WELS Hymnal Project

Project Blog

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

Several questions on the survey that went out to WELS teachers back in May asked about the use of Christian Worship (CW) and Christian Worship Supplement (CWS) rites in educational settings. I’m happy to be able to share some of the results from that survey and the way they will impact the work of the Rites Committee of the hymnal project.

First, a little quiz. One of the questions asked this:

“Which version of the Lord’s Prayer do you use most frequently in the classroom?”

Between the traditional version (“Our Father, who art in heaven…”) and the modern version (“Our Father in heaven…”), one is used by 56% of those who responded and the other by 44%. Can you guess which percentage goes with each? You’ll find the answer at the bottom of this article.

Second—and my main point—is an observation about how CW and CWS devotions, meditations, prayers, canticles, etc. are being used in classrooms. In short, they aren’t, at least not often.

Really there’s nothing wrong with this. If you’re content with using the opening devotions in Christ-Light, that’s great. If you’ve found a reliable devotion book for your classroom, excellent. And if Chapel Talks provides you with all you need for Christ-centered chapel services, then why look for other options?

At the same time, I can see some benefits from occasionally making use of the hymnal and supplement in chapel or classroom. One is that there are several devotions and meditations that get Scripture into the ears, minds, and mouths of students. The Scripture passages in the CWS meditations, for instance, can be helpful to all ages. Another benefit of going to CW and CWS is that kids can get familiar with what’s in those books. That familiarity can help them participate when they encounter the same prayers, songs, and rites in church services. And finally, the hymnal and supplement can be sound sources of variety, even if teachers want to stick with devotion books or Christ-Light as their go-to resources.

The comments on the survey showed some of the reasons why teachers don’t often turn to CW and CWS for classroom or chapel devotions. One that I mentioned above is contentment with other devotional materials. Another is brevity. Classroom devotions need to be brief, and some commented that even the short Morning Devotion in CW is too long. Those in primary grade classrooms noted that often the language of CW prayers is too complex for their students.

One other factor I wonder about is this: Are the devotions in the hymnal starting to become old hat? They’ve been around for over twenty years now, and maybe they just feel worn out to many of us. (A related question: Do many people know that there are seven short meditations in CWS?)

Moving ahead with the hymnal project, the rites committee will look into possible ways of making devotional rites and prayers more useful for classroom and chapel services. And when the new hymnal is done, we’ll try to ensure that teachers know about the resources that are available.

In the meantime, at the risk of being presumptuous (I’m not in the classroom every day) could I offer a few suggestions for using what you may have on hand in CW or CWS?

  • Use devotions only occasionally. Use a CW devotion or CWS meditation once in a while, maybe one day a week for a quarter. Then come back after a quarter and try a different meditation. These short rites might “wear” a little better if used sparingly.
  • Modify as needed. You don’t need to use rites exactly as written. Shorten devotional rites if you need to. Skip a part if you’re short on time. Rather than using the personal prayers in CW (pp. 134-139) verbatim, try using them for prayer ideas, if not word for word. (Also check out the “Plan for Intercession” in CWS for help in praying for people you might otherwise forget.)
  • Repeat for young worshipers. With younger students, pick shorter sections and repeat them often. For instance, use the opening dialog of CW’s Morning Devotion for a few weeks. Or teach the kids “O Christ, Lamb of God” from Divine Service I or in CWS and sing it once a week. The general Alleluia Verse from Divine Service II might be a good choice, too.
  • Use electronic resources – See if your church has the electronic version of CWS. Try getting an electronic copy of the short meditations for morning or midday. Instead of using (or having to purchase) the books for your classroom, project a copy of the meditation on your screen or Smart board. Create a desktop shortcut so you can use it easily once in a while.

Finally, the answer I promised. The survey said that 44% of respondents use the traditional version of the Lord’s Prayer in their classrooms. 56% use the more modern wording. Perhaps this indicates that there is not a “one size fits all” solution to rites and prayers for devotions and chapel services. Nevertheless, think about making use of what’s available as we await what will be in the new hymnal. And thanks for taking the time to send us your thoughts!

This past May the Communications Committee conducted a survey of WELS teachers. I’ve taken time to review the results of the survey and consider their influence on the direction of our work as the Technology Committee of the WELS Hymnal Project.

