H is for (Methodist) Hymnals

I don’t know how many of those hymns were meant to be sung, because – I neglected to mention – there is no music in the book, only lyrics! Evidently, “everybody” already knew the tunes.


When I was growing up at Trinity A.M.E. Zion Church in Binghamton, NY in the 1960s, we used a hymnal that looked exactly like this. (A.M.E. stands for African Methodist Episcopal.) The first hymn was Holy, Holy, Holy [listen], and when I was younger, I mistakenly believed that the phrase “Blessed Trinity” was a reference to my church, rather than to the preceding phrase, “God in three persons.”

The Methodist Episcopal Church (MEC) initiated the process of creating a new hymnal in 1928, with Methodist Episcopal Church, South (MEC,S) joining in 1930, and the Methodist Protestant Church (MPC) soon thereafter. The hymnal has a 1932 original copyright date. Not incidentally, “The Methodist Church was the name adopted by the Methodist denomination formed in the US by the reunion on May 10, 1939, of the northern and southern factions of the MEC with the MPC”, the three entities that had created the hymnal. Ironically, since the split within the MEC had arisen over 19th-century treatment of blacks, the newly-formed Methodist Church created a segregated entity known as the Central Jurisdiction as a compromise.

Still, the hymnal was of such quality that the black Methodist churches (A.M.E., A.M.E. Zion, C.M.E., and others) often adopted it.

But once the United Methodist Church was created in 1968 by the union of The Methodist Church and the Evangelical United Brethren Church, getting rid of the Central Jurisdiction, I suppose the powers that be decided that the UMC needed a hymnal of its own.

When I started attending the United Methodist Church in Albany in the mid-1980s, coincidentally also called Trinity, they were using a different hymnal (the red one). Still, many of the congregants at that time referred to the hymnal I grew up with as the “real Methodist hymnal,” such was the universality of its use, due to the quality of its structure of the Christian life.

Still, the black hymnal may not be my favorite. That title might fall to the one pictured below; the one to the left looks more like mine, in terms of condition. It has an 1849 copyright date. In the mid-1980s, my girlfriend at the time bought it for me for the handsome sum of $2.50. It has a LOT of hymns by Charles Wesley, many more than in subsequent iterations, starting with O, For a Thousand Tongues to Sing [listen] on the first page, and including Hark! the Herald Angels Sing and Christ, the Lord, is Risen Today, plus a whole bunch with which I am not familiar.


And I don’t know how many of those hymns were meant to be sung, because – I neglected to mention – there is no music in the book, only lyrics! Evidently, “everybody” already knew the tunes.

It too had a structure, but in addition to those in the 1932 hymnal, it also included Duties & Trials, and Humiliation. Fun stuff!

ABC Wednesday – Round 9

Author: Roger

I'm a librarian. I hear music, even when it's not being played. I used to work at a comic book store, and it still informs my life. I won once on JEOPARDY! - ditto.

33 thoughts on “H is for (Methodist) Hymnals”

  1. I came across a Methodist Hymnal in the thrift shop at our local Methodist Church just last. I think that had the music as well as the words. I shall look again when I am next there if it hasn’t been sold.

  2. Humiliation, now there’s a word for H day, but I won’t go into that. Suffice to say I think humility is a good thing and humiliation is dreadful.
    I recognize the hymns you mentioned. They’re also in the United Church of Canada hymnal. As for the hymnal with lyrics and no music, that would have been fine with me. No matter how many times I tried, with different people trying to teach me, I could never learn to read music. I’m very good at memorizing lyrics, but I have to sit at the front of the church so there’s no one ahead of me whose ears I would abuse, because I can’t carry a tune. Of course I love music, like most people who can’t sing!
    — K

    Kay, Alberta, Canada
    An Unfittie’s Guide to Adventurous Travel

  3. Great idea for the theme. I have a number of different hymnals I kept from my Dad’s book. He was an Episcopalian minister but for some reason he had hymnals from a number of different churches.

