WELS Hymnal Project

Project Blog

Insights, analysis, techniques, opinions, and experiences from the team behind the WELS Hymnal Project.

The Rites Committee has been busy in 2018. We have completed work on several services, while we continue to make progress on others.
Here are some projects we’ve been working on during the last several months:

Fine Tuning Settings of The Service
The main Communion service will have three printed musical settings in the print edition of the hymnal. We have been refining some elements within each of these settings. For instance, we have worked on the Gospel Acclamation (known as the Verse of the Day in Christian Worship). We considered several different approaches, decided on a standard format for the print edition, and lined up music for each of the three settings of The Service.

Daily Devotions
The new hymnal will include several devotions appropriate for various times of day. These devotions will be useful for individuals, families, classrooms, meetings, and other groups. More about the format of these devotions in the next blog post.

Personal Prayers
An expanded set of Personal Prayers is currently under review. Some newly composed prayers take their place among some classic prayers to form a valuable prayer resource for personal devotions and other occasions.

Christian Wedding
We have completed a revision of the wedding rite. Our aim is to confess clearly the Scriptural basis for marriage, especially in light of societal confusion about this gift of God, and to do so with language that is both understandable and dignified.

Christian Funeral
We have also revised the Christian Funeral service, retaining Christian Worship’s emphasis on our God’s promises, rooted in the crucified and risen Savior, the Resurrection and the Life. Some new additions to the service further shine the spotlight on our Savior’s gifts of righteousness and eternal life.

Brief Service of Word and Prayer
We are proposing to the Executive Committee the inclusion of a new service, a brief Service of Word and Prayer. This service is designed for occasions such as midweek Lenten and Advent services, regular midweek services when Communion is not celebrated, and chapel services.

Rites for Confession and Absolution
For occasions when Christians seek the comfort of God’s absolution spoken privately and individually, we have revised the rite for Individual Confession and Absolution. For times when groups of Christians want to focus on God’s forgiveness, our plan is to include a rite for Corporate Confession and Absolution in the new hymnal.

Many other Rites Committee projects are in the works. We are excited to see many rites taking shape, anticipating how the Spirit may use them as humble vehicles for his powerful Word.

The Technology Committee of the WELS Hymnal Project continues to pursue its original objectives for the project, namely to support and enhance the utility and effectiveness of the new hymnal through well-designed resources. The Technology Committee has divided that work into three main areas: 1) a service builder application for pastors and worship planners, 2) a resource for musicians and directors, and 3) a mobile application for laypeople.

The Technology Committee is working with software developers to accomplish the first two objectives. While the full scope of these products is still under development, the Technology Committee has pursued a set of feature requirements that we expect will successfully meet the needs of a large number of pastors, worship planners, musicians, and choir directors.

The committee’s focus on the preparatory work for a service builder and musicians’ resource has necessarily kept us from devoting time and resources from development of the mobile application for laypeople. However, such a product is still on the agenda for the committee. Furthermore, such a product will be better served with a development effort that begins closer to the release date of the hymnal.

Another project of the Technology Committee has been to oversee the visual design of the new hymnal. While it may seem unusual for this committee to oversee such work, the rationale is sound: a single committee overseeing the design work will ensure that the design of the entire product line be consistent and functional across both print and digital formats.

Our focus between now and the end of the year is on finalizing the business model for the first two software products as well as the design templates for all the major products in the future set of resources.

We plan to offer a brief update on the work each committee is doing each month. This month we hear from Rev. Paul Prange, chairman of the Psalmody Committee.

The Psalmody Committee (PC) has selected all of the Psalm settings that will be printed in the new WELS hymnal. Those settings have been approved by the executive committee and are being prepared for publication. Some of the settings are responsorial, single-tone, like all of the CW settings, and others are responsorial, double-tone, like some of the CWS settings, or metrical paraphrases, which look like hymns with refrains. Worship planners who like a particular style for any Psalm should be able to find appropriate settings in the new psalter and in the electronic resources accompanying the new hymnal.

Now the Psalmody Committee is working on reviewing and curating thousands of settings for Psalms that are not chosen to go with the readings for each Sunday. All 150 Psalms will have at least two settings in the new WELS psalter, along with prayers, Luther quotes, and notes for personal devotional use. The PC hopes that its work will result in a rich Lutheran resource for generations to come.

From July of 2017 through March of 2018, the WELS Hymnal Project published nine segments of our current body of hymns, indicating which of those hymns were initially designated to be cut from inclusion in our next hymnal. As we did, we invited feedback from WELS members. Anyone interested could cast their vote for up to ten hymns from each segment, indicating that they would prefer to see those hymns kept. Among the nine different segments of the list, more than 8,000 responses were received. The window for submitting feedback closed on May 1.

