WELS Hymnal Project

Project Blog

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

The following article appeared in the July edition of Forward in Christ. It is is the first article in a nine-part series on hymns and their use in our churches.

On a shelf in the new synod archives are 16 cardboard boxes containing all the paper files of the Christian Worship (CW) hymnal project. Tucked away in one or two of those boxes are the handwritten correspondences that flooded the project director’s office after the publication of the dreaded cut list—the list of hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (TLH) that would not appear in Christian Worship. Some of those letters were rather “expressive.” Yet all those letters were effective. About a dozen hymns that had been on death row were given a stay of execution and, in fact, new life in the new hymnal.

Members of the current hymnal project are taking us through that same process once again. Where do we start? We started with nearly four years of multiple-level reviews designed to let the best hymns of CW and Christian Worship: Supplement (CWS) rise to the top. Included in these reviews have been a national survey of favorite hymns for adults and students, the collection of hymn usage statistics around the country, and the rating of hymns by two separate committees.

Choosing 450 to 500 CW/CWS hymns to appear in our next hymnal will make room for 150 to 200 hymns that are new to us. We make room for new hymns, mindful of the following:

Finding New Treasures

Some hymns wear out, while others simply don’t catch on. Letting go of approximately 25 to 30 percent of CW/CWS hymns gives us the opportunity to see what new treasures the Lord will provide. And he does provide new treasures. “Dear Christians, One and All, Rejoice” (CW 373) and “Salvation unto Us Has Come” (CW 390) appeared in the first Lutheran hymnal in 1523. The publication of TLH placed on our lips the hymns “Let Us Ever Walk with Jesus” and “God’s Word Is Our Great Heritage.” In 1993 CW gave us the communion hymn “Here, O My Lord, I See You Face to Face” (CW 315) and allowed us to sing Psalm 115 in the striking words of “Not unto Us” (CW 392).

Time will tell which hymns from a new hymnal will become the texts and tunes that we treasure. We make room for them because we know that the Holy Spirit keeps giving to the church gifts that spring from the gospel. As he does, it’s a bit of a misnomer for us to work toward a “final hymn list;” hymn lists will never remain static.

Clear Proclamations

We understand that not everyone will be ecstatic about changes in a new hymnal. So we invite feedback on the list we are publishing (see below). As CW was taking shape, Kurt Eggert, CW project director, wrote: “From time to time it may be desirable or even necessary to incorporate changes in our liturgical forms, language or music in order that God’s truth be more clearly communicated to the worshipers or that the faith of the believers be more meaningfully expressed.”

Christ's Compelling Love

There is one changeless truth that drives everything about our hymnal project, including the selection of hymns: letting God’s forgiving love in Christ be proclaimed, heard, and sung.

We are convinced that pulling together the best hymns of CW and CWS and spending several years searching for the best other hymns that can be found will result in worship resources that build up the faith of God’s people. By God’s good grace that happens as singers sing and worshipers hear, “My sin, not in part, but the whole, is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more” (CWS 760:2).

Sidebar: Respectfully Making Room

“O King and Father, kind and dread,
Give us this day our daily bread;
Forgive us, who have learned to bless
Our enemies, all trespasses;
Spare us temptation; let us be
From Satan set forever free” (Christian Worship 407:2).

The hymn “O Lord, You Have in Your Pure Grace” is not currently slated to appear in our next hymnal. Lutheran pastor, professor, and poet Martin Franzmann intentionally wrote this shorter version of Luther’s Lord’s Prayer in the hope that it would be sung more frequently. But the third and fourth lines of Franzmann’s second stanza present the singer with a textual challenge: “Forgive us, who have learned to bless our enemies, all trespasses.” The fourth line, when sung by itself comes out as “our enemies, all trespasses,” which is not impossible to follow, but not easy either.

