The Epworth Hymnal
One of the joys of worship at Epworth is the opportunity to sing and publish a number of theologically and poetically significant hymn texts which, quite undeservedly, have fallen into general dis-use and out of the living memory of much, if not all, of the worshiping church.
For several years now, Epworth Chapel on the Green has been in an on-going process of compiling The Epworth Hymnal, in loose-leaf form, drawing primarily upon hymn texts and hymn tunes which are no longer protected by copyright. It's not an easy process, but it has the benefits of intentionality in the content of the search and joy in the discovery of what that search yields.
Criteria for Hymn Texts and Tunes:
Criteria advised by John Wesley
(compiler and editor of A Collection of Hymns for the Use of the People Called Methodists (1780):
- Contains important Christian truth(s), and proves them by scripture and reason;
- Cautions against plausible errors;
- Contains clear directions for making our calling and elections sure, for perfecting holiness;
- Avoids doggerel, bombast, material included only for the sake of rhyme, cant expressions, and words without meaning.
- Uses clarity and elegance of language;
- Displays a "spirit of poetry";
- Displays a "spirit of piety": quickens devotion, confirms faith, enlivens hope, kindles love to God and people;
- Can be sung congregationally, not just by professionals;
- Avoids repetition "beyond all sense and reason";
- Avoids cacophony;
- The text, not the music, must remain primary; the music accompanies but does not control or overpower.
A Particular and Understood Role.The hymn fulfills a particular, known place and role in advancing the worship service, i.e., it accomplishes one or more of the following:
a. It prepares the people for the next action in the liturgy, or
b. It proxies for an action at that point in the liturgy, or
c. It progresses the action in the liturgy, or
d. It proclaims the action in the liturgy;
Orthodox Christian Theology.It tells the story of God's saving deeds, and it does not substitute:
a. Psychological concepts, or
b. Secular philosophy, or
c. Popular concepts, or
d. Nationalistic themes or events, or
e. Individualized self-expression or experience;
Grand Themes of Scriptures.The word text iterates at least some part of the grand themes of the scripture, especially the corrosive, destructive and enslaving nature of sin, and the forgiving and transforming work of Christ to bring the believer freedom from both the penalty and power of sin -- in other words, the word text is Wesleyan, whether or not actually written by John or Charles Wesley;
Progression and Development of Thought.The word text expresses progression and development of thought, as opposed to any of the following:
a. Saying the same thing in either different or repeated words, or
b. Repetition in pursuit of an hypnotic effect, or
c. Repetition in pursuit of a desired emotional effect;
Strength of Expression.The word text conveys the truth of God's saving deeds powerfully and precisely, through concrete images carried by precise and strong nouns and verbs, and can stand alone as a work of literature -- poetry that is worth reading on its own, without a musical score to cover its weaknesses;
Timeless Orientation.The word text and musical score place the worshiper more in the context of the timeless history of salvation than in the context of a particular place, nation, era, decade or denomination;
Musicality.The musical score is worth listening to on its own and is sufficiently singable that its use over time reinforces, and reminds of, the word text; and
Intermingling Methodist and Anglican Hymns.Although The Epworth Hymnal draws from countless sources, including from Anglican, Methodist, Presbyterian, Lutheran, Roman Catholic and Episcopal traditions and usages, we especially seek to do our part to re-unite the Anglican and Methodist traditions and their various components, and therefore we take special pleasure in intermingling in one hymnal the texts and tunes we draw from those two traditions.