At its meeting last week, the Hymnal Project’s Executive Committee discussed the results of that feedback. The Executive Committee decided to take the twenty hymns that the most people wanted to see included and put them back into consideration for the final list.

Those twenty hymns are:

  • 13 There's a Voice in the Wilderness Crying
  • 106 Come to Calvary's Holy Mountain
  • 112 There Is a Fountain Filled with Blood
  • 129 Alas! and Did My Savior Bleed
  • 158 I Am Content! My Jesus Lives Again
  • 213 Forever with the Lord
  • 242 Oh, that I Had a Thousand Voices
  • 260 Let All Things Now Living
  • 284 How Precious Is the Book Divine
  • 295 Dearest Jesus, We Are Here
  • 322 On What Has Now Been Sown
  • 345 In the Cross of Christ I Glory
  • 347 Jesus! and Shall It Ever Be
  • 368 O Savior, Precious Savior
  • 433 Jesus, Savior, Pilot Me
  • 473 Savior, I Follow On
  • 488 Savior, Thy Dying Love
  • 505 Love Is the Gracious Gift
  • 566 We All Are One in Mission
  • 571 From Greenland's Icy Mountains

In addition to putting these twenty back into consideration, the feedback we received will be beneficial as we do our final work on the list and things like balance across the various sections of the hymnal comes into play.

We are extremely grateful for the time and effort people took to provide us with feedback.

Last year, one-third of WELS congregations were invited to sample and review service materials for our synod’s next hymnal (the other two-thirds had been previously invited to participate in sampling either hymn or psalms resources).

135 congregations participated in this field testing effort, sampling materials from September through November of 2017. Congregations were first asked to introduce a new service text and progression, using canticles that were already familiar to their congregation. After familiarizing themselves with the text and progression of the service, congregations were asked to introduce a new set of canticles by composer Ricky Manalo. At the conclusion of the testing period, feedback was sought from pastors, musicians, and congregation members.

Feedback on the Service Text

In developing the service materials for the new hymnal, it has been the goal of the Rites Committee to provide both clarity and consistency among the services used for the congregation’s main weekly services. We want people to know the function of each element of the service and for each service element to serve the same function in each service.

In response to sampling this revised service text and progression, congregations expressed appreciation for the consistency and clarity it provided. For example, the canticle “Lord, Have Mercy” (Kyrie) will not be connected with the confession of sins but will be a series of petitions on the basis of God’s mercy following the absolution. The Verse of the Day will now be called the Gospel Acclamation and people will stand prior to it, making it clearer that this service element is not a sung response to the Second Reading but rather serves to prepare us for the hearing of the Gospel. Worship leaders and worshipers responded favorably to these elements of the service.

Perhaps the part of the service where the response was most negative was related to the post-Communion conclusion of the service. The “Song of Simeon” (Nunc Dimittis) was not included as a standard element of the service but was replaced by a note indicating the optional inclusion of a hymn or canticle following distribution. The Rites Committee will revisit this issue as they finalize the services for the new hymnal. While it remains to be seen how many and which specific ones, we can say with certainty that musical settings of the Song of Simeon will be included somewhere in the new hymnal - even if it is in a separate “Canticles” section and not within the services themselves.

Feedback on the Service Music

It has also been the goal of the Rites Committee to provide both familiar and new musical settings for the orders of service. As mentioned above, one of each was provided as part of this testing effort. There were a variety of reactions to the new canticles that were provided. For example, one respondent said, “Excellent tunes. Best available that I've heard,” while another offered, “the canticles remained a struggle to the end of the field test.”

To some extent, this mixed reaction is to be expected any time someone is asked to learn something new. The specific canticles that were provided, while certainly accessible, have elements that take some time to fully master. It should be noted that the same characteristics that cause a canticle to take longer to learn also keep a canticle from becoming stale over the lifetime of a hymnal.

Our current plan is to include three main orders of service in the printed hymnal (besides other services like Morning Praise and Evening Prayer). One of those orders of service will include canticles already familiar to WELS worshipers and two will include new canticles. Additional canticles, including ones already familiar to us, will be made available digitally.

We sincerely thank all the congregations that participated in this field testing effort for their time, effort, and feedback. The feedback we receive from testing efforts like this is very valuable as we finalize the patterns of worship that will assist the next generation as they gather around life-giving Word and Sacrament.