There is a noticeable shift taking place these days. Things are definitely moving from research and development of content to production of content. In plain language, this means that what hymnal project committees have brought forward is being handed over to Northwestern Publishing House for production as print and digital resources. It’s an exciting time. Years of committee work are coming to fruition in the form of soon-to-be finished works. It has certainly been a team effort. The Lord has been kind to us by bringing us to this point. We look forward to the days in the not too distant future when we will be able to start sharing with members of our church body first glimpses of all of these materials. As we anticipate those days, this update will serve as a progress report on the work our Lord has allowed us to do.
The update of the three-year lectionary is complete. A key strength of this updated resource is that all Sundays and festivals will have a unified theme across all three readings. The balance of the propers (Prayer of the Day, Psalm of the Day, Gospel Acclamation [with its proper verse of the day] and Hymn of the Day) will all support this integrated theme. Now that the thousands of work hours that went into the lectionary update have drawn to a close, the Scripture Committee is moving on to the second major component of its work. The committee is busy producing a series of books entitled “Commentary on the Propers,” volumes that will expand on the previously published “Planning Christian Worship” by providing 4-5 pages of comments per Sunday/festival, showing the common thread that runs through the appointed readings. These comments will give tremendously helpful direction to preachers, worship planners, and musicians.
At the beginning of May 2019, the Hymnody Committee brought forward a first draft of the final hymn list. For the Executive Committee (XC) that has been reviewing this list of 650 hymns, this has meant taking a first look at all of the hymns laid out in hymnal format—6X9 pages with music and lyrics. The XC is reviewing the hymns of the new hymnal over the course of this summer. At its September meeting, the XC will look to finalize the list.
There are several different ways that congregations present music to congregations. Hymns are printed in hymnals, reprinted in service folders, and projected on screens. Different users in different contexts may see various strengths or weaknesses in one form of presentation or another. We will always view resources printed in hymnals as perhaps having the highest amount of strengths. Only in the printed book can the full musical accompaniment be legally printed (according to contractual copyright agreements). Reprint licenses (OneLicense.net; CCLI.com) only allow service folder reprinting or projection of the melody and text of copyrighted materials. We will be fully providing all of the above options for congregations—printed books, resources that can be reprinted, resources that can be projected), but we are mindful of the fact that putting the full musical version of resources in the hands of worshipers is something which only the printed book can accomplish.
A ratio of 2/3 and 1/3 is common for new hymnals—2/3 of the hymns of the previous hymnal are brought forward in the new hymnal, while approximately 1/3 of the hymns are new. New hymns are not all recent; a good number of the “new hymns” are simply “new to us.” Bringing forward more than 200 new hymns means that congregations could introduce two new hymns in worship per month over a period of eight years. There are, of course, many new resources in all of the volumes that will appear with the new hymnal. Whether it is hymns or psalms or rites, the amount of new material available will mean that congregations will be acting wisely if they plan to gradually “unwrap” all of these new worship materials over years and even decades, rather than inundating worshipers with too much new material in a short period of time. A Hymnal Introduction Program will explore this gradual approach in great detail.
The final area of the Hymnody Committee’s research was the genre of modern hymns. With the term modern hymns, we are referring neither to Contemporary Christian Music nor to Christian songs played on the radio. An excellent blog article by Pastor Jon Bauer on the hymnal project website explains the philosophy that was adopted and the process that was followed. The Accompaniment Edition for the hymns is slated to be a two-volume set totaling 1500 pages, formatted on 8.5X11 pages, with notation scaled larger for ease of reading on the music stand. (This is the format for all of the accompaniment editions.) An additional, separate accompaniment volume for the hymns is also slated to be produced: Accompaniment for Hymns—Simplified.
As in the current hymnal, the new hymnal will include 62 psalms, those psalms that have been appointed in the lectionary for the various Sunday and festivals of the Christian church year.
Little did we know that choosing to produce a complete psalter would be much like adding another entire hymnal to the workflow of the hymnal project—or maybe we did. That mammoth project is rapidly moving toward completion. A separate, self-standing psalter of approximately 700 pages will include the full texts of all 150 psalms, with an average of two or three different musical settings of each psalm. The Psalter will feature approximately 450 psalm settings. These settings will have a much greater diversity of style than the one style that appeared in our current hymnal. A psalm with a refrain and chanted verses is referred to as a responsorial psalm. Six to eight different styles of musical settings will appear in the new Psalter. Each of the 150 psalms will have at least one responsorial setting and one metrical paraphrase (Christian Worship #238 is a metrical paraphrase of Psalm 103). The Accompaniment Edition for the psalter is slated to be a two-volume set totaling 1000 pages.
The Rites Committee is in the process of finalizing the text and music of all of the services in the front part of the hymnal. The fact is that these rites have been in close-to-final form for some time now. Since these rites will find repeated use over several decades, final editing is very important so that every service, every rubric, every note, and every syllable appear as intended.
