WELS Hymnal Project

Project Blog

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

Greetings in our Savior Jesus!

The next issue of Viva Vox is posted in the resources page of our website. While I can't necessarily promise that we'll post all of the issues over the next several years, the posting of this fourth issue is meant to be at least somewhat well-timed, containing, as it does, a five-page section entitled "Planning the Music for the Easter Season." As a sidelight, you may note that fully printing out festival services which have special features is certainly not a recent innovation.

And how shall we notify the congregation in advance of the changes or variations which we agree upon for each Sunday? Will it be possible to eliminate the need for disruptive announcements as the Service progresses? Will printed directions in the Sunday Bulletin be sufficient, or will it be advisable to print or duplicate the complete order of service to insure the continuity of the Service and to make it possible for all worshipers to participate with confidence and without distraction or embarrassment? (p. 12)

In the weeks ahead, watch for the Forward in Christ series that will feature articles specifically on hymns. Those articles will refer you back to our project website, where we will be publishing the list of current Christian Worship and Christian Worship: Supplement hymns. The list will indicate which hymns have been selected for printing in the next hymnal and which ones have not. As was done in the years leading up to the publication of Christian Worship, we will give people an opportunity to offer feedback on this list.

Blessings in Christ,

Pastor Michael Schultz
Director, WELS Hymnal Project

The WELS long range plan, adopted by the 2011 convention, included a goal to “establish a committee to publish a new hymnal by the 500th anniversary of the first Lutheran hymnal (1524).” NPH agreed to fund the position of a project director and the work of various committees to prepare the hymnal and accompanying print volumes: pew edition, accompaniment edition, altar book, occasional services volume, pastor’s companion. The work began with the installation of project director Michael Schultz in April, 2013 and the formation of project subcommittees – 60 people serving various aspects of the project.

Now, roughly three years into the project, it is apparent that additional worship resources beyond printed volumes will enable planners, leaders, and worshipers to make best use of a new hymnal’s potential. Three additional resources are under consideration, pending sufficient funding to make them a reality. Research into recent hymnals and supplemental products created by other church bodies has discovered similar resources and shows the value of our WELS project producing such tools.

  • A “service builder” computer program to expedite production of worship folders that take advantage of the hymnal’s flexible and vast resources, both print and electronic.
  • A “musicians’ resource” – a powerful tool that allows musicians to print scores for a wide variety of instruments to better enable them to contribute their talent in worship.
  • A personal digital edition of the hymnal – an app for tablet or smartphone. The goal for this resource is to make it easier for people to use hymnal contents as a personal devotional resource. Unlike a printed book, it could include audio files for personal or family devotions.

The “service builder” will greatly facilitate service planning and will vastly reduce the amount of time needed by the pastor and church office to create worship folders. It will assure that worship folder design is of the highest quality. In addition to presenting wonderful new hymns to our church body, this “service builder” is one of the most exciting goals of the hymnal project. (You can view a demo of a similar product created by the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod.)

Our synod's Christian Giving Counselors are assisting us in making this appeal for gifts that will provide the funding necessary for the development of these digital resources. “For a generation yet unborn” is the hymnal project motto. Your gift will help the project’s resources to be the best they can be as older generations pass to younger generations the awesome privileges of planning and leading…and worshiping. Development and production of all three resources is projected to cost several hundred thousand dollars.

To support the WELS Hymnal Project, click on the button below and select "CW: Hymnal Electronic Resources" as the designation for your gift.

Donate

If you'd like to pass along this information to someone who may wish to support the work of the Hymnal Project, the brochure from the Congregation and Ministry Support Group in which it appears can be downloaded and printed below.

From May 31 through June 2, the Executive Committee of the hymnal project met at the synod's Center for Mission and Ministry. Highlights from the meeting included reviewing fresh content brought to us by various subcommittees, meeting with the production director from Northwestern Publishing House in order to better understand their production process, and further clarifying the relationship between the printed version and the digital version of the hymnal in a discussion led by the technology committee.

The final day of our meetings began with Professor Keith Wessel of Martin Luther College, chair of our Occasional Services subcommittee, presenting a devotional introduction to Isaiah 40:1-11. In his devotion, Prof. Wessel beautifully captured the purpose and benefit a hymnal serves among a group of believers. Excerpts from that devotion are shared below in the hope that they will be as much of a blessing to you as they were to us.


A hymnal is more than a book that gathers songs into a convenient place. A hymnal is all about voices – united voices speaking together. A hymnal is the voice of God’s people, the voice of the Holy Christian Church, the voice of faith. It is a voice of confession, in that it echoes what is in our troubled hearts, gives voice to what we humbly need to confess before our holy God – that we not just are sinners, but sinful and unclean. Words spoken together with one voice by the body of Christ… and yet so personal at the same time. A hymnal teaches us to sing together with one voice the contrite whisper of the publican: Oh God, be merciful to me. A hymnal teaches us all to cry from depth of woe, and flee for refuge to Thy infinite mercy, seeking and imploring Thy grace for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ.

