The venerable institution, the hymn book Hymns Ancient and Modern seem such a familiar part of the Anglican service in New Zealand that it seems unlikely that it would be a cause of controversy.

However, the lengthy arguments about the adoption of the book Hymns Ancient and Modern, imported from the United Kingdom by the church, split the congregation at St Paul’s and lasted throughout the 1870s.

Hymns Ancient and Modern was first created in the United Kingdom in 1858, and by the 1870s was being adopted by a large number of congregations around the country, although others adopted the New Zealand Hymnal.  The Bishops refused to give guidance about which book to choose, leaving each congregation to make their own decisions.

Many in the St Paul’s congregation objected to some particular hymns in Hymns Ancient and Modern, claiming that they were offensive to the Church of England.  Reverend Stock objected so much that he suggested the parish write to the English publishers and ask for a revised edition, with the offending hymns removed.  Another parishioner suggested that a slip of paper be inserted outlining which of the hymns were offensive  – although another parishioner pointed out that this was hardly likely to be successful in stopping young people from reading the hymns during service and being ‘influenced’ by them.

Numerous meetings took place, including a whole-of-parish meeting in 1877; one lengthy newspaper report stated that

‘great interest and strong feeling as to the matter under consideration was manifest throughout’.

The eventual decision of the parish was that, while it would adopt Hymns Ancient and Modern, it did so with the following proviso:

‘it being distinctly understood that as certain hymns are objected to as containing statements and sentiments contrary to sound doctrine, the book has no claims whatever to be regarded as an authoritative service book of the Church’.

The whole saga had been so controversial that the Evening Post  reported that books had finally been sent from the UK.

Hymns Ancient and Modern

Copies of the Hymns Ancient and Modern stored in the baptistry.