WELS Hymnal Project

Project Blog

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

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

A few questions on the recent survey to pastors dealt with rites. Included in the “rites” category are Sunday services, devotions, prayers, and services for special occasions (confirmation, weddings, funerals, and many others).

First, let me say thanks again to all the pastors who took time to fill out the recent survey. All of us on the Rites Committee serve as parish pastors, and we realize that time is in short supply. We’re grateful to you for sharing your thoughts. Please allow me to offer a few comments in light of what you wrote.

You’re using what’s in the books.

While there are some pastors who craft their own rites for special occasions or for Sunday services, most pastors in our synod, it seems, often use what’s already there. A very high percentage of you reported that you often utilize the rites and prayers in Christian Worship, in Christian Worship Altar Book (CWAB), Christian Worship Occasional Services (CWOS) and Christian Worship Pastor’s Companion (CWPC). You likely modify these rites based on circumstances, but you often turn to them.

This leads me to conclude two things. First, few, if any, are suggesting that we throw everything out and start from scratch. Should we make updates and modifications? Yes, but we shouldn’t throw out the baby with the bathwater when it comes to our hymnal resources. Second, whatever is in the books had better be good! Since many pastors turn to these resources often, we need to ensure that what you’re turning to is of high quality.

You’d like more options.

Many of you offered suggestions for additional rites, prayers and service settings. Some examples, along with some thoughts in response to what you wrote:

  • Prayer of the Church. For this longer prayer, some would like more options that reflect, if only briefly, thoughts in the Scripture lessons for the day. Many make use of the LC-MS “Let Us Pray” resources, as well as prayers by authors in our synod. Could we add more Prayer of the Church options for variety’s sake? Even options for specific, non-festival Sundays?
  • The Prayer of the Day (traditionally called the “collect”). These historic prayers, many of which have been used for well over a millenium, are appreciated because of their concise, expressive language and deep roots. Nevertheless, you would like alternatives, especially some that connect more closely with the Scripture lessons of the day.
  • Festival services. Many would like to see more service settings for festivals and commemorations throughout the year, like Ascension, Christmas Eve (something besides Lessons and Carols), Reformation, Pentecost, Thanksgiving and others. I could see a digital compendium being an ideal place for such services; imagine a website where special services were regularly posted. Fresh ones could be added every few years. However, I wonder about including many such services in a print edition. Take a special Reformation order of service, for instance. Would it be widely used for a couple years, but then be considered “old hat” after that? The number of special festival service settings and in what format they’ll be offered--we’ll need to think more about that, but we realize it is something many pastors would value.
  • Service settings for main Sunday services. Quite a few mentioned using service settings by David Haas and Marty Haugen. Fresh musical settings are definitely something we’re looking into. These settings should be relatively easy to learn, accessible to people with varying levels of musical training (even no training at all), and generally singable. And they should “wear well,” being useful for many years. That’s a tall order, but we consider it a very important part of our work.
  • Service elements. Not only would you like new options for whole services, but also for parts of the service. An example would be alternate forms for confession and absolution -- some even hearkened back to the confessional service in The Lutheran Hymnal. We could note that CWOS has Corporate Confession, but perhaps you’re saying that you’d like more such options in the main hymnal for easy reference and regular use. Alternate forms for other portions of the service would be appreciated, too.
  • Options for other services. Many would like more options for midweek services, such as those in Advent and Lent. The current Evening Prayer (Vespers) and Prayer at the Close of Day (Compline) services can work well, but a few more options would be appreciated. Likewise for chapel services: the current devotions in CW and the newer ones in CWS are certainly useful, but more sound alternatives would be used, too.

One thing to remember is that there will always be a need for pastors to adapt and even compose services and prayers. As many rites as we may add, the unique needs of every congregation and mission field will require rites-related work. But the hymnal project will aim to help pastors in that work.

Finally, I’d encourage pastors to take another look at the current Christian Worship resources. Did you know that in CW Altar Book there’s a Prayer of the Church for Good Shepherd Sunday? (It’s at the very end of a section.) Did you know there’s an alternate funeral service in CW Occasional Services? That there’s a rite in the same book for receiving new members, either by transfer or by adult confirmation? That in CW Pastor’s Companion there are prayer suggestions for congregational meetings? Many pastors do know about these resources, but, based on survey responses, some do not. I’d encourage all pastors to glance at the table of contents in these books. Order them for your congregation if you don’t have them; they will be used often in the next decade before new resources are released.

Thanks again, pastors, for your responses. Please continue to share your thoughts. May the Lord bless your labor!