One could certainly not find any fault with the text of the prayer Jesus taught us to pray. Nor has the slight textual difficulty mentioned above landed this hymn on the cut list. But a combination of things has led to the proposal to cut CW 407:

  1. The tune has been overused (six times in TLH and five times in CW).
  2. The committee voted 14-1 to cut it.
  3. It has very low statistical usage (bottom 100 out of 711).
  4. The hymn did not appear in the last two hymnals of the author’s own church body.
  5. CW is the only recent hymnal in which it appears.

Simply put, this version of a sung Lord’s Prayer has not gained sufficient traction to continue in the next book.

The Prayer section of our new hymnal will need some new entries. Should it be approved, this hymn by author Chad Bird may serve well in that section.

“Jesus, advocate on high,
Sacrificed on Calv’ry’s altar,
Through your priestly blood we cry:
Hear our prayers, though they may falter;
Place them on your Father’s throne As your own.”

These reasons make a good case for its inclusion:

  1. Its statistical usage in another Lutheran hymnal is high.
  2. It would bring back a tune familiar from TLH which did not appear in CW (TLH 539).
  3. It reminds us that when our prayers come to our Father in Jesus’ name, it is as though our Father views our prayers as Jesus’ own prayer.

We invite your feedback as we work on finalizing which of the more than 700 hymns from Christian Worship and Christian Worship: Supplement will be included in the new hymnal. Every month we will post a segment of our current hymn list, indicating which hymns are slated to be kept and which are slated to be cut. You can view the monthly list and, if you want, choose up to 10 hymns from the cut list that you would like to see kept in the new hymnal.

View Cut Hymns List

At the recent WELS National Conference of Worship, Music, and the Arts, project director Michael Schultz delivered the keynote address. Entitled "The Sabbath Was Made for Man, Not Man for the Sabbath," the essay reviews key Lutheran worship principles. That essay is now posted on the hymnal project website in the resources section.

Since 2013, the WELS Hymnal Project website has included a public submissions form for individuals to submit original and third-party content for consideration for our synod's next hymnal. Since that time, more than 800 hymns, psalms, and other worship items have been submitted. We are grateful for what we have received and review of those materials is an ongoing process.

The window for public submissions will come to an end on June 30, 2017. If you have or are aware of hymns, psalm settings, or other worship materials worthy of consideration for the next hymnal, we invite you to submit them between now and then.

Public Submissions Form

Jesus rides a donkey into Jerusalem on a path covered with cloaks and palms. The crowds greet him with cries of “Hosanna.” Then he rises from the dead, and the church shouts, “Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!”

Part of the account of Jesus’ Holy Week is noticeably absent in that description. For many of our worshipers, however, that is the narrative they hear because they don’t attend midweek services. The passion history of our Lord is not appointed in the lectionaries that churches use for Sunday services. Instead, they are appointed for use during the weekdays of Holy Week. How many people in your congregation will go from Palm Sunday to Easter without hearing those key chapters of the Gospels?

The proposed lectionary for our new hymnal project adds the option of celebrating Passion Sunday on the first day of Holy Week, offering the passion history to more of the congregation. The readings for Passion Sunday come from that year’s Gospel author (Matthew, A; Mark, B; Luke, C) and place the whole passion narrative before the people.

This doesn’t mean that you “lose” Palm Sunday. On Sunday at Faith, Sharpsburg, Georgia, we started with the Procession of Palms and the reading of the Palm Sunday Gospel from John 12. Palm branches were waved and laid; children sang hosanna. After the Prayer of the Day, we began the series of readings from the passion history. Broken up into six parts with hymns between that matched the readings, we followed Jesus from his triumphal entry, to the Upper Room, Gethsemane, trial, and Golgotha.

A sermon isn’t necessary. I gave a six-minute introduction to the series. The whole service lasted about 55 minutes. We used two lectors for the readings. I was the narrator, and our vicar read the words of Jesus. Some congregations print the whole reading and have the congregation read the words of the crowd. This service has been well received in our congregation—even among those who attend every midweek service.

This option for Palm Sunday is currently found in Christian Worship: Occasional Services in the notes following the order for the Procession with Palms. Consider using it occasionally as a cure for a “passionless” Christ.

Jonathan Schroeder
Chair, Scripture Committee

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