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

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    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

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    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

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    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

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    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.

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  • 06/28/17--07:30: God's Love: Our Song Forever
  • The following article appeared in the July edition ofForward 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

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    The following article appeared in the August edition ofForward in Christ. It is is the second article in a nine-part series on hymns and their use in our churches.

    It was my first year in the ministry, and I had the job of directing the choir. The music the church used was almost always tucked safely between the covers of the “new” hymnal. In an early effort to broaden our musical bandwidth, I picked “Soon and Very Soon” for Christ the King Sunday. I did my best to improvise a gospel-style accompaniment on the piano. As we practiced, a few members began to sway back and forth to the beat. I sat at the piano thinking, “This is going pretty well! I can’t wait to do ‘Go Tell It on the Mountain’ on Christmas!”

    One comment came after the service, “Pastor, I almost felt like clapping!” That started me thinking: Why didn’t they feel like clapping for “A Mighty Fortress” a month earlier? One dear member suggested, “If we do more music like that, things will really get moving around here!” But was a Baptist-beat the musical cure for an ailing church that had just dismissed her pastor because of doctrinal differences?

    Welcome to the difficult and unforgiving world of musical styles and personal preferences!

    Luther’s path

    What music to choose? There are times when worship planners—and even hymnal committees—would like to wish the entire topic away. The WELS Hymnal Project has received some feedback on the texts of our hymns and liturgies—what to use and what to lose. And everyone, it seems, has a comment or two when it comes to their musical preferences.

    Why is that? Because music has the ability to touch human emotions. Luther recognized music’s emotional pull: “For if you want to revive the sad, startle the jovial, encourage the despairing, humble the conceited, pacify the raving, mollify the hate-filled—and who is able to enumerate all the lords of the human heart, I mean the emotions of the heart and the urges which incite a man to all virtues and vices?—what can you find that is more efficacious than music?” (What Luther Says, #3103). Other reformers such as Calvin and Zwingli were suspicious of music’s power to touch emotions. Calvin severely curtailed the use of music in worship. Zwingli went so far as to ban it from the service.

    Luther took a different path. Because music is part of God’s creation, he recognized and embraced music’s ability to touch human emotions. Yet in public worship, he did not make “emotional pull” a musical prerequisite. The hymns he penned were not designed first to enable emotional expression. That purpose would be assigned to music centuries later in the tent revivals on the American frontier. Instead, Luther’s hymns were designed to put the gospel of Christ on the lips of Christ’s people. In other words, Luther’s hymns were never written to promote toe-tapping, but to enable truth telling. For Luther, content was key. And Christ is the key to Luther’s content.

    Christ is key

    This careful balance between music’s ability to touch emotions and music’s ability to carry Christ to the Christian can already be spotted in the title of the first Lutheran hymnal almost five hundred years ago: “Several Christian Songs, Hymns of Praise and Psalms, in Accordance with the Pure Word of God, from Holy Scripture, Produced by Various Highly Learned Individuals, for Singing in the Church, as in Part Is Already the Practice in Wittenberg.”

    These first Lutheran hymns were so Christ-centered in their content, so pure in their doctrine, so biblical in their approach, and so polished in their poetry, that four of these original eight hymns are still with us today. “Dear Christians, One and All, Rejoice” (Christian Worship [CW] 377) sings the heart and core of the gospel. “Salvation Unto Us Has Come” (CW 390) pulses with the careful distinction between law and gospel. Even if someone had never opened a Bible, they could still come face to face with Jesus and their justification through these hymns. This was no accident. Luther writes: “For such songs are a sort of Bible for the uncultivated, and even for the learned. See how the pious are set on fire through these songs!” [ref.].

    Does this mean that every hymn needs to be a “Dear Christians, One and All, Rejoice”? Does every hymn need to sing about the sacraments in order to be in a Lutheran hymnal? The quick answer is no. Some hymns are, by design, more of an emotional response to the gospel rather than a teacher of the gospel. God’s grace really is amazing (CW 379) and our Savior really is beautiful (CW 369). Some hymns are, intentionally, a commentary on God’s creation or the believer’s sanctification. We are fearfully and wonderfully made (CW 234) with hearts that yearn for the Spirit’s presence and gifts (CW 181).

