WELS Hymnal Project

Project Blog

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

On September 10 and 11, the hymnal project’s executive committee met at the synod’s Center for Mission and Ministry in Waukesha, Wisconsin. This was the executive committee’s third face-to-face meeting since first meeting in September of 2013.

Considerable time was spent discussing various issues that will eventually shape the hymnal’s table of contents. Most people would rightly expect a hymnal to include 600+ hymns. But how many orders of service will it include? How many psalms? With many more of today’s congregations printing out an order of service each week, those questions will inevitably be discussed differently than they were two decades ago. We will continue to strive to provide a resource that serves the public worship needs of the various churches of our synod.

The executive committee also spent time discussing issues that will help us shape the hymnal’s contents. For example, how will we make decisions about various language issues? By what criteria will hymns be evaluated? By what process will new submissions from the public be reviewed? Laying a good foundation in these matters will help us make wise decisions in the future.

Looking forward, the executive committee will continue to solicit input about how our current hymnal is being used and how the new hymnal can best serve our church body. The fourth and final major survey will be launched during October. This last survey is intended for any and all worshipers in our church body.

In a little more than a year’s time, the executive committee will be looking for feedback on potential new resources that are being considered for this next hymnal. Congregations will have an opportunity to field test various resources and offer us input about them.

Finally, the executive committee’s meeting served as an opportunity to celebrate twenty-five years in ministry for the project director, Pastor Michael Schultz. Prior to serving as the hymnal project’s director, Pastor Schultz served congregations in Lawrenceville, Georgia, and Flagstaff, Arizona. An afternoon service was held at the Center for Mission and Ministry’s chapel. Pictures from that service can be seen here.

Join us in thanking God for the blessings he has given to Pastor Schultz and to our church body through him. Join us in continuing to pray for God’s richest blessings on the ongoing work of all those involved in the hymnal project.

Ever since our three-year lectionary reset on December 1, 2013, about one hundred congregations a week have been filling out a review form related to their congregation’s worship that week. The review form gives them the opportunity to submit information on hymn, lesson, and order of service usage. It also gives them the opportunity to provide feedback on how well those service elements tied together and served their gospel proclamation for that particular day.

In order that the various project subcommittees can proceed with their work, we plan to review both years B and C simultaneously starting on November 30, 2014, with Advent 1.

We hope to get roughly the same number of congregations participating in each year and therefore are once again extending the invitation for any congregation to participate. Since some congregations may already have plans in place for Year B, we are especially in need of congregations who are able and willing to use and review Year C during the coming year.

If you haven’t been participating, here’s how the process works. On Monday of each week, the contact person from each participating congregation receives an email. That email contains a link to an online form for reviewing the congregation’s worship for the previous Sunday. During Year A, we have also been providing a summary report of the previous week’s data and a brief sermon insight for one of the lessons for the coming week. We are seeking feedback on whether or not there is interest in continuing to receive these last two items.

If you would like to participate, you may register by filling out this online registration form. PLEASE NOTE: Even if your congregation is already participating, we ask that you fill out the form so that we know what year (B or C) you’d like to review. Registrations are due by October 1, 2014.

The third of four planned surveys conducted by the WELS Hymnal Project is now underway. This survey is intended for worship personnel, that is, any and all individuals involved in the planning and executing of music for worship in our synod’s congregations. This includes, but is not necessarily limited to, organists, pianists, choir directors, instrumentalists, music ministers/coordinators, and worship committee members.

If you fall into that category, we ask that you would assist us by taking a few minutes to offer us your valued input.

The survey can be found here.

The deadline for filling out this survey is Friday, August 1.

We thank you for your time, valuable input, and ongoing service to Christ in your congregations.

It’s really no different from the discussion you’ve heard about stewardship. We’d be kidding ourselves to think that a fall stewardship program once a year fully takes care of training Christian stewards. That kind of training takes place on an ongoing basis year after year.

Public worship is no different. That’s rather obvious when viewed against the backdrop of another triennial WELS National Worship Conference taking place this week in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Education about why we do what we do in worship is an ongoing thing, year in and year out. Honing our methodology and fine-tuning our resources are matters that will occupy us until we lift up our heads with joy to see our salvation drawing near at the return of Jesus Christ.

I make these less-than-earth-shaking comments in connection with the posting of the second edition of Viva Vox, now available on our hymnal project website. If you didn’t catch the notice when the first edition was posted about six months ago, Viva Vox is a worship newsletter that was published in the 1950s by editors Rev. Ralph Gehrke and Rev. Kurt Eggert. So many of the topics they covered are topics on which we are still working today. It’s that church militant thing. These matters will be on our plates on a continuing basis until our Lord calls us home.

