WELS Hymnal Project

Project Blog

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

"The pastor-elect presents himself before the altar…"

The Agenda is a book of details. An example of such is the sentence above, what we call a rubric. Rubrics are worded to be clear and designed to provide a dignified, logical flow to a given rite. Some freer spirits may roll their eyes at such details, or even openly chuckle that there is an entire page in the Agenda devoted to guidelines for ringing church bells. To some, such details are sometimes disparagingly dismissed as "high church." Still, many others greatly appreciate the fact that they can pick up a rite that someone has carefully thought through and use it as is without alteration, knowing that it will accurately reflect our synod's doctrine and practice.

Granted, such things as rubrics and guidelines are hardly the meat and potatoes of the gospel ministry. Yet some of us, I'm inclined to bet, have sat through a rite (such as, for example, the reception of new members) where the language is overly casual or where (worse yet) the worship leader is making it up as he goes along, getting the "general idea of the thing." Usually, poor planning leads to redundancy, repetition, omission of essential words and concepts, and may well take twice as long as it needs to. In contrast, rites that have been thoughtfully constructed are both accurate and efficient in their wording and presentation.

The type of language that the Agenda committee is striving to use is language that strikes a balance between the overly casual and the excessively formal. We want to speak in the language that people use and understand, avoiding erudite and ecclesiastical sesquipedalianisms that leave the congregational members saying, "Huh?" and tuning out when they hear what they perceive as "church language." On the other hand, there is such a language as "church language" that is—and should be—used for formal, serious occasions such as those requiring the use of a rite.

Also, as mentioned above, the content of the language needs to be clear as well so that it accurately reflects doctrine and practice among us. In our work on the Agenda, the committee did, for example, consult with the Conference of Presidents concerning the best way to publicly speak about the ministry. Should we use "Holy Ministry," "holy ministry," "ministry of the Word and Sacraments," "minister of the Word," "minister of the gospel"—all of the above, some of the above? Are there terms that, for confessional reasons, we should avoid using in public rites? Or, as another example, in the rite entitled Installation of a Vicar, should we say the vicar is "assigned" or "called"? Is a vicar "assigned" to a supervising pastor (yes), or is he "called" to a congregation (yes)? How do we word the rite in the right way so that it clearly expresses both concepts? After all, words mean things!

In summary, the work on Agenda indicates that standards for public rites in the church exist and they need to be found somewhere. We desire our rites to communicate clearly in a dignified, orderly way that also articulates what we believe, teach, and confess. It is our prayer that all the work of updating and adding to the public rites of the church may be a blessing to both worship leaders and worshippers for years to come.

One aspect of the WELS Hymnal Project that has not received much public attention is the revision of that book which contains various rites for use in congregational life. That's natural, in a sense. To illustrate: I have a small air compressor at home that is an excellent tool for all kinds of home projects – nailing, sanding, texturing, painting. Truth be told, I don't use my air compressor every day, and it's easy to forget that I even own one. But when I do need it, it's there, and I'm thankful it is.

In the worship life of God's people, we don't use the rites of a church regularly. In fact, there are rites in our new book that some congregations will never use, such as “Dedication of a Church Bell.” Yet, if and when a congregation ever needs such a rite, it will be there, ready for use.

The new book of congregational rites will be called the Agenda. A small committee of pastors has been working over the past three years to review, revise, update, and add to those rites of the church that are currently found in Christian Worship: Occasional Services. At the onset of the task, the committee quickly realized that the current Occasional Services was a mixed bag of both rites and special liturgical services, such as the Good Friday Tenebrae service. The committee felt that it would be beneficial to separate such as liturgical elements from what is properly called "rites." This has a historical precedent since for many years Lutheran pastors turned to the Lutheran Agenda to find rites for such things as installation of a pastor, teacher, or vicar; dedication of an organ or church building; laying of a cornerstone; reception of new members; installation of synod or district officers, etc. etc. All in all, there will be over fifty rites found in the new Agenda.

Moreover, the current title Occasional Services is, in a sense, a bit misleading—but not deliberately so. While there indeed are complete "services" in this present book, a rite in and of itself is not a complete service; it is a small portion of a service or devotion. This reality also led the committee to return to the historical name Agenda. Special liturgical services that are complete in and of themselves (such as the Tenebrae mentioned above) will find a new home in the electronic resources available as part of the new hymnal resources.

"Agenda" is a Latin term that means, "things that need to be done." There are things in the public worship life of a congregation and synod that, simply put, need to be done. They need to be done in a "fitting and orderly way (1 Co 14:4)" that is respectful of God's Word and house. They need to be done in a clear and confessional way since many of the rites articulate doctrinal positions we hold. They need to be done in a public way before God and people as a clear testimony. And, above all, these things need to be done to the glory of God and for the edification of his holy people.

The new hymnal will aid your devotional life by providing a daily reading plan for Scripture. This tool will get you into God’s word and provide a pattern for piety.

A lectionary appoints scripture readings for use on certain days. Your Sunday worship follows the Three Year Lectionary for Sundays and Festivals. But the hymnal will offer another set of readings appointed for every day of the year: the daily lectionary.

The daily lectionary provides two readings for each day, about 20 verses from the Old Testament and 20 from the New Testament. It doesn’t require a large time commitment but still enables you to read through almost the entire New Testament and over a third of the Old Testament each year.

The Scripture Committee proposes that we use the excellent daily lectionary developed by Pastor Rick Stuckwisch. The readings will not be connected to your Sunday worship specifically but will relate in a broad way to the liturgical season. For example, during the days of Advent, readings are appointed from Isaiah, an advent prophet.

