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Celebrating a New African American Ecumenical Hymnal

The hymnal’s core committee (front, from left): Birgitta Johnson, Lisa Weaver, Leo Davis, Ingrid Faniel, and Bob Batastini; (second row, from left): Anthony Vinson, Judith McAllister, Carl MaultsBy, James Abbington, Brian Johnson, and Jason Ferdinand | GIA Publications

By Carl MaultsBy

I served on the core committee that prepared One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism: An African American Ecumenical Hymnal, at the kind invitation of its executive editor, James Abbington. Our work came to fruition in June 2018, when the hymnal was unveiled at the Hampton Ministerial and Musicians Conference.

In our first meeting, we reviewed existing African American hymnals, notably African American Heritage Hymnal and Total Praise. As recounted by the Rev. Lisa M. Weaver in the hymnal’s foreword, we received a homework assignment from Robert Batastini of GIA Publications: “When you go back home, pick songs from your respective traditions that are beloved and that you can’t imagine a hymnal without them.’”

We chose 202 of the hymns in Lift Every Voice and Sing in the first round of reviews. I wanted to focus on the material that was unique to Episcopal and eucharistic liturgical hymnody: responsorial simplified Anglican chant psalm settings as well as Mass settings. This required a bit of teaching of the core committee, just as I learned from my colleagues about their traditions.

Abbington told us he wanted the hymnal to honor the past, acknowledge the present, and engage for the future. As a guide, he offered this portion of a sermon by the Rev. Charles G. Adams, senior pastor of Hartford Memorial Baptist Church in Detroit:

I want it all: the wisdom of Lincoln and the compassion of Roosevelt, the heritage of Washington and the legacy of King, the social ministries of the Methodists and the strict theology of the Presbyterians, the pioneering protests of the Lutherans and the defiant spirit of Richard Allen, the Kingdom keys of Saint Peter and the glorious liberty of the Non-conformists, the gorgeous liturgy of the Episcopalians and the intellectual honesty of the Unitarians, the spiritual fervor of the Pentecostals, and the marvelous freedom the folks called Baptists. … I want it all because there is no place for narrowness and bigotry in the Church of Jesus Christ. We are all in one and we are one in all. (“All Things Are Yours” [1 Cor. 3:21-23], preached on Jan. 25, 1987)

In honoring the past, I saw the future compendium as a way to introduce the larger Church to the works of black Episcopal composers such as Horace Clarence Boyer, Harry T. Burleigh, John Cooper, William B. Cooper, and J. Rosamund Johnson. In addition, I wanted to share the works of living black Episcopal composers David Hurd and Carl Haywood. Their hymns, like the other submissions, had to resonate musically and theologically with a majority of the other 11 members of the ecumenical committee. All of these composers are included in the final version of the hymnal, as well as hymn texts by Episcopalians including the Rev. Canon Harold Lewis, Michael McKee, and James Weldon Johnson. One of my 11 items in the hymnal is the setting of Psalm 34 that I composed for the ordination and consecration of  the Rt. Rev. Gregory H. Brewer as Bishop of Central Florida.

By the end of our work sessions, we had reviewed approximately 3,000 pieces of music and chose to include 741 in the hymnal. After the publisher secured licenses and permissions from copyright owners and administrators, the final volume netted 698 entries.

The hymnal content centers on five basic themes: The Assembly at Worship,  The Celebration of the Gospel Story, The Gospel in the Christian Life, Historic Hymns and Songs in the African American Traditions, and Service Music. The Celebration of the Gospel Story has subcategories that conform to the liturgical year, Advent through Christ the King. Service Music has two large subcategories: first, General Service Music that includes Mass settings, psalms, and canticles; second, there is music for Baptism, Confirmation, Marriage, Ordination, and Holy Communion.

Perhaps One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism can be used as an example of how hymnal revision can proceed without depending on prayer book revision. The service music portions would probably need to be a separate volume since some texts would be directly tied to worship language of a revised prayer book. In 2009, the Episcopal Church adopted the Revised Common Lectionary (RCL). Congregational song can easily be expanded to include diverse material that reinforces the RCL texts and themes.

The format of a future hymnal must also take advantage of current technology and not be limited by the binders of a traditional book. Such a proposed collection could easily be expanded as new liturgies evolve.

If representatives from 10 different denominations can produce a single viable worship hymnal, might the Episcopal Church produce a single hymnal suitable for use that reflects the Episcopal Church in its diversity, inclusivity, and tradition? After all, the Episcopal Church also embraces the pronouncement of Ephesians 4:4-5: “There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism.”

Carl MaultsBy is director of music at St. Richard’s Church in Winter Park, Florida.


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