  4. I didn’t know that that hymnal had no music printed with it. Also didn’t know much of the history of the different styles of Methodist worship. Fascinating information. Thanks Roger.

  5. Just like the covers getting better and better here, but the most valued is the well read one at the bottom, which resembles your own book!! 🙂

  6. I think the only hymnal I’ve seen with music were the Sunday school ones. Guess they think we should know them all the hymns when we are all gown up.

  7. Holy, Holy, Holy is one of my favourite hymns. Our churches are tending to go more into the “choruses” nowadays instead of the old hymns, which I do like as long as they still have some hymns once in a while. Have a great week, Roger!

    Leslie
    abcw team

  8. We have those hymnns in our hymn books too (Anglican Church of Canada).The organist at my church has limited talents so we sing about six hymns to the same tune!!
    Jane x

  9. In our church hymns are an important part of a church service. I love the British hymns and often watch “Songs of Praise”. Holy, holy, holy… is a welknown hymn in our church too.

  10. For a while we had to read the lyrics off an overhead projector. Someone stole the box of hymnals for the new church…obviously not a parishioner.

  11. Your post reminds me of my grandfather who used to sing hymns when we were having traditional prayers at home and in church. Thanks fr the comments Roger.

  12. I’m not so familiar with hymnals…but if I were, it would probably be the Methodist variety as that’s where I churched as a child. Excellent post, as always.

  13. I love the old Methodist hymnbook — at least the one that was in use in England in the fifties. In fact I was just looking at it for the first time in years the other day and was surprised how many of the hymns I knew. My version has the music, so although I can’t play the piano I can read music a little so I did have some help. We used to say that the Methodist Hymnbook is the one that will be used in heaven! 🙂

  14. I was brought up a Methodist and love the Wesleyan hymns. It’s fascinating to realise how many different types of Methodists there are, but all love the hymns. My hymn book is just the lyrics too.

  15. We have a hymnal at home very much like the black Methodist Hymnal, at least the cover if there’s no music in it. Ours had. It was used as supplementary practice music in my piano lessons. Holy holy holy is one of the very first songs my kiddo learned to sing by just listening to it. I suspect the chorister nanny-slash-Grandma drummed the song into his little head early on.

  16. Good to know that Jews aren’t the only ones with good, better, best, different, mine is better than yours versions of prayer books LOL!

  17. As a cradle Lutheran, I remember all the hoopla every time a hymnal was changed or updated! One was always considered “the correct” one and the other was tolerated by those who didn’t want to change. The church I attend now doesn’t even have hymnals and, for me, it’s one less “churchy” thing to get hung up about, allowing people to focus on why they are there.

  18. I have a few old hymnals: from our church, from the Catholic church that hosted The Dominican Girls Convent, where I went to grade school in Africa, and many others. I downsized recently and let many of my collection go. Kinda regret it now!

  19. This is very interesting. I recognised the hymns you mentioned and started singing them in my head though I’m an Anglican (Church of England)
    The devil doesn’t always have the best tunes;-)

  20. Awesome choice for today, Rog! Just lyrics made me smile. And I lived with my Methodist granny so you know I know Holy, Holy, Holy by heart. Thanks for the memories!

  21. You take me back to my childhood and my Methodist grandmother and the AME Church down the street from her. I can’t remember if it as plain AME or AME Zion. And Holy, Holy, Holy is a rousing hymn.
    HelenMac
    ABC Team

  22. We have the son of a Methodist Minister who has come to our mixed ecumenical parish to take over the task of ministering to us, and in conversation with him, as the organist, I was impressed with his great attachment to the old Methodist Hymnal, and also with how many of the hymns are dear to me, as well.

  23. Thanks for getting me to listen to the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. They are awesome. I don’t understand the point of a hymnal without the music. 🙂

  24. I’ve seen a few hymnals with only words. I think congregations do know the tunes to the most hymns sung most…but it sure does make it hard to learn new ones.

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