WELS Hymnal Project

Project Blog

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

“Early in the process of preparing Christian Worship: A Lutheran Hymnal, it became evident that if the resources contained in the hymnal were to be fully utilized, a manual of some kind was necessary. Members of the Joint Hymnal Committee time and again commented that a given suggestion belonged ‘in the manual.’” (Christian Worship: Manual, p. xv) These are words with which the introduction of Christian Worship: Manual begins.

With the hymnal project 2024, the Commission on Worship didn’t wait for the process to begin before appointing a chairman to oversee the production of those additional books that will stand alongside the new hymnal. More than produce a stand-alone hymnal, the hymnal project intends to publish materials that can assist worshipers, musicians, worship assistants (altar guild, elders, acolytes, audio/visual teams, etc.), and pastors in the worship life of the congregation. God willing, these resources will appear at the same time the new hymnal reaches production.

In our electronic age, we recognize that some of the materials we used to find in a book are more suited as digital resources. For instance, what is presently published as the book Christian Worship: Handbook (a well researched and thorough volume) could be made more user friendly in terms of research and “cut and paste” if it were in a digital format. In collaboration with the other committees within the hymnal project, the Literature Committee hopes to produce digital resources that would benefit all the various individuals and groups who participate in worship.

Still, there is something to be said about the publication of a printed and bound volume. Books, as such, tend to carry a weight of authority and the promise of a more thorough and reliable editing process. In addition to the electronic resources, the Literature Committee will oversee the production of a book or books of a more “professional” nature which can serve as a reference volume for those involved in worship.

The very presence of a “Literature Committee” assumes that the 2024 hymnal project intends to produce more than just a hymnal. As the series of books associated with Christian Worship: A Lutheran Hymnal has served us well over the past twenty years, so we hope that the hymnal 2024 and all its associated volumes will be a blessing to the church.

American psychologist Abraham Maslow once said, “I suppose it is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail.” The problem is, of course, not everything is a nail; not everything needs pounding.

Maslow’s law of the instrument is important to remember when we think about how to apply technology to worship in our congregations. We have plenty of technological hammers in our toolbox, but not everything is a nail.

I’m a “technologist,” that is, someone who is generally skilled at technical topics, tools, and methods. The problem with people like me, though, is that everything looks like a nail. To us, everything looks like something to be solved or improved or enhanced with some sort of technical solution. And so we barrage you with new ideas and tools. We think you need a list of the “Ten Best Online Document Editing Tools,” when, my goodness, you only need the best one. We’re holding a hammer and so every problem looks like a nail.

I’m also the chairman of the Technology Committee for the WELS Hymnal Project. I don’t know what you think of when you hear the words “technology” and “hymnal” together; you might think of digital editions of Christian Worship and Christian Worship Supplement. Maybe you start to imagine iPads in the pew guiding worshipers through the liturgy. Perhaps you imagine large screens filling the chancel. Or could it just be that you’re hoping there’s going to be a way to make planning worship faster, easier, and more intuitive?

I can tell you this: people have already suggested all of the above to me when it comes to the technology component of the WELS Hymnal Project. And yes, my committee will take the time to examine all the possibilities that digital technology offers, especially digital distribution and worship planning tools. But as I introduce myself to all of you with this blog post I’d like to take some time to zoom out a bit and think about the big picture.

I’d like this project to be an opportunity to do some careful thinking, some detailed research, and even some philosophical musing about how we want to use technology to accomplish our goals. I want to take the lead on a thorough, scholarly approach to technology as a ministerial tool in service to the worship in our congregations. There’s an assumption out there that all innovation is good innovation, that is, if something is new it is therefore better. The temptation, therefore, is to convert every problem into a nail to be pounded.

Instead, I’d like to take the time at the front end of this project to seriously consider the long history of how technology has served the Church, particularly in its worship life. How has the history of the book been connected to the theology and worship of the church? What impact will glowing screens have in a world dominated for centuries by the printed page? How will we handle the difference between the book and screen (in our hands or on the wall)? What are the cognitive and emotional effects of digital content and its general lack of sequentiality and its more abstract sense of location? What are our goals in worship, and can we review and revise our worship tools to accomplish those goals?

There are plenty of nails to be pounded. But the work of my committee is more nuanced than that. We have plenty of thinking to do before we start swinging away.

Psalms. They are the hymns of the Bible. We should be able to make good use of them in worship in 2013. But sometimes we struggle. Do we read them? Responsively? Do we sing them? To what tune?

The members of the Christian Worship (CW) hymnal committee wondered if it would be OK to use only select verses of a given psalm. They wondered if it would be OK to add refrains that were not necessarily texts from a given psalm. They wondered whether the psalms fit well between the first two readings on a given Sunday. The decisions they made about these issues have been widely accepted. The psalms in CW have been widely used.

A generation later, we might be able to do even more. All of the psalms in CW are the same style. What else can we do? What about congregations that struggle to sing the verses? Can we make more resources in many more styles available to all of our congregations?

