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Hallo again to all.

A friend in America reported to us that the US Episcopal Church is exploring the practicality of revising its hymnal. Her congregation was selected to paticipate in a feasibility study towards that end. By our calculations they have selected 5% of US congregations to do this, so we think it's fortuitous that our American friend was in one of them. She sent us printouts of most of the pages of the survey, and assures us that those she didn't print contain questions like 'In what year were you born?'

A snippet of the England 1871 censusSurveys are boring, and hardly worth your attention (even, usually, if you're the one taking the survey). We mention it here because of the breathtaking clericalism of the survey. We think that one of the most common problems in Anglican churches around the world is that they are insider-oriented.*

Our friend grew up in a rather evangelical protestant denomination, and has a sense of what 'traditional hymns' might be that is based on the church of her youth. When she was faced with Question 11 on this survey, she had to decide whether her church used any of these kinds of hymns:

  • Traditional hymns
  • Contemporary hymns
  • Folk mass/Contemporary Roman Catholic hymnody
  • Sung responsorial psalms
  • Classical music
  • Contemplative chants
  • Music or songs from a variety of places/cultures in the world
  • African-American music
  • No music

Since from her point of view, there are almost no traditional hymns in the US hymnal, the only possible answer to that question would have been 'none of the above', but that wasn't a choice. She did ask us what several of those terms mean, and giggled at the cultural correctness implicit in some. She asked us if we had any idea why sometimes they referred to hymns but once to hymnody, which meant the same thing. (We told her that distinction was probably part of the cultural correctness).

Another question on the survey was 'Who picks the hymns to sing?', but since none of the choices was 'The devil himself', she didn't know what to say. Was it the Music Director or the Rector or the Praise Team (what ever is that?) or the Worship Committee or None. Luckily 'Don't know' was a choice on that question. We wonder how many people actually do know who chooses the music in their parish.

We're quite certain that this survey did not even come close to capturing the opinions and feelings of our US friend, because all of the choices that it offered for the important questions were choices centered in the culture of the US Episcopal Church. We suppose that if you are an employee of a national church and you go to work every day in a building full of other employees of a national church, and you usually eat lunch with other employees of a national church, and probably attend the occasional morning prayer in the chapel right there in the building, that your world view is going to be mightily focused on the administrative center of the church and not the worship center or evangelism center or outreach center.

Such omphalocentrism is not restricted to churches. We know of a computer company (no longer in business) that was trying to rush a product to market to counter its more nimble competition. They had designed a new kind of computer that went on top of the customer's desk, rather than on the floor beside it. To save time, they decided to have the field testing A power corddone by employees and their families, instead of the customary outside testers. When the computer was finally put up for sale, an avalanche of angry complaints overwhelmed its customer service department. The power cord wasn't long enough, because it had to extend for the extra distance from the floor to the top of the desk. Every last one of the employee testers had noticed that the cord wasn't long enough but had simply gone to the supply cabinet to get a longer cord, never thinking to report it as an urgent problem. They couldn't help themselves; of course they thought like insiders. They were insiders.

Keeping the church and its music and liturgy up to date is not just good, it is vital. We're not sure that it will really work by having insiders plan the updating. It's tough, though: a person who decides not to buy a computer from one company will probably end up buying one from another company, staying in the universe of customers. Many of those who drift away from their churches drift to golf, football, extra sleep, extended brunches, or even long walks on the beach. They almost never come back.

See you next week.

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Last updated: 14 November 2010

*A few weeks ago we noted an example of insider orientation, that many or even most diocesan websites are structured to reflect the administrative nature of the diocese rather than the reality in which a churchgoer lives. To find a church in a certain diocese, for example, you must either be an expert on local geography or know whether the church you are seeking is in the Holland, Huronia, Nottawasaga, Tecumseth, or York Central deanery. (Never mind that you must also know what a deanery is). This practice is not universal: if you are looking for a church one diocese to the East, the website asks you for the name of a town or for a postal code. (Now you just need to be able to tell which diocese your town might be in).

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