For example, scroll through edition 1.2, posted here on the hymnal project website. Look at the topics that are covered. Fourteen years after the publication of The Lutheran Hymnal, the wording of Introits and Graduals was already being critically assessed as far as its suitability for the lessons designated for particular Sundays (cf. the report on “The Meeting at Trinity”). The Psalmody Committee of our hymnal project will soon be in the thick of that same type of work as it relates to the 1993 Christian Worship lectionary. “Introit- and Gradual-Songs” mentioned in that report are the myriad psalm songs/settings and gospel acclamations (or alleluia verses) appearing on the Christian worship landscape today. The degree of connectedness between the lessons of any given Sunday or festival (also treated in that report) is something with which the Scripture Committee will wrestle approximately 200 times for the Sundays and festivals of our next hymnal’s three-year series.

The article in edition 1.2 entitled “Possessing Our Heritage” could have been written yesterday. Apparently, it wasn’t easy in the 1950s to encourage congregations to “keep at it” as far as learning and using the body of textually strong and, in some cases, musically challenging Lutheran chorales. The Hymnody Committee of our current project is tackling identical issues as far as the preservation and use of that body of hymnody as one genre among many. Antiphonal singing of hymns (advantages of doing so are listed in the article) and having choirs sing “service music” rather than only anthems are contemporary issues for public worship in Lutheran churches today.

“Service Guide for the Sundays of the Church Year” is very similar to “Planning Christian Worship” which is available on WELS Connect. Personnel on the hymnal project will again be working on this type of helpful resource for worship planning.

While we may not always be working on a new hymnal per se, we’ll always be working on hymnal and worship resources. Along with the resources come the continuing education efforts aimed at all who will make use of the resources. When we become members of the Church Triumphant, honing and fine-tuning and education will give way to the wonderful and engaging “work” of worshiping the King full time, without fail, without exhaustion, without sin, and with indescribable joy.

When you have a moment, give Viva Vox 1.2 a look. Summer blessings in Christ!

I wasn’t surprised when I studied the results of the Hymnal Project’s survey of WELS pastors. I have had the opportunity to serve as a consultant for the WELS Schools of Worship and Outreach, so I’ve seen what a lot of our congregations are doing on Sunday morning. Anecdotally, I could say, “WELS worship is lectionary-based.”

I wasn’t surprised, but I was pleased when I saw that the data confirmed my general impression. Question 31 of that survey asked pastors what sets the agenda for the scriptural content of Sunday morning worship. Overwhelmingly, WELS congregations are using the lectionaries that are part of the Christian Worship line. With 95% of our church body following the Church Year and the lectionary, the Scripture Committee is firmly committed to making our next hymnal a project that reflects that.

Seeing those numbers, it’s tempting for us as a Scripture Committee to simply photocopy pages 163-166 in Christian Worship and move on. If it’s not broken, why fix it, right?

Looking at the survey a little closer, however, you quickly realize that the first response (93%) includes congregations who use CW or Christian Worship Supplement lectionaries. A large number of congregations are using the supplemental readings that were provided in CWS. The Supplement offered a broad revision of the three-year lectionary. It features Old Testament narratives that bring many Sunday School stories into the main service. It replaced continual readings (lectio continua) in the Epistles with lessons selected to fit the theme of the Sunday. Many worship leaders and worship participants have expressed appreciation for the addition of the Old Testament narrative and the thematic approach to lesson selection. For example, during the Easter Season, about 50% of congregations participating in the hymnal project’s three-year lectionary review have been using the alternate first lessons suggested in the Supplement.

The Scripture Committee’s review of the lectionary hopes to build on the work that CWS began. Here’s the initial outline of what we’re looking to do:

  • The Gospels in the CW lectionary will largely be retained.
  • The Gospel will establish the theme for the Sunday.
  • Lessons will be thematic (no lectio continua).
  • The First Lesson will be balanced between prophecy and narrative; during the Easter Season it will feature Acts.
  • We will provide for three lessons each Sunday. Alternate lessons could be provided in additional digital content.
  • All Old Testament narrative texts will be preaching selections. Some of the narratives featured in the Supplement weren’t intended as preaching texts due to their length.
  • We will publish a version of the historic one-year lectionary.
  • Additional digital content could be made available including: sets of thematic series, special commemoration days, and sets of continual readings.

Thanks for everyone who took part in this survey. We need your input, and we are listening. Please continue to share your thoughts with us.

Serving with you and and for you,

Jonathan Schroeder