An initial goal of the Psalmody Committee is to provide many more options for congregations who want to use the psalms in worship. With advances in technology, we will be able to make available much more than what we can fit in a single book.

Among many other things, we will be talking about what translation(s) to use, what the refrain for each psalm will be, and what musical styles are available. We will do the same for the appointed verses of the day.

Talk to us about how you want to use the psalms!

“Let’s review.” Those two words are often heard in the classroom as a day or an hour draws to a close. Those two words also serve as a fitting description of the reason God’s people gather together in worship. From the time the infant church began assembling to “devote themselves to the apostles’ teaching” (Acts 2:42), Christians have been gathering together to review what Christ has done to save us from sin. Weekly, the central truths of our salvation are repeated in spoken word and song. Annually, the life of Christ and the teachings of Christ are reviewed through the use of the Christian calendar.

Along with much of the Christian Church, many congregations in our synod make use of a three-year lectionary (schedule of Scripture readings, psalms, and verses of the day). That three-year lectionary is set to start over in just a few weeks on December 1, the first Sunday in Advent, Year A.

And so, as we begin the work of developing our next hymnal, we would like to say, “Let’s review.” Starting on December 1, 2013, a three-year collaborative review process will take place. Any congregation in the synod is welcome to participate. The goal is to give the members of the hymnal committee an opportunity to see what the congregations of our synod are doing in worship and to hear the comments they have regarding existing resources.

Here’s how the process will work. On Monday of each week, the pastor and/or other contact person from each participating congregation will receive an email. That email will contain the following items:

  1. A link to an online form for reviewing the congregation’s worship from the previous Sunday. Basic information about the use of hymns, orders of service, and Scripture readings will be gathered. There will also be an opportunity to offer comments along the way (Example: “The appointed hymn of the day for this week didn’t fit with the scheduled readings as well as hymn ______ would. Please consider changing it.”). Depending on how many comments a person wishes to offer, filling out this form shouldn’t take more than five minutes.
  2. A link to a summary of the information gathered from the previous week. Each congregation will have the opportunity to benefit from seeing what other congregations are doing. Even if this benefit isn’t realized until the next time that season or Sunday occurs, we hope that this visibility will have an overall, positive impact on congregations’ worship life.
  3. A brief insight related to one or more of the assigned readings for the coming week. We certainly appreciate the time that this process will take for participating congregations. We would like to express that appreciation by offering something that will hopefully help pastors as they begin to prepare for the following week’s sermon.

Congregations can register for this collaborative, three-year review by submitting some basic information on the hymnal project website. The deadline for registering is November 15, 2013.

I was still a child when I noticed it for the first time, and it struck me. As the son of a pastor, I had grown up in the WELS bubble: I never attended a school or a service that wasn't WELS. The first time I went to a non-Lutheran church, it was right after I got out of early service at my home congregation. When worship started at this other church, I couldn't believe it. They used the same scripture lessons we had that morning. They called the Sunday by the same name. One of the prayers even sounded really close to what I had heard. What, did they get a hold of my dad's service folder? Blatant plagiarism! Or — a wilder thought to my young mind — are we actually doing the same things on purpose? I thought we were different!

Well, we are different from other church bodies, but I found out that morning that we aren't completely different. Our doctrine might differ radically in some areas, but in the Christian calendar (Advent, Lent, etc.) and the lectionary (the assigned readings), we were part of something bigger. It was an eye-opening experience for me. I realized that the Holy Christian Church was bigger than the WELS. It reminded me that, while real scriptural differences mean we can't fellowship with those church bodies right now, one day the whole Holy Christian Church will worship together in heaven.

We use a Christian calendar and a Christian lectionary because they enable us to share the whole counsel of God with the congregation in a pattern that emphasizes the life of Christ and the teachings of Christ. As an added blessing that pattern ties our worship to the historic Church and gives echoes of the unity we will enjoy with all Christians in heaven.

Establishing the Christian calendar and the lectionary will comprise a large part of the work of the Scripture Committee. We need to answer the question: how different will we be?

Key areas under consideration would include items like a review of Christian Worship's season of End Time. Should we continue to celebrate a season that is unique to the WELS? Another will be a review of the supplemental lessons that were published in Christian Worship: Supplement. Many have appreciated the increased use of Old Testament stories for the First Lesson. Others have appreciated that the supplemental lessons closely follow the theme of the Gospel, resulting in a tightly unified service. Should we continue to provide up to five lessons for each Sunday, or should we provide only three? Which three would those be?

Our committee will also wrestle with issues like the texts of the Lord's Prayer, the Creeds, and the songs of the liturgy. We will focus on translation and language to ensure that Scripture is used in a consistent, Christ-centered, confessional Lutheran way. And finally we will explore the daily lectionary and a possible commentary on the lectionary.

Thanks for your interest in the project. Your prayers for our work would be appreciated. So also would be your ideas and comments. Please make use of the contact form to share your thoughts.