    But we also need to be careful. God’s grace is much more than amazing. Specifically, God’s grace is rooted in the redemption that is ours in Christ (CW 117). Our Savior is beautiful, but his beauty is seen fully in the Word and sacraments (CW 311). We are a part of God’s creation, but even more wonderfully, in Christ, we are a new creation (CW 471). Christ is the “center of gravity” in our current hymnal. Christ will remain the center of gravity in our new hymnal.

    Sidebar: Respectfully making room

    Because textual content is key, the first thing the Hymnody Committee did was sit down and agree upon a set of core principles that would guide our picking and panning. Here they are:

    Hymns considered for inclusion in the successor volume of Christian Worship: A Lutheran Hymnal should . . .

    1. Be centered in Christ.
    2. Be in harmony with the scriptural faith as confessed in the Lutheran Book of Concord.
    3. Be rooted in the church year with its emphases on the life of Christ and the Christian’s life in Christ.
    4. Be drawn from classic Lutheran sources and deliberately inclusive of the church’s broader song (including so-called international or global music.)
    5. Be superlative examples of their genre in regard to both textual content and musical craft.
    6. Be accessible and meaningful for God’s people at worship in both public and private settings.
    7. Be useful for those who preach and teach the faith.
    8. Be parts of a body (corpus) of hymns that will find wide acceptance by the vast majority of our fellowship.

    Your Hymnody Committee is doing its best to follow the careful path that Luther blazed. We recognize and appreciate the emotional pull of music. But even more, we hope to deliver a hymnbook packed with hymns that preach, teach, and proclaim Christ crucified to a generation yet unborn. The Lord requires nothing less. God’s people deserve nothing less.
    In short: Some of our new hymns will be toe tappers, but the entire hymnal will be a truth teller!

    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

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    In July we began publishing segments of our current body of published hymnody, indicating which hymns are currently designated to be kept for our next hymnal and which are currently designated to be cut. These list segments are accompanied by monthly articles in Forward in Christ (also published on our website’s blog) that discuss the importance of hymns and their use in our worship.

    In addition to the nearly 2,000 responses we have received through the feedback forms, we have also received a number of questions and comments. Below you’ll find several of the most common questions we’ve received, along with responses.

    How can we vote on what’s being cut if we don’t know what’s replacing it?

    Some have expressed uneasiness about evaluating the hymns designated to be cut without knowing which hymns will replace them. As Pastor Michael Schultz discussed in the first Forward in Christ article, the process for creating a new hymnal starts with making room for new hymns. Then the search for those hymns begins.

    Why remove current hymns before finding their replacements? And why ask people to evaluate those hymns without knowing which hymns will take their place? As Pastor Schultz mentioned, “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.”

    If every new hymn for the hymnal had to first unseat a current hymn, very few would be up to the task. In a “head-to-head” match up between the familiar and the unfamiliar, the familiar would almost always win. However, in the process, the treasures the Lord continues to provide for his church wouldn’t be given the chance to prove their worth.

    In other words, the decision to keep or cut a particular hymn is made not so much in comparison to the hymn that will potentially take its place. Rather, it’s made in comparison to the other hymns in our currently published body of hymnody.

    Can we vote to have certain hymns cut?

    Some have asked if they can vote to have certain hymns cut. It is understandable that people have strong feelings not only about which hymns ought to be kept but also about which hymns ought to be cut.

    However, receiving that type of feedback isn’t the primary purpose of this effort. If a hymn is included in spite of the fact that a good number of people don’t want it to be, it’s not as if those people must make use of it (see also the third article in the Forward in Christ series). On the other hand, if a hymn isn’t included in spite the fact that a good number of people want it to be, it makes it very difficult for people who want to sing it to do continue to do so. That’s why the purpose of this exercise is primarily to give people an opportunity to voice their opinion on which hymns they want to continue to be able to sing.