The rite for Holy Communion bears the title “The Service.” Three musical settings of The Service will be printed in the hymnal. Five to six more musical settings of The Service will appear in digital resources. The text of The Service remains essentially the same across the various settings of The Service. Variety is found in some of the prayer texts but is primarily found in the music of the different settings of The Service. Rites for Morning Prayer, Evening Prayer, and Compline have also been completed. The keyboard Accompaniment Edition for liturgy, psalms and Gospel Acclamations is slated to be a volume of at least 300 pages.
Some congregations participated in field tests of Setting Two of The Service. Setting Three of The Service will be introduced to congregations in a limited way in the Preview that will be available in January 2020. It is noteworthy that Setting Two and Setting Three will both have full settings for both organ and piano. This means that the organ versions of these settings will have their own instrument parts (brass, percussion, etc.), while the piano versions of these settings will also have their own instrument parts (C-instruments, guitar lead sheets, percussion, etc.).
Congregations can also look forward to a full set of Gospel Acclamations (alleluia refrains with a chanted verse of the day) for every Sunday and festival, as well as updated rites for seasonal services (Holy Week, Easter Vigil, etc.).
The liturgical art studio of Nicholas Markell is producing high quality liturgical icons for the various rites and sections of the hymnal and psalter. These images are also slated to be made available to congregations for purchase.
The WELS Hymnal Project includes print books numbering a total of approximately seventeen volumes. Among those volumes is an Agenda Book. This is the volume that includes rites frequently used by the pastor on special occasions such as the installation of a church council, the installation of a teacher, reception of new members, confirmation, etc. This volume and most of the other seventeen volumes are slated to be released simultaneously with the new hymnal, ready to be used for Advent 2021.
Four manuals are being written to support the new worship books of the WELS hymnal project. The four manuals will treat topics aimed at four audiences – pastors; musicians; congregational groups; lay devotions.
The current book that includes the background story for the hymns and the biographies for all of the authors and composers of the hymns was entitled: “Christian Worship: Handbook.” That comprehensive volume is being updated and will appear as an online resource.
The work of the Communications Committee is winding down. The members of the committee did a tremendous amount of work in the early years of the project by way of survey, data analysis, blog posts, FIC articles, news releases, etc. The committee continues to manage the project website where this summer update appears. The work of the Communications Committee will soon transition into the work of the Hymnal Introduction Program.
The three main initiatives of the hymnal project’s Technology Committee (TC) have not changed over the past five years.
1) The highest priority initiative of the TC has been a service builder program. We are pleased to announce that the licensing of this program has been finalized. The service builder program is “software as a service.” Users operate the software in a web browser rather than installing software on their own hard drives. All of the digital assets of the hymnal program will be available in the service builder program. Worship planning will be greatly facilitated. Undoubtedly, the two greatest strengths of this program will be time savings in producing service folders and the high-level quality of the service folders that the program exports. All WELS congregations will greatly benefit from this software which will be available by subscription. Those using OneLicense.net or CCLI.Com for reprint licensing will want to be aware of the fact that use of this new service builder program virtually eliminates the need for third party reprint licenses. We are eagerly looking forward to letting congregations know about this software starting in early 2020 as the Hymnal Introduction Program officially kicks off. The software itself will be available for Advent 2021 when the new hymnal materials launch.
2) A Musicians’ Resource is the second main initiative of the Technology Committee. This resource is now the main focus of the TC. We are preparing to make available thousands of individual music files in support of congregational singing. These resources would be available for purchase on an ala carte basis. Need a flute part for hymn #523? Like to have an alternate keyboard accompaniment for hymn #499? Need the brass part for the Glory to God in the Highest in Setting Three? Like to have the guitar lead sheet for Psalm 91? Literally thousands of such files will be available in the Musicians’ Resource. Work on the Musicians’ Resource is taking place on a daily basis.
3) A personal app for individual users to access the hymnal materials on a devotional basis is the third initiative of the TC. This resource has been intentionally delayed to the very end of the development timetable, so as to make use of the very latest emerging technology.
A 60-page booklet is being produced to introduce the new hymnal line of products to the members of our church body. Each congregation will receive multiple hard copies of this Preview. Please note that the Preview is not a sampler. It is not a booklet for use during worship. It is a booklet that shows features of the new hymnal, psalter, and other resources. It will foster conversations in your congregation about the decisions you will make as far as acquiring the new hymnal materials. The Preview will first be released at the January 2020 WELS Leadership Conference. The Hymnal Introduction Program will also formally begin its work at the same time.
The Preview will also begin to share with congregations plans they can make to fund purchases of new hymnal materials. Suffice it to say, before a pricing schedule has been set by Northwestern Publishing House, that we want to encourage all congregations to start planning and setting funds aside now for the new hymnal materials that will be ready for Advent 2021. We are pleased to hear that some congregations are already doing so.
Look forward to seeing in the Forward in Christ magazine a three-article series on the new hymnal, starting in October 2019.
Pastor Michael D. Schultz, director
WELS Hymnal Project