WELS Hymnal Project

Project Blog

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

“What will the main orders of service look like in the new hymnal?”

For the last several months, the Hymnal Project’s Rites Committee has focused on that question. We’d like to share some of our thoughts with you.

We are proposing that there be one basic structure for all the Communion services in the new hymnal. Please let me explain what we mean by that.

One thing that worshipers and worship leaders quickly noticed about Christian Worship’s Common Service and Service of Word and Sacrament was that things were in a different order in each service. In one service the Creed came after the Gospel; in another it came after the sermon. The Kyrie (“Lord, Have Mercy”) was in a different place in each, and actually seemed to have a different function in each service. A couple of other examples may come to mind.

On the one hand, such variety can be good. When parts of the service are in different places from Sunday to Sunday, it can make us give more thought to them. Additionally, most pastors and worship planners likely “change things up” a bit throughout the year, especially for festival services. Such variety is already a natural part of the way many of us typically worship throughout the year.

On the other hand, variety in the order of things can be a little confusing. Some of the confusion is practical. An example: remembering if there’s a Gospel acclamation (“Glory be to you, O Lord!” and “Praise be to you, O Christ!”) before and after the reading (as in the Common Service) or only after (as in Service of Word and Sacrament) can be a challenge for organists and—I can say from experience—for pastors! Other confusion can result when trying to understand and explain the function of different parts of the service. For instance, is “Lord, Have Mercy” primarily a prayer of confession (as in the Common Service), or is it a prayer humbly asking for many blessings from the Lord (as in Service of Word and Sacrament, Divine Service II, and Evening Prayer)?

Back to the Rites Committee’s proposal: We are proposing that settings of the main Communion service have the same basic progression. This means that if there were two main Communion services in the front of the new hymnal (this hasn’t been decided yet, but we mention it for the sake of an example), they would both have the same parts of the service in the same order.

But wait a minute. Won’t this result in a stultifying sameness?

We don’t believe so. Even with a consistent order of service, we envision many opportunities for some healthy variety:

  • There will be different musical settings of the canticles and other parts of the service. “Holy, Holy, Holy” would appear in all the services, but each would have its own tune and setting.

  • We plan on offering different wording in each service setting for things like the Confession of Sins and the prayers throughout the service.

  • Options for variety will be offered in the italicized rubrics throughout the service. As one example, under the heading for “Glory to God in the Highest” it would read, “‘This Is the Feast of Victory’ may be sung during the Easter season.”

  • We are exploring the possibility of a new preaching service, in the same vein as the Service of the Word. A service like this would offer an alternative order for congregations who would find it helpful.

  • We should also note that we don’t mean to say that it’s wrong to move parts of the service around occasionally. Nor do we intend to say that there’s only one “authorized” order for the parts of the service. Worship planners will still have the discretion to do that as they deem it beneficial for their flocks and their guests.

All in all, we believe that one basic framework for the main service will be beneficial. It will offer a solid skeleton that can be fleshed out in beautiful and different ways.

We look forward to introducing this basic framework for the main service during our field testing effort in 2016 and hearing your feedback. In the meantime, we welcome your initial reaction to the direction we’re heading.

Pastor Jon Micheel
Chairman, Rites Committee

You may have noticed that the May issue of Forward in Christ included an article about the hymnal project. That article is the first part of a written summary of what the hymnal project has learned so far through its various efforts to study the character of worship in our church body. The summary was prepared for the project's Executive Committee and shared with it at its February meeting.

The first part of that summary is now also published here on our website in the resources section. It will also appear in the Book of Reports and Memorials, prepared for this summer's synod convention.

The second part of the summary will be printed in the June issue of Forward in Christ. At that time the rest of it will also be published on our website.

I am not sure what my pastor will do a decade from now.

On this past Easter Sunday, he chose to have the choir sing the Psalm. It was Psalm 118, which will continue to be the appointed Psalm for Easter in the new lectionary. The choir piece had the refrain, “This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.” The words of the piece were printed in the bulletin.

On most Sundays, my pastor prints the Psalm in the service folder for the congregation to sing. Sometimes, when the Psalm is from the hymnal, he simply prints the page number in the service folder, and we all turn there in the hymnal.

When the new hymnal is published we hope to give my pastor the same option. There will be Psalms printed in the hymnal, and a Pastor will be able to direct the congregation to turn to that place. We are working on ways to make that process a little less confusing than it can be now.

We also hope to give my pastor an option that he does not have now. We would like to print a book of psalm settings, called a Psalter, and have that available for congregations to have in their worship spaces. It will contain the psalm settings in the hymnal, but will also have a wider variety of psalm settings to choose from. Congregations that have both hymnals and supplements in their pew racks now should find it easy to transition to having a hymnal and a psalter there.

Individuals who want to pray through the Psalms for their personal devotions might enjoy using the psalter, since it will contain all 150 Psalms and have suggestions for personal devotional use.

If my pastor continues to print everything in a paper bulletin, or even if he switches to projecting everything on a screen, we hope to make even more settings beyond those found in the hymnal or psalter available digitally.

Perhaps neither I nor my pastor will be alive a decade from now. But the Word of God remains eternally, and because of Jesus’ death and resurrection, “I will not die but live, and will proclaim what the Lord has done" (Psalm 118:17).

We've been hearing from a lot of people through our surveys over the past two years. We've collected responses from pastors, teachers, church musicians,and lay members, seeking input that will help to set the direction for the work of producing our new hymnal.

Recently, we’ve invited people to share with us their most treasured hymns. We also want to make a special effort to reach the students of our church body with this favorite hymn survey. Anyone who has spent time singing hymns with kids knows that they love singing a variety of hymns from ancient plainsong hymns like "Of the Father's Love Begotten", to Israeli tunes like "The King of Glory Comes", to the modern hymnody of Keith Getty and Stuart Townend. Kids like to sing hymns, and they're always eager to share their favorites. Plus, since the primary users of our next hymnal are still students, we want them to know that we are keeping them in mind during its development.

We're conducting a favorite hymns survey for students. It’s accompanied by a lesson plan that can be used as a year-end activity for Hymnology, Religion, or Catechism class. If you are a Lutheran school teacher, Sunday school teacher, or Catechism instructor, we invite you to use these materials in your classroom.

We hope to cultivate among our youth an interest in this hymnal project and to find out more about their interests regarding hymnody. It should be a treat to find out the results of this survey and to see how our current hymnal and its supplement have influenced this younger generation.

The deadline for completing this survey is May 31.

For more information and all of the necessary resources, visit the survey page in the research section of our website.

Thank you for your assistance in cultivating a love of hymnody among our students!

Our favorite things are normally not hard for us to identify. As a result, asking “what’s a favorite hymn?” might sound a little strange. But when you think about it, this isn't a simple question. “Do I pick my favorite based on the words that proclaim my Savior and touch my heart…or on the melody I want to keep humming through the day…or should I pick one from my favorite season of the church year?” When it comes to hymns, there’s a lot to love.

You might value a hymn because you know it by heart. You might love a hymn because of the meaning it carried at a special occasion, like a funeral for a loved one or your child’s Confirmation Day. Maybe you can think of a precious hymn that takes you back to the candlelight of Christmas Eve or the trumpeted triumph of Easter morning. Maybe you feel drawn to a hymn’s unparalleled poetry. Maybe you cherish the way both melody and message are perfectly tuned and married to each other. (You get the idea…this list could go on forever!)

But even now, we've barely scratched the surface. At the end of the day, consider the many ways the hymns we sing have served your spiritual needs over the years - helping you, guiding you, equipping you and training you through the varied stages and experiences of life. The Word communicated in a hymn brings the comforting embrace of our Father’s forgiveness. Hymns provide the reassuring shoulder to soothe our inner pain and panic. Like personal reminders, hymns review credal truths and rehearse the words and works of our Savior. Like lyrical lips, hymns help our mouths and hearts express our praise and thanksgiving to God.

Picking your favorite hymns may not be so easy after all, but that’s the very thrill of it. In the middle of this hymnal project, we pause to remember the many hymns that have served us so well. That’s what this survey is all about. This is not a vote, where you need to save your favorite hymns from getting cut. We simply want to know the hymns that are close to your heart. Use this survey as an opportunity to celebrate our rich heritage of hymns by sharing with us your personal treasures!

For more information and instructions for completing the survey, head over to the research section of our website.