    Can we offer comments along with our vote?

    Initially the opportunity to comment along with one’s vote was not built into the feedback form. We assumed that, in most cases, any comment would more or less repeat the message communicated by the vote itself: “I want this hymn included in our hymnal.”

    However, since a number of people have expressed the desire to include some comments with their vote, a single comment form has been included on the main Cut Hymns List page. The form can be used to comment on any hymn.

    How long will the feedback forms stay open?

    The nine segments of the hymns list will stay open through the duration of the process. All forms will be closed on May 1, 2018, two months after the final segment of the list is published.

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    The following article appeared in the September edition ofForward in Christ. It is is the third article in a nine-part series on hymns and their use in our churches.

    I have a confession to make. I’ve stopped feeling guilty about the hymns I don’t pick.

    Let me explain. As a pastor who picks the hymns that the congregation sings, there have been plenty of times when I’ve heard comments about a hymn I did pick for a service. It’s much less frequent, however, to hear a comment about a hymn I didn’t pick. I’ve learned to expect, “Pastor, that’s one of my favorites!” as well as, “Pastor, I can’t stand that one!” But I don’t expect, “Pastor, Pentecost 8 of Year A would have been the perfect opportunity to sing this one!” And yet, even though people rarely comment on the hymns left unsung, those are the ones I sometimes think about most.

    If you’ve ever been involved in picking hymns, you know that for every hymn that finds a spot in the service there are a dozen you considered that didn’t. It’s not as if those dozen are clunkers. They are Christ-centered, gospel-proclaiming, scripture-teaching hymns. And yet, for one reason or another, they don’t find their way into the service. They are the hymns of omission, if you will. And a while back, I stopped feeling guilty about them.

    Picking Practically vs. Pastorally

    When I first started picking hymns, there were all kinds of factors I took into account. Some were textual. I would look for hymns that best-captured the specific gospel truth found in the service’s assigned readings. I might pick a hymn based on a single word or phrase that used language from the day’s sermon text.

    Other factors were musical. I would pick hymns that people would find easy and enjoyable to sing. I would consider the musical resources we had available so that the hymn might involve a choir or instrumentalists.

    More recently, however, my approach has changed. I haven’t stopped thinking about the factors mentioned above. But I’ve started taking more careful stock of the total number of hymns I pick and the frequency with which I pick them. I haven’t stopped asking, “Which hymns work best in this specific service?” But I’ve starting asking more frequently, “What is the overall body of hymnody that the congregation knows well?”

    Put differently, I used to view picking hymns as mainly a practical task. Now I view picking hymns as much more of a pastoral task. This subtle change in approach has been most noticeable in one specific way. I find myself intentionally picking fewer hymns more frequently as opposed to more hymns less frequently.

    Why sing fewer hymns?

    Why the change? I wish I could take a little more credit for it. However, it was much more something that happened to me rather than the other way around. More and more I saw firsthand the profound effect that well-learned and well-loved hymns can have in the lives of God’s people.

    If you’re one of the many young people in our congregations, it may seem as though your pastor struggles to communicate the gospel in a way that addresses the specific challenges you face. He’s likely as aware of that struggle as you are. As you face temptation, confront peer pressure, or battle to develop a Christ-centered identity, he’d love it if you remembered everything he ever told you in a children’s sermon or a confirmation class. But even though that’s unlikely, he’d be thrilled to know that the words close at hand as you face the challenges of youth include those of a hymn like “God’s Own Child I Gladly Say It.”

    If you’re new to Christianity or Lutheranism specifically, your pastor knows that you may struggle with specific questions about the Bible or carry theological baggage from your past. He would love to think that his twelve-week Bible Information Class will answer every single question and transform you into a dyed-in-the-wool Lutheran. But even though that’s unlikely, he’s thrilled knowing that sola gratia, sola fide, and sola scriptura are planted deeper in your heart every time you sing a hymn like “Salvation Unto Us Has Come.”

