Frances Stebbins, Correspondent
[This is a memory from the many decades the author has been privileged to write for daily and weekly newspapers circulating in Western Virginia.]
Folk of a certain age will remember when “the Bible” meant the King James Version (KJV). Over the past 50 years, a proliferation of Scriptures transposed into more contemporary language has become familiar – and often preferred – by all but the most conservative readers.
Hymnals too have changed. During the decades of the 1970s and 1980s, many American denominations upgraded their music for worship. Some of this revision was due to the many mergers, such as Lutherans, Presbyterians and United Methodists experienced around mid-century. In some instances, words needed changing as new cultural ideas were advanced.
As a child with an apparently good memory for musical lyrics, I recall learning a hymn from the era of colonial missionary activity, “From Greenland’s Icy Mountains…they call us to deliver their land from error’s chains.”
With the freeing of several Asian and African countries after World War II from their former status as colonies of Britain, France, the Netherlands and others, nations like Korea are hardly mired in “error’s chains.” In fact, the Korean influence is strong among United Methodists today.
The Women’s Liberation Movement and increasingly the presence of openly gay and transgendered people has caused many clergy to avoid the former assumption that God is a “he.” The Deity is simply called “God.”
Increasing appreciation of Black culture led in 1992 to “Lift Every Voice and Sing.” It’s a hymnal containing Spirituals from slavery days as well as more contemporary Gospel Songs more often heard in predominantly African American congregations. In fact, the final hymn in this service book on page 281 is ‘’Prayer for Africa”; its words are in Swahili and Zulu as well as English.
Changes, especially when it comes to hymns, are not always welcomed in congregations. Some of this is likely resistance to change, for worshipers grow used to the routine of their prayers and hymns, and do not want to have to adjust when they’re trying to put cares aside and concentrate on feeling close to God.
In addition, the ugly face of resistance to different cultures shows its face as the introduction of music and prayers to Black, Native American, Jewish or Asian belief systems can remind worshipers of a bad memory associated with someone in these groups. Early prejudices, often grounded in ignorance, can’t be hidden.
(I got some of these from my mother who had a decided preference to folk of Northern European background, for in her day and living always in Virginia, it was what she knew.)
Back to Bibles. Around the end of World War II, the Revised Standard Version (RSV) appeared. Soon, we were using the New International Version, the New English Bible, the Oxford Annotated Bible, as well as paraphrased models like the Living Bible and Good News for Modern Man.
(At some point in my past, I read through the Living Bible as it was more understandable than the familiar versions with their archaic meanings of some words such as God’s grace “preventing” and following us when we now understand this to mean grace is “proceeding” rather than standing in our way.)
If there is any one change that has been resisted, it is the use of the Contemporary Version of “the Lord’s Prayer.” I much prefer it and unconsciously say it although I learned the familiar version when four-years-old. In one Roanoke church, with which I’m familiar, the newer version is used routinely while in another it’s never heard.
My late husband Charlie preferred the clarity of contemporary prayers and a modernization of our denominational liturgy. For his memorial service in 2008, I chose for the choir’s anthem a newer hymn, “Earth and All Stars.” Its author, Herbert F. Brokering, was born in 1926.
As this time of honoring Veterans – Charlie served the Navy in World War II-as well as those who have died, I dedicate it to him.