WELS Hymnal Project

Project Blog

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

Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

Permit me to share a few items related to the hymnal project worthy of your attention.

  1. Thank you to everyone who participated in the favorite hymn survey. Between the survey that went out to everyone and the one designed specifically for students, we had over 3,000 responses come in. During the coming weeks we plan to share some of the results and create additional opportunities to celebrate together the rich collection of hymnody with which God has graciously blessed us.
  2. Issue 2.1 of Viva Vox has been published in the "Resources" section of our website. Viva Vox (The Living Voice [of the Gospel]) was a worship newsletter circulated by Rev. Kurt Eggert and Prof. Ralph Gehrke in the 1950s. We trust that you'll find these issues not only interesting but also edifying. This issue also includes a series of graphics that portray the path of worship described in one of the issues articles.
  3. At the end of this week, the hymnal project's executive committee will be meeting at our synod's Center for Mission and Ministry. As we continue to carry out our work, your prayers are appreciated.

In Christ,

Pastor Jonathan Bauer
Communications Committee

This past April, I had the privilege of presenting an update on the work of the WELS Hymnal Project at two pastors' conferences in the Western Wisconsin District. The report I prepared for those pastors' conferences is now posted on the WELS Hymnal Project website in the resources section.

“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).