    If you’re nearing the end of your earthly pilgrimage, your pastor knows that death is called the last enemy for a reason. He would love to think that in those last moments you would cling for comfort to something you heard in one of his sermons. But even though that’s unlikely, he’d be thrilled to know that the words running through your head as you stand at the doorstep of glory are the words of a hymn like “Jesus Your Blood and Righteousness.”

    Are we giving our hymns the opportunity to do what they are so uniquely capable of doing? Hymns have a unique ability to take precious gospel truths and smuggle them deep into the human mind and heart. Hymns can take those truths and accomplish two equally-important and seemingly-contradictory goals. They can lock those truths away in a secure, impenetrable vault. At the same time, they can make those truths readily available to be summoned forth when needed most. That is, of course, assuming we allow them to.

    Let’s do a little math. If, in a given year, a congregation sings 260 different hymns (only one-third of what’s in our current hymnal and supplement), do you know how many times they’d sing each one? Assuming four hymns per service and sixty-five unique services a year, they’d sing each of those 260 hymns only once.

    Is singing a hymn once a year enough? Will the three-year-old who can’t read yet come to know any of them? Will any of their words pop into the teen’s mind as he endures bullying at school? Will any of them occur to the husband who’s being lured by the temptations of pornography? Will any of them be inaudibly mouthed by the ninety-year-old with dementia in hospice care?

    If I showed you the list of hymns we don’t sing at my congregation, you might be shocked. There are some good ones on that list. Some classics even. But I’ve stopped feeling guilty about the hymns we don’t sing. Rather, I rejoice in the unique blessings that come from the ones we do sing - and the frequency with which we sing them.

    Author’s note: There will be a supplementary blog article for some practical ideas on singing hymns more frequently.

    Respectfully Making Room

    Like Christian Worship, our church body’s next hymnal will again put 600+ hymns in front of God’s people. Those responsible for selecting those hymns would be the first to admit that not all hymns are created equal. Some have richer gospel imagery than others. Some have more doctrinal content than others. Some elicit more emotion than others.

    Valid arguments will be made about why a specific hymn that was included should have been excluded and vice versa. There will be some that you would want sung at your funeral. There will be others that you prefer never to have to hear again. All 600+ hymns won’t equally satisfy the specific standards you set for hymns. The point is that they don’t need to.

    Rather, we hope that the 600+ hymns offered in this hymnal provide an opportunity for every congregation to find a rich and full subset that makes up its unique diet of hymnody. We pray that those hymns - learned and loved well - would serve God’s people with the precious gospel both in large, established congregations and new mission starts, both in the rural heartland and on the urban coasts, both in life’s highs and life’s lows, from the early years of their youth all the way to their dying breath.

    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

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  • 09/18/17--20:47: Seeking Artist Candidates
  • The Technology Committee of the WELS Hymnal Project is seeking names of individual artists or design studios who may be considered for the artwork needs of the new hymnal.

    In general we are seeking candidate artists or studios with skill and technique in producing clear, iconic, Christian images and illustrations.

    We have prepared a brief, online form where suggested artists and studios may be submitted for consideration. Names will be gathered via this online form until the end of October 2017.

    Submission Form

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    Author’s Note: A previous blog article, also published in the September edition of Forward in Christ, was about scheduling hymns. Specifically, it made the case for scheduling fewer hymns more frequently rather than more hymns less frequently. The following article supplements that one, offering a few practical suggestions along those same lines.

    How to schedule fewer hymns

    If you’re in a position where you pick congregational hymns, you know your congregation better than anyone. Perhaps the place to start is simply realizing that they might be thirsting for less variety in their hymns than you think they are. (If you’re not in that position, consider saying as much to the person who is!)

    Here are a few specific suggestions for scheduling hymns frequently enough to allow them to do what they do best:

    Sing the hymns of the day.

