In Congregational Praise, we have a hymnal with roots reaching back to the days of Oliver Cromwell and Pilgrims. This copy references the Golden Jubilee of the Baptist World Alliance. It also mentions the church John Bunyan, who wrote The Pilgrim’s Progress, pastored.
The History Behind Congregational Praise
There were churches who wished to be independent or separate from the Church of England. Because of this, the separatists enjoyed great freedom under the Commonwealth and Oliver Cromwell. However, under the restored monarchy these churches endured much persecution. These separatists included Congregationalists and Baptists among others. Also among the separatists was a group who left England under their persecution. Some of this group, the Pilgrims, established a colony in America.
Over time these churches began to grow. Although autonomous, they often came together in volunteer association with each other. One such group formed in 1831. The Congregational Union of England and Wales existed until 1966. Subsequently, changes in the organization splintered off some of the churches creating new groupings and mergers. Congregational Praise was a hymnal of this union.
In those early days of the separatist movement a church formed in Bedford, England. After his conversion, this was the church that John Bunyan joined.
After the monarchy was restored, persecution of the church began. The church transitioned to more of a house church. Bunyan was among those who preached there. Because of this he was arrested and imprisoned in Bedford for 12 years. Though in prison, the church called him as pastor. After his release he stepped into this position on his release from prison. He pastored the church until his death. In time, this church changed its name to the Bunyan Meeting.
This church, still an active congregation, hosts the John Bunyan Museum in Bedford. The imprint on the cover of this copy of Congregational Praise shows their use of this hymnal.
Baptist World Alliance
A Baptist paper editor in Kentucky, John Newton Prestridge, proposed a worldwide gathering of Baptists, John Howard Shakespeare, a Baptist paper editor in London, endorsed the idea. So, in July, 1905, the Baptist World Alliance (BWA) met in London for the first time. Thereafter, they planned to meet every 5 years. Unfortunately, world wars caused variations in this schedule.
Gladly, in July, 1955, the BWA met once again in London, England for their Golden Jubilee. Overall it appears to have been a good meeting. However, according to the Baptist Messenger, Oklahoma Baptists’ paper, dated August, 1955, there were issues. They included confusion at the Royal Albert Hall where the meetings were held.
The Inscription in Congregation Praise
In January, 1949, Bunyan Meeting in Bedford inducted the Rev. James Wylie Alexander as their Minister. It appears that Bunyan Meeting had fellowship with the Baptist Union of Great Britain. At least I find the inscription in this copy of Congregational Praise interesting. And all of these threads begin to come together. It reads…
July 24 – 1955
Baptist world Alliance, London, England
In the Preface, More Interesting Facts
In the Preface to Congregational Praise we gather a few more interesting tidbits.
The predecessor of this hymnal, Congregational Hymnary, was published in 1916. “In May 1939, the Assembly of the Congregational Union decided that a hew hymnbook was required by the churches.” A committee was formed, but the committee was not able to meet again until 1944 because of the war. Finally, the first edition was published in 1951. Additional “impressions” were made in 1952, 1953, and 1955. I believe there was at least one more, but this copy is from that 1955 printing.
In the Preface we also discover, that the Rev. E.R. Routley was on the committee. He was appointed Minutes Secretary and acted as General Secretary to the Committee. We usually know him as Erik Routley. This appears to be one of the earliest hymnals that the eminent hymnologist worked on. In the following years, Routley authored The Organist’s Guide to Congregational Praise and The Companion to Congregational Praise.
The Contents of Congregational Praise
This copy of the hymnal is a small one and is a words only edition. In addition to the Preface, Explanatory Notes, Acknowledgments, and the Table of Contents precede the hymns. Unlike the hymnal, Great Songs of the Church, which I recently shared, the contents of this hymnal are very much arranged around the life and seasons of the church.
Included within the hymnal is a section of hymns for children. Young people are also acknowledged as users of the hymnal. Instead of a specialized section, hymns in the main body of the book are referenced in a specific index.
Also included are sections of canticles, anthems, psalms, and chants. There is even a section set aside for Private Devotion.
Of course, all of this material in Congregational Praise calls for the wealth of indices in the back of the hymnal.
Finally, just inside of the back cover, we find 3 readings: General Thanksgiving, General Confession, and The Lord’s Prayer, plus a responsive reading: The Sursum Corda.
In conclusion, the study of this hymnal’s background was fascinating. Therefore, I’m including links below to several websites that I referenced in preparing for this article. As a Baptist, I found the insights into the early days of these autonomous congregations to be enlightening.
PS: The article I referenced earlier is here at Great Songs of the Church.
Congregational Praise Article References
List of websites referenced for this article. Some I barely looked at, but several were quite informative and helpful.
- The Hymn Society paper, A New Hymn-Book in Prospect
- Wikipedia: Congregational Union of England and Wales
- Britannica: Congregational Church of England and Wales
- 1833 Declaration of the Congregational Union of England and Wales
- Baptist World Alliance (Wikipedia)
- History of the Baptist World Alliance
- Bedfordshire County Council mention of J.W. Alexander
- Mention of J.W. Alexander’s Induction to Bunyan Meeting
- Oklahoma Baptist Messenger, August 1955
- Hope Publishing bio of Erik Routley
- Wikipedia Article about Erik Routley
- Hymnology Archive Article on Erik Routley
- Praise Article on Erik Routley
- Bunyan Meeting Website
- John Bunyan’s Bedford
- John Bunyan Museum (Wikipedia)
- History of Bunyan Meeting
- Detailed History of Bunyan Meeting
- Virtual Library History of Bunyan Meeting
- University of Chicago Press: Bunyan Meeting 1650-1950
- Was John Bunyan Baptist?
- Bunyan and the Bedford Congregation
- John Bunyan (Wikipedia)