Friday, 9 February 2007
The Dwight Stuff
You can tell a lot about a church by looking at their hymnal. Just cast a critical eye over what's on offer and you'll get a fairly accurate feel for the sponsoring denomination or group.
Take the Fred Coulter hymnal for example (you can download a copy here.) Like most COG sects, the impressively named Christian Biblical Church of God has produced its own songbook. It's not large – 75 odd pages (some odder than others). That compares with around 130 in the WCG's old purple book (available in PDF here), 310 in the 1993 version, and – crossing to another tradition entirely – 950 in the Lutheran Book of Worship.
The first thing you notice is that most of the hymns are simply reproduced from the purple book. The multi-talented Mr. Coulter has put together a couple of his own with the able assistance of Mary Schaeffer (modestly placed in the front of the publication), and there's a smattering of non-COG favorites to bulk it out (Sweet Hour of Prayer, Blessed Assurance etc.) Herb would have had a hernia!
The volume is copyrighted 2002, which is well before WCG put Dwight Armstrong's creations into the public domain, so presumably Fred arranged permission to include them. (If you feel the nostalgia rising, one of the best online resources is here, where you can listen to tunes from the "old gray" Radio Church of God hymnal, the purple replacement, the 93 version, CGI's 1990s book and UCG's 1997 song booklet... knock yourself out!)
I'm not sure whether the fact that Holy, Mighty Majesty! still gets an occasional airing in various living rooms on Saturday mornings is a comfort or not. And, more to the point, would it still be possible to sing Behold the Day Will Come without thinking “1972”?
The sad fact is that I'm still fond of some of those old chestnuts. Prolonged exposure can do that to you. They get under your skin and slowly work their way out again decades later while you're driving between cities and unable to handle another moment of talk-radio or formulaic radio ga-ga.
But even more bizarre is the reality that, when some of us were wide-eyed members, trotting along to weekly services with the hymnal, wide-margin KJV and notebook inside regulation briefcase, we actually found Dwight's dire dirges painful. Go figure.