It also is a hymnal that speaks with God’s voice. Marvel of marvels that our pitiful confession is not met by a wall of silence – deserved silence – from a God who has every right to turn his back on us. But as Adam heard the voice of God in the Garden not only confronting him with his sin but also speaking the first words of the eternal Gospel, so also in our liturgy and song we hear the voice of God speaking to us his word of peace. So much does God want us to hear his voice in the Gospel that he even sends a called personal representative to that very place where we are confessing our sins to speak – not the pastor’s words – but to speak in the place and by the command of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to announce the grace of God unto all of you, to each of you: Be of good cheer; your sins are forgiven.

It is from a hymnal that we learn to respond to such grace with a common voice of faith – the Gloria, the hymns, the offering (that too is a way we speak). It is from the hymnal we learn to pray together with one voice, a common voice: Create in me a clean heart, O God… and of course, Our Father, who art in heaven. It is from a hymnal that we learn to kneel side by side as one body and receive in faith the same bread, the same wine… just as we were all baptized with the same water into the name of one Lord. It is in the hymnal we first learn the unified voice of our common faith: I believe… We believe… And this is not a “WELS voice”; it is the voice that has gone out into all lands. It is the lingua franca of the Una Sancta. And it is from a hymnal, from a liturgy that we first learn to listen to the last word of the service – the words that God himself reserves the right to speak – the words of the Benediction.

Brothers, we aren’t really cutting and pasting into a book what we feel, in our sanctified estimation, are the best songs and liturgies for worship. We are shaping a voice – the voice of faith but also the voice of God’s people in the Wisconsin Synod. Not a solo, maverick voice that screams “Me!”, of course – as much of a challenge as it is in a self-absorbed age. But a voice that is clear, distinct, yet blends with the one voice of faith we can hear wafting down on the winds of the ages in one ongoing song; that one can hear echoing even now in all lands: …and from morn till set of sun, through the Church the song goes on... It began with Eve’s simple song: I have gotten a man from the LORD - a statement of thanks and praise spoken in response to God’s mercy and goodness. The song continues today. And it will never end.

 

Over the course of the next two weeks, this update will be shared at the conventions of the twelve districts of our synod. In addition to the feedback received at those conventions, we welcome any feedback to the information provided in this update using the contact form below.

Note: In early February, a comprehensive report on the work of the WELS Hymnal project was posted to our website and distributed through several synod-wide communication channels. We are also featuring each section of the report here on our website's blog. As each section is featured we invite your feedback using the contact form on the bottom of the page.

Communications Committee

Pastor Jonathan Bauer, Chairman

Our Responsibilities

From the time the hymnal project started, the Communications Committee (CC) has been assisting the members of the project primarily by seeking to gather information and input from the congregations and schools of our church body. This research has taken a variety of forms, including: conducting four major surveys, collecting hymn usage data, and receiving and processing feedback through the project website.

A summary of what has been learned about worship in our church body so far was shared in the summer of 2015. That summary was published in Forward in Christ and in the 2015 Synod Convention’s Book of Reports and Memorials. The feedback we’ve received thus far has been very valuable as the members of the project have begun their work, and we are very grateful for it.

As the hymnal project progresses, the CC’s work will eventually transition away from our current focus on research. We are also responsible for utilizing the natural opportunity that a hymnal project presents to renew people’s awareness and appreciation for Lutheran worship principles. As the publication approaches we will also work in tandem with the marketing department at Northwestern Publishing House to promote the new hymnal and its accompanying resources.

Where We Are Headed

As the hymnal project approaches the halfway point, its members are pleased to be able to share with the synod this comprehensive update on our work. This update is being distributed to the called workers throughout our church body as well as through other official synodical channels. It is available in its entirety on our project website and will also be posted section by section on our website’s blog.

Pastors and teachers are encouraged to share the report with those they serve through whatever channels are available to them. Feel free to use this as an opportunity to invite people to subscribe to have updates delivered to their inbox by registering their email address on our website.

We invite anyone’s feedback on the information being distributed. That feedback is best offered through the contact form on our website.

Field testing period

During the next year and a half, the CC will be busy assisting the other project subcommittees in putting some of their early materials in front of the congregations and schools of our church body for their use and review.

The materials that are distributed for testing will naturally lean heavily toward the components of the new hymnal that could potentially be new or revised. This shouldn’t be construed as an indication of the makeup of the final product, plenty of which will be unchanged from the material found in our current resources.

It is our desire for every congregation and school to have the opportunity to provide ongoing feedback on the various materials being developed. However, for most of the field testing process, we will be seeking the assistance of various random samplings of congregations and schools. In order to receive accurate and helpful feedback, it is necessary to engage sample groups that are representative of the synod as a whole (e.g. from varying locations and of varying sizes). It is also necessary to receive feedback not only from those who would otherwise gladly volunteer it on their own but from those whose feedback needs to be sought.

We look forward to sharing updates and results of this field testing process. As the project continues to progress, we plan to release to the church body as a whole a set of materials representative of each committee’s work to that point.