Discussion on Changing Lyrics of Hymns

Today I belatedly joined a moribund discussion in a moribund Facebook group, here, and made some comments about “changing the words” that I would love to get feedback on. Here or there…

4 Respondoj to “Discussion on Changing Lyrics of Hymns”

  1. SheWhoWaits Says:

    I agree with you that there are good reasons for changing the words, but it can be confusing. One oft changed hymn that comes to mind is “Come Thou Fount” I have several recordings of this hymn and each one had slightly different words. Makes it hard to sing along. Also, for sentimental reasons, I tend to prefer the versions I grew up with, which are often different from the originals since I grew up Arminian.

  2. Laurie Duffy Says:

    Let me put it this way…. How would you like someone to change YOUR poem?

  3. Mary Says:

    It’s called “the folk process”, and has always happened to songs that lots of people sing.

    If I had written a poem that was acceptable in the time / culture that was written in, but had an aspect that made it un-useable in another time / place due to the connotations of certain words, then I would far rather that people changed the words instead of not using the poem at all.

    • Haruo Says:

      Mary, I think occasionally this is the folk process, but usually when it happens in hymnals I think it is more likely to be something more intentional than the folk process, which is generally nearly unconscious even on the part of the person initiating the change. In hymnals, it is more likely to be motivated by theology or political correctness deliberately invoked by the editors. (SheWhoWaits referred, for example, to the effect of Arminianism—or conversely, I would add, of Calvinism—on hymn lyrics. Clearly much of the change found in recent denominational hymnals, and perhaps most visible in the UCC’s New Century Hymnal, is motivated by intentional gender- and racial inclusivism, by intentional modernization even where churchgoers’ usage is still markedly archaic (“Come, you thankful people, come”), and deprecation of “Lord” and of monarchical terms for God and Jesus. These changes are not usually, when they first occur in hymnals, the folk process.

      That said, I agree that most hymnwriters would appreciate, on the part of future users of their work product, the changes involving modernization and racial inclusivism, and many would appreciate changes for gender-inclusive purposes, but my guess is that many would very much not appreciate changes introduced in order to alter the fundamental (even if liberal) theological basis of their texts.

      Thanks for your comments!

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