    This list of hymns does more than match up specific hymns with specific seasonal and Sunday emphases. It also ensures that a specific group of hymns - chosen for their especially rich content and distinctly Lutheran character - are sung frequently. As an added bonus, following this schedule instantly accomplishes 25% of your hymn-picking task!

    Sing seasonal hymns.

    The natural rhythm of the church year provides opportunities for singing specific hymns frequently. For example, there are three seasons of the Church Year when the Gloria in Excelsis may be omitted or replaced (Advent, Lent, and Easter). Alternate canticles might be used (for example, “This Is the Feast,” CW 265, during the Easter season). You might also consider selecting a seasonal hymn instead. After singing a hymn half a dozen or more weeks in a row, the congregation will likely be ready to put it away for awhile. But when you come back to it later, you’ll find they know it well and are excited to sing it once again.

    Sing situational hymns.

    Each hymn has a place not only within the context of the Church Year but also within the context of the service. Consider developing a small repertoire of hymns for various spots in the service. Hymns that highlight the work of the Holy Spirit or the blessings of baptism make great opening hymns. Hymns that focus on the blessings of hearing the Word often make great closing hymns. For distribution hymns, you might rethink your goal of making use of the entire Holy Communion section and instead make use of a subset of it frequently enough that you notice people singing the words as they approach the altar.

    During the Middle Ages, churches used what were known as sequence hymns. These were seasonal hymns sung before the reading of the Gospel. “All Praise to You, Eternal God” (CW 33), “Christ is Arisen” (CW 144), and “We Now Implore God the Holy Ghost” (CW 190) are three examples that were used during Christmas, Easter, and Pentecost, respectively. Situational use of hymns in this way doesn’t have to be limited to these choices. Consider singing one stanza before the gospel and one stanza after the gospel as a way of highlighting the works and words of Jesus as the apex of the service of the Word.

    Sing well-wearing hymns.

    As a general rule, the faster a hymn catches on, the faster it wears out. As counter-intuitive as it might sound, if you’re going to make an effort to sing specific hymns more frequently, consider picking ones that aren’t instant favorites. They might not be humming them in the car on the way home from church the first time they hear it, but they also won’t be wishing they could get it unstuck from their head. Eventually they will catch on and people will grow to love them without tiring of them as quickly.

    Create more opportunities to sing.

    Of course, the objective of having hymns that people know and love well can also be achieved by people singing those hymns more often in more situations. We would love for our rich treasury of hymns to be used in people’s homes around the breakfast table and during bedtime prayers. Our Lutheran schools offer nearly limitless opportunities for our young people to have our hymns on their lips. Encourage families to sing. Continue to teach hymns in our schools - including our Sunday Schools. Whatever effort is put forth, it’s more than worth it.

    Hopefully those suggestions spark a few ideas for how you can let hymns do what they do best. God bless your efforts to get these wonderful gospel-proclaiming treasures into people’s ears - and deep into their hearts!

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    The following article appeared in the October edition ofForward in Christ. It is is the third article in a nine-part series on hymns and their use in our churches.

    Luther’s Small Catechism is a witness to the fact that the Lutheran Reformation was primarily a reform of the church’s teaching. Millions of illiterate people were in desperate need of Scripture’s teaching. Luther’s solution was the Small Catechism—careful summaries of biblical truth that could be easily memorized. Lutheran boys and girls have been asking “What does this mean?” ever since.

    In his Large Catechism, Luther provides us with a window into the purpose of his hymns: “When these parts have been well learned, one may assign them also some psalms or hymns, based on these subjects, to supplement and confirm their knowledge. Thus young people will be led into the Scriptures and make progress every day” (Preface, 25). In short, the songs were to be intimately connected with the student’s biblical learning. Based upon Luther’s advice, Lutheran pastors and teachers have been assigning their students memory work from the hymnal ever since.

    A little over a year after Luther’s catechisms came off the presses, the Lutheran territories of Germany presented a confession of their faith before the emperor in the city of Augsburg on June 25, 1530. This confession opens the same window on a Lutheran view of the hymn’s role in worship: “Moreover, no noticeable changes have been made in the public celebration of the Mass, except that in certain places German hymns are sung alongside the Latin responses for the instruction and exercise of the people” (Augsburg Confession XXIV:2,3, emphasis added).

