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.