Dear friends in Christ,
I often have to remind myself that not everyone is as familiar with what’s going on with the hymnal project as I am. As I write this winter update in December 2015, I have been doing the full time work of a project director for three years. And yet, even our own hymnal project subcommittees have not been “at it” for all that long. An Executive Committee first met face to face in September 2013. Thereafter, other project committees began to meet online or in person (Scripture Committee – November 2013; Psalmody, Rites, Communication, and Technology Committees – January 2014; Hymnody Committee first face to face meeting – May 2014). While the hymnal project website launched in July 2013, it didn’t contain a great deal of information in those early days before the committees had even met for the first time.
So, while I have been fully engaged in this work for three years, the hymnal project subcommittees have only been fully functional themselves for approximately eighteen to twenty-four months. It took a while for the committees to become orientated to the work and to lay the groundwork for all that they would be doing.
Now, however, all the subcommittees are fully engaged. We have been mapping out a timeline which will allow them to cover all the work necessary to release a new hymnal and its attendant resources somewhere in the early 2020s. (We’re not yet at the point of knowing a firm release date.)
Thus, with the committees just beginning to churn out tangible materials, we readily recognize that not everyone in our church body has a clear grasp of where things stand. At this point we wouldn’t expect that to be the case for a hymnal which is projected to be released more than half a decade from now. On the other hand, we do want to bring people along as best we can in providing information relative to the status of the work that’s being done.
The Communications Committee completed four national surveys in calendar year 2014. Those surveyed were pastors, teachers and Sunday School teachers, musicians, and all WELS members. The results have been processed and consulted repeatedly as the project subcommittees have set about their work. A review of each week’s appointed scripture lessons, hymn and psalm choices, and other worship information, slated to be covered over three years and accelerated to be wrapped up in two years, has also now been completed. This brings the Communication Committee to the point of working with focus groups around the country to field test individual items on which the other subcommittees wish to receive feedback. Thanks to all who have (and who yet will) provide this very important and helpful information.
Active since the summer of 2013, the project website has brought us over 700 submissions of individual items, the majority of which have been hymns. Individual comments received through the website now number over a thousand. All comments and submissions have been reviewed and archived. Many comments and submissions also make their way into a pipeline which has been set up as a way for subcommittees to treat and potentially act on the materials and comments received.
The Scripture Committee has spent countless hours creating first drafts of a church year calendar and a revised lectionary (three-year set of scripture readings for use in public worship; cf. Christian Worship, pp. 162-166). This committee has responded to the preference of our church body’s pastors by providing a lectionary draft which has a unified theme across all three lessons appointed for the Sundays and festivals. The lectionary is being and will continue to be reviewed and critiqued on a number of different levels over the next several years.
On a regular and frequent basis, the Psalmody Committee now reviews upwards of twenty to thirty musical settings of a particular psalm. The committee is on a path toward providing not only approximately seventy psalm settings for the front pages of the next hymnal (similar to Christian Worship, pp. 64-122) but also textual and musical presentations of all 150 psalms in an additional, self-standing volume (called a Psalter). As the Christian Worship psalmody format has in so many cases brought back to our congregations regular singing of the psalms, the work of the Psalmody Committee will make many more psalms available for singing (and for personal devotion) in both regular public worship settings and other settings as well (school chapel services; congregational meetings; group devotions; etc.).
The Hymnody Committee has completed a first pass of reviewing all the existing hymns in Christian Worship and Christian Worship Supplement. It will be a few years yet before a “final hymn list” is identified. For now, rankings of hymns give an initial indication of which hymns are slated for inclusion in the next hymnal and which are not. In this regard there will be a fair amount of individual hymns shifting back and forth (inclusion/exclusion) as consideration is given to existing hymns and “new” hymns (new to us as far as being in our hymnal, but both ancient and recent in regard to when they were written). The text and music subcommittees of the Hymnody Committee meet monthly to treat approximately 20 existing hymns a month, and the committee is in the process of compiling a list of hundreds of new hymns for consideration.
The Rites Committee has spent well over a year working on the text and flow of what might most easily be called a “main communion service.” This historic service is very similar to Christian Worship’s Common Service (p. 15) and Christian Worship Supplement’s Divine Service 1 (p. 15). Envisioned for this service are both a new musical setting for the songs of the liturgy (printed in the hymnal), and alternate musical settings for the same service, available electronically. Various services from the current hymnal and supplement which are familiar to WELS worshipers will continue to be available in some form, to insure that when our next hymnal is released, congregations will have continuing access to familiar materials, while also being able to learn (at their own desired pace) musical service settings which are new. The committee will also be working on a service similar to The Service of the Word (Christian Worship, p. 38), and other services such as Morning Praise, Evening Prayer, etc.
We recently added one more committee to work on additional rites, referred to as “Occasional Services.” Pastors especially will be familiar with the current volume, Christian Worship: Occasional Services, which includes rites such as installations, dedications, reception of new members, and the like. We don’t anticipate that all of the services in the current book will need major overhauls, but this work will also allow for a review of language in the book and will allow us to add services that were not included in the current volume (e.g., anniversary of a congregation).
The Technology Committee continues to concentrate on three main areas or resources. A worship service planning application is being pursued. This program will take virtually all of the hymnal materials and make them digitally available for both planning worship services (church calendar based; hymn selection; service selection) and printing service folders. It is too early to promise what such an application might be able to do, but such a software program is a high priority for the committee. Additionally, the research work continues toward making available a personal digital hymnal (as an application for a tablet or phone) and developing a digital framework for musicians (an array of additional musical resources in support of what appears in the hymnal and psalter).
Work on an updated Handbook is in its initial stages. The Handbook provides background information on all of the hymns. An existing single volume called Christian Worship: Manual will most likely become four separate volumes, presenting a broad treatment of all of the hymnal resources, with target audiences of 1) pastors and worship leaders; 2) congregational groups and worship committees; 3) musicians and choirs; and 4) all congregation members.
On a regular sheet of paper, this winter update approaches three pages in length. It reaches all those - but only those - who subscribe to or visit the project website. In connection with field testing materials with focus groups, the Communication Committee also plans to soon release a more detailed report of the specific work of all of the committees. This report will go out through WELS Communications to all congregations. It is our hope that this update and that report will provide fairly comprehensive coverage of the hymnal project work. We remain committed to providing the best public worship resources we can compile, so that Jesus Christ might be proclaimed, believed, and honored.
On behalf of the WELS hymnal project,
Rev. Michael Schultz, director