Here’s an example from the daily lectionary that begins on Ash Wednesday:

March 6, 2019
Gen 1:1-19
Mark 1:1-13

March 7, 2019
Gen 1:20-2:3
Mark 1:14-28

March 8, 2019
Gen 2:4-25
Mark 1:29-45

March 9, 2019
Gen 3:1-24
Mark 2:1-17

March 10, 2019
Gen 4:1-26
Mark 2:18-28

March 11, 2019
Gen 6:1--7:5
Mark 3:1-19

March 12, 2019
Gen 7:11-8:12
Mark 3:20-35

We hope that the new hymnal will enhance your daily devotional life.

Thematic Sundays are a chief feature of the new lectionary. For example, rather than a series of continual readings through an epistle, the second reading will fit the theme for each Sunday. But what about all the other appointments? In the lectionary published in 1993, the appointments for the Prayer of the Day, the Verse of the Day, the Psalm of the Day, and the Hymn of the Day often lacked any connection to the appointed readings.

In the new lectionary and accompanying resources, the Scripture Committee will provide new appointments that match the Sunday theme. Consider this example:

Proper 15, Year A (The Sunday that falls between Aug 14-18)
Matthew 15:21-28 The Faith of the Canaanite Woman; even the dogs get the crumbs
Isaiah 56:1, 6-8 God will bring foreigners to his holy mountain; a house of prayer for all nations
Ephesians 2:13-22 Gentiles are fellow citizens with God’s people in the Church

The readings proclaim, “The Church is for all people.”

Our past lectionary (PEN 13A) offered a psalm, Verse of the Day, and Prayer of the Day that had no connection to the thrust of the Gospel. It appointed as Hymn of the Day, "When in the Hour of Utmost Need," which certainly speaks of the woman’s plight, but fails to capture the theme of the Sunday.

The new appointments seek to stay on theme:

Prayer of the Day
Gracious God, in Christ you bring people from near and far into the fellowship of your Church. Open our eyes to your saving plan and move us to embrace all who seek your salvation so that we may rejoice together at the banquet of your love; through Jesus Christ, your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

Psalm of the Day
Psalm 67. May your ways be known on earth; your salvation among all nations.

Gospel Acclamation (Verse of the Day)
But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ.

Hymn of the Day
The Church’s One Foundation. This hymn offers clear ties to all three readings.

We hope that thematic appointments of these resources will encourage their frequent use.

The Executive Committee of the WELS Hymnal Project comes into 2019 with four regular face-to-face meetings remaining before most of the content of the core products of the new hymnal is due to turn over to Northwestern Publishing House for the publishing process. The various subcommittees of the project are meeting monthly, and in some cases weekly, to complete the content so it can be reviewed and approved by the Executive Committee by the end of this year. Here’s a snapshot of where we stand with the project.

  • The Hymnody Committee continues to evaluate new hymns and bring them to the Executive Committee for approval. For the past few years, the Executive Committee has been reviewing the texts and musical settings of anywhere between 30-60 new and old hymns at each quarterly meeting that have been previously vetted by the Hymnody Committee.
  • The pew edition of the new hymnal is intended to be a “singer’s book”. The harmonizations included in its pages are intended for part-singing as well as keyboard accompaniment. Some of the hymns that are not intended to be sung in 4-part harmony may appear in a melody-only format, but this will be the case in as few instances as possible. The accompaniment for all hymns will be found in the Accompaniment Edition.
  • A two-volume Accompaniment Edition, which will be in a spiral bound 8.5”x11” format, will hold the accompaniment for everything in the Pew Edition. This set will also hold alternate settings of many of the hymns, along with performance guidelines like tempo markings.
  • Three settings of the main service will be in the Pew Edition of the hymnal. Additionally, for those looking for further variety, as many as six other settings of the main service will be available in electronic format for production in service folders.
  • The Musicians Resource Group has been hunting down music for instruments and singers to support our project’s body of hymns. The group met recently to discuss their findings and to map out the team’s work going forward. The next 5-6 months will be spent looking for more existing resources. Eventually, newly composed music is likely also to be included. The end goal is to provide excellent, practical, curated music resources for every hymn in the new hymnal.
  • A set of Gospel Acclamations with proper verses of the day, similar in concept to the GIA Cantor’s Book of Gospel Acclamations, is in the works.
  • The Scripture Committee is wrapping up work on the lectionary and moving on to Commentary on the Propers.
  • The committee working on the pastor’s Agenda Book has been working on rites such as Installation of a Teacher, Farewell to a Ministerial Candidate, Dedication of a Church Building, and Commissioning of a Missionary, among others.
  • Background information on each hymn that would be found in a handbook will now be accessible in an online database rather than a printed volume.
  • We are now under contract with an artist who will produce a logo and various icons for use across the hymnal resources.
  • The Technology Committee is continuing to work with a technology vendor to produce a digital worship planning tool which will streamline service folder production.
  • A 64-page preview edition of the new hymnal will highlight various features of a new liturgical rite, as well as several new hymns and psalm settings. The preview will be produced and made available at the 2020 District Conventions, the 2021 Leadership Conference and Worship Conference, and the 2021 Synod Convention. Each congregation in the Synod will receive copies for perusal as well.
  • Release of the new hymnal is scheduled for Advent 2021.

The Executive Committee continues to oversee and facilitate the work of over 75 volunteers who are putting these important worship resources together for our Synod. Please pray for the people working on this project, as well as their families and the congregations and schools that they serve. Please pray for the success of this project so that these resources confess the name of Jesus Christ and provide tools to enable believers to use the means of grace in public worship and other devotional settings.