    This is most certainly true: Luther and our early Lutheran fathers firmly believed in teaching hymnody.

    Practically speaking, how did this play out in the Reformation of worship? For a man who grew up dreading the fire of purgatory and praying to saints, it is simply astounding how conservative Luther was in the reform of the church’s worship. Luther didn’t opt for an ax to hack down everything; instead he picked up the surgeon’s scalpel. He used a steady theological hand in reforming the service. Most of his changes removed praying to the saints and references that made the Lord’s Supper a sacrifice for sins.

    Another significant reform was the people’s role in worship. For the average worshiper in the Middle Ages, worship was a “spectator’s sport”—something that the priest did at the altar rather than something engaged in from the pew. If the common people sang, the songs usually retold the legends of the saints rather of the story of the Savior. Luther’s key musical reform of the church was that his hymns literally put the words and teaching of the gospel on people’s lips.

    Luther’s key musical insight for the church also happens to be the Scripture’s key insight. In many Scripture references, we can easily find the saints praising God by proclaiming the gospel in song. This leads us to another key Lutheran emphasis: The truths of the gospel are more than a body of facts we can recite. The truths of the gospel are God’s saving power (Romans 1:16)! Through their hymns, Lutheran Christians proclaim the saving power of Christ!

    Now take a moment to peruse Luther’s hymns in our hymnal. Luther’s poetry may be vigorous and engaging, but rarely, if ever, does Luther get personal, expressing what he thinks, feels, or does. Instead, Luther’s hymns teach the Scriptures. They were deliberately penned to place the words and doctrines of Scripture on people’s lips and hearts. That’s why anti-reform voices in Luther’s day would often quip that Luther’s hymns had damned more souls than all his sermons combined!

    Some of Luther’s hymns simply put the psalms into verse and rhyme: “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God” (Christian Worship [CW] 200/01); “If God Had Not Been on Our Side” (CW 202); “O Lord, Look Down from Heaven” (CW 205); and “May God Bestow on Us His Grace” (CW 574). Through them, the songs of Israel’s temple became the songs of Wittenberg’s shopkeepers.

    Several of Luther’s hymns were based on the songs of the liturgy or Scripture’s canticles: “Kyrie, God Father in Heaven Above” (CW 266); “All Glory Be to God Alone” (CW 262); “Isaiah, Mighty Seer in Days of Old” (CW 267); and “In Peace and Joy I Now Depart” (CW 269). Through them, the ancient songs of the church became the song of peasants and maids.

    An important group of hymns show us that Luther knew how to take his own advice to “assign them also some psalms or hymns.” Luther’s so-called “Catechism Hymns” serve as a musical supplement to the catechism: “The Ten Commandments Are the Law” (CW 285); “We All Believe in One True God” (CW 271); “Our Father, Who from Heaven Above” (CW 410); “To Jordan Came the Christ, Our Lord” (CW 88); “From Depths of Woe I Cry to You” (CW 305); “Jesus Christ, Our Blessed Savior” (CW 313); and “O Lord, We Praise You” (CW 317). Through these hymns the doctrines of Scripture became the song of school boys and girls. They serve as a musical answer to “What does this mean?”

    A final group of many other hymns brings the saving story of Christ to the people. “Dear Christians, One and All, Rejoice” (CW 377) and “From Heaven Above to Earth I Come” (CW 38) are two prime examples. Through these hymns the eternal gospel goes to work in time and space, converting human hearts to faith and confirming the faith of the converted.

    The Reformation of the church was born of an academic debate over the role of indulgences in repentance. The Reformation not only survived, but it grew and thrived because it deliberately placed the preaching, teaching, and singing of the gospel of Jesus Christ at the center of the home, the classroom, the pulpit, and the hymnal. Our Lutheran fathers learned these scriptural lessons with care. And we