

Among clergy, the numbers are striking, “Specifically, both the youngest and oldest clerics tend to be more opposed to revision, while middle-aged clergy are more favorably disposed. Clergy who are younger than 30, in fact, are nearly two-thirds in opposition to revision.”

In the Under 30 Demographic:
-Among lay respondents: 50% opposed to revision, 30% neutral, 20% in favor.
-Among clergy respondents: 61.5% opposed to revision, 7.7% neutral, 30.8% in favor.

The report states, “Younger respondents continue to differ from older respondents when questioned about whether they wish worship music reflected their general musical tastes.” One 22 year old respondent wrote,

“I think there is a huge assumption made that the younger generation wants guitar- and piano-based praise and worship music. …What we want to hear in a Sunday Eucharist are the classic hymns played on organ. And occasionally we want to chant. Church is the one place where our musical taste is not based upon fad, but instead links us with a much more important, more elegant tradition. If I wanted to listen to acoustic guitar and piano, I’d pick up Dave Matthews or Ben Folds. If I wanted rap, I’d listen to Lil Wayne. …For worship, I want music that connects to me a world outside of the in and out of my daily life.”

In its conclusion, the report states, “Perhaps most significantly, there is no pattern in which youth correlates with a particular movement towards new forms of musical expression. To revise the Hymnal must in some way be a project that is a gift to the next generation. Gaining some clearer sense of what the worship music of that generation will look like will require a longer and more careful period of discernment.”

While recommending moving forward gingerly with discernment, the report acknowledges, “That 13,000 people took the time to complete a lengthy survey on the question of hymnal revision shows how central The Hymnal 1982 is to the life of The Episcopal Church. This should give us pause. A rush to revise the Hymnal could seriously undermine and weaken the Church, alienating those who have remained with The Episcopal Church through difficult times.”

In seminary, we were told that the Book of Common Prayer exists, in many ways, to protect the laity from the clergy. It provides the Church with a distinctive and agreed upon core. The hymnal functions in much the same way. The report states, “While among clergy and music directors, a plurality favor hymnal revision, sentiment among congregation members runs 2-to-1 against revision and there is no demographic category that is in favor.”

Among female clergy, there is a strong sentiment in favor of revision and the report says, “Gender is strongly correlated to views on Hymnal revision among clergy, and with some relationship among music directors, but gender has no effect on the views of the laity.”

Another respondent that the report quoted wrote,

“I’m a refugee from a non-denominational church where the ‘praise band’ was very emotional, very repetitive, and very oriented toward the congregation energetically telling God how much they loved him, needed him, would set aside everything to serve him, etc. That might seem admirable but often when you come to church, you’re running on fumes—you’re dry, hurting…I belong to a message board for evangelical mothers and let me tell you—there is a rising trend among evangelical of finding church to be empty, tiring, and irrelevant. There is a rising interest among them of either going to a ‘house church’ (for community) or a traditional church (for depth and transcendence). Please don’t give them nothing to find when they come.”

I recently was part of some liturgies that were…unfortunate.  Actually beyond unfortunate, they reminded me of the very things I fled to join the Episcopal Church.  From vague “contemporary” songs written in the heady days of Vatican II that talked about us rather than God to a Fraction anthem that sounded like a raucous taproom jukebox number rather than a memorial of the Sacrifice of Christ there were elements of the liturgies that were deeply uncomfortable.  Moreover, the planners seem to have forgotten an adage of our rector, that we are not the interesting thing about Church – God is.

We sang over and over “They’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love.”  Over and over.  We, us, our. We, us, our. We, us, our.  Have I mentioned us lately?

A friend recently told me a story about another event.  A diocese had a conference and the youngest clergy in the diocese were asked to plan the liturgies.  They ended up with lots of chant, solemn masses, and the like.  Middle-aged clergy were aghast and some even informed the planners that they were undermining everything they had spent their career working for.

My hope is that middle-aged leaders in the Church will not see the desire for the reconsideration of elements of lost tradition as a threat or as an undoing of their lifetime of work but as a natural process and movement to rediscover and re-appropriate parts of our heritage.

This past Saturday, I took part in a blessing of a civil union of two young women.  It took place within the context of Rite I Solemn High Mass.  The readings were from the King James Bible.  The music was gorgeous and rooted in the Anglican tradition.  The ceremonial was lush without being self-referential.  The blessing itself was beautifully written and theologically rich.  In other words, the fullness of our tradition created, for these women, a sacred space in which to have their commitment solemnized.

A changing world does not demand that tradition be undone.  Changing realities reinforce the need for tradition – albeit a tradition that is considered, scrutinized, examined, and tried.  We have spent much of the last half-century tearing down anything that looks like tradition because it looks like tradition.  Our youngest laity and clergy are now taking the time to go through what has been cast aside and calling for a careful re-examination of the notion that progress means perpetual revolution.


The full report may be found at