Worship is a part of the daily and weekly schedule at WELS schools. Like academic subjects, the quality of worship in the classroom and in the school is usually proportional to teachers’ effectiveness in planning and implementation. Many of the teachers who participated in the survey clearly put tremendous effort into their plans and practices—God be praised for their faithfulness!

The Technology Committee will consider tools and methods designed to lighten the workload on teachers wishing to include solid worship practices in classroom devotions, hymnology instruction, and chapel services. Useful digital resources will help teachers to be even more effective in their planning and carrying out of worship in WELS schools.

We can offer appropriate technology to assist singing in the classroom

The survey indicated that teachers do not often use digital technology to assist in singing hymns in the classroom. A Technology Committee would be tempted to assume that our goal should be to increase the use of digital technology, but we will resist that temptation. Here’s why: Half of the respondents indicated that they frequently use a keyboard to lead classroom singing. Martin Luther College trains teachers with keyboard skills for good reason. A live musician leading classroom and chapel singing with mechanical technology like the upright piano is a great option for WELS students.

However, for those who do not have keyboard skills, it seems the most frequent alternative is the venerable compact disc player. WELS teachers, however, crave a library of encoded audio files (i.e. MP3, AAC) with high-quality recordings of hymns—both with and without vocal tracks. WELS teachers also envision that such recordings be available for convenient playback on a mobile application.

We can offer additional hymn classification and organization to help teachers find age-appropriate hymnody

As I reviewed the survey data I came across quite a few comments from lower-grade teachers and early childhood directors asking for hymns, rites, and prayers appropriate for little ones. While the matter of simplified English in rites, prayers, and hymns is something other WELS Hymnal Project committees would consider, the Technology Committee certainly envisions the ability to deliver such content, if developed, through a worship planning database.

In our current hymnal, Christian Worship, hymns are categorized under only one set of terms. The hymnal categorizes hymns either by season of the church year (e.g. “Advent”, “Easter”) or topic (e.g. “Trust”, ”Justification”). A paper-based resource can only have one main categorization system. While an index may also provide additional categorization, there is not always room to print multiple indices for specialized needs.

A digital compendium of hymns, on the other hand, can categorize hymns with multiple sets of terms. The more traditional system of church year and topical categorization can function alongside more specialized categorizations. For example, a digital compendium would enable us to categorize age-appropriate hymns for different grade levels, thus giving an early childhood director the ability to generate a list of hymns suitable for preschool-age children.

This is only one example of additional categorization. Themes and scriptural allusions are other categories that the Technology Committee is monitoring as possibilities. We will work with committees like Hymnody, Psalmody, Scripture, and Rites to assist them in building these additional indices of terms and categories. Our vision is to include useful sorting and filtering capabilities in the finished product.

Thank you

As a pastor of a congregation with an elementary school, I enjoyed seeing the wide range of interesting answers and insights into how WELS classrooms integrate Christian worship into their daily and weekly schedules. Thank you for taking the time to share your remarks with us.

Is hymnology on the decline in our circles?

We wanted to find the answer to that question as part of the survey sent to WELS teachers earlier this year. Even when the answers from respondents in whose classrooms you wouldn’t expect to find hymnology (e.g. preschool, college) were filtered out, it seems as though about 30% of our classrooms don’t include hymnology in the curriculum. Since the question was asked of teachers in a wide variety of settings, those results may be inconclusive or inaccurate. Your personal experience and anecdotal evidence could probably paint a more accurate picture.

Why is hymnology so important? Early Lutherans suffered persecution and even death because they would not stop singing Christ-centered hymns. In our early days, singing Lutheran hymns was often an act of protest against hostile authorities. Even Roman Catholic bishops opined that Luther's hymns had "damned" far more souls than Luther's sermons! If hymnology is becoming less common in our classrooms, we are walking increasingly out of step with this grand tradition. No room in the curriculum for hymnody at a Lutheran school? I would humbly suggest a prayerful reconsideration of this practice.

And this is the key: Luther's church was the singing church, but not because of any feature of Germanic culture. Luther's church was the singing church because early Lutherans taught their children how and what to sing. Music, both theoretical and practical, made up roughly one quarter of the Lutheran curriculum for 200 years of our history. For centuries, it was simply understood that the school choirs would take the lead in singing at church. Singing hymns served as a major bridge between the classroom's desk and the church's pew. It still can today.

If hymnology is in the decline, it would certainly parallel what is happening to music across our land. Children are not taught the "sounds of America" (Yankee Doodle, etc.) any longer in school. Music programs are scrapped when budgetary belts need tightening. With the help of our iPods, we are consuming music like never before. Ironically, we seem to be creating less and less of it. Any serious attempt at teaching hymnody will find a teacher swimming against the cultural stream!

And that's ok. We go against that same cultural stream when we catechize, teach Bible history, teach a Christian worldview, etc. There are some aspects of the Christian life that can’t be "caught." More often than not, the Christian faith - including Christian hymns - needs to be taught. This teaching will become more and more difficult as the world spins toward the day of its judgment.

Until then, I'll offer a bit of advice and an insight. The advice? The lessons we teach students today will accompany our students for a lifetime. The hymns you teach to ten-year-olds will be sung by them in a nursing home when they are ninety-year-olds. Picture the ninety-year-olds in the school desks! Teach them what will last. Teach them what they will need for a lifetime - including sickness and death-time.

The insight? I've found this to be true: Students learn to love what their teachers are passionate about. A good place to start would be to make sure we are well-versed in the raw gospel power found in our hymnody. As we do, faith will flourish and rafters will once again rise in Lutheran churches! That's not the wishful thinking of a pastoral musician. The gospel has always found a way to make it happen!

You might have heard that a hymnology curriculum is currently being developed by our synod’s Commission on Worship. In the meantime, we’d love to hear what you’ve found to work (and what you’ve found to be frustrating). What can our next hymnal include to assist you as you share our gospel-rich heritage of music with the next generation?

I write these words at 33,000 feet over central Wisconsin. I'm on my way to spend some time with the brothers at the Arizona-California District Pastors' Conference. I've packed my essay, plenty of music samples, and my scuffed-up organ shoes for Wednesday evening's hymn festival. Since I have hymns on my mind and in my fingers, I also packed the results of the survey that went out to WELS teachers earlier this year. I have all of Minnesota, South Dakota, Wyoming, Utah, Nevada, and California to review and react to the results.

Christian Worship is in the pews of over 98% of our churches. Not surprisingly, Christian Worship is also found stashed between math and social studies books in a vast majority of our synod's classrooms. Roughly 80% of WELS classrooms use Christian Worship as their chief source for hymnology and memory work. Even more (94%) use Christian Worship for school worship settings (classroom devotions and chapel services). It seems that the use of Christian Worship in our classrooms is nearly as widespread as in our churches.

But there was one item on the survey that was somewhat surprising: The relatively low use of Christian Worship Supplement (CWS) in our classrooms. When it comes to classroom devotions and chapel services, 63% of teachers are using the Supplement “occasionally” or “seldom/never.” When it comes to hymnology and memorization, that number jumps to 77%.

This is somewhat surprising since CWS has many titles that are made-to-order for students. I can picture the eyes of several junior choir girls tearing up as we sang the Gettys’ "There Is a Higher Throne." The simple refrain of "Blessed Are They Who Are Called" is a favorite of our younger students. "God's Own Child I Gladly Say It" is a beautiful baptismal hymn that children will love. "I Want to Walk as a Child of the Light" served as the theme song for a whole school year. It was extra-special when God's assembled Children of Light sang that same hymn by candlelight at our first Epiphany candlelight service.

In short, the Supplement has much gold for students to mine. Maybe you’ve hesitated to add one more book to buy to an already-long list and to squeeze into an already-full desk. Consider starting by purchasing enough copies for one class or choir to use at a time and storing those copies with the rest of your sacred music files.

Whether you’ve already made extensive use of the Supplement or not, we recognize the challenge in finding hymns that children - especially the younger ones - can understand and learn to sing. We’d love to hear what hymns you’ve found to be well-suited for praise from the lips of the children you teach.

During 2014, the WELS Hymnal Project has conducted three surveys to solicit input about how the current hymnal is being used and how the new hymnal can best serve our church body. The first was for pastors, the second for teachers, and the third for musicians. This fourth survey, intended for all WELS members, asks for feedback on things like chanting psalms, instruments suited for accompany worship, wording for the songs and prayers of worship, and singing hymns and songs of the liturgy in four-part harmony.

We would be very appreciative if you would take a few minutes of your time to give us your input. The deadline to submit your input is Tuesday, November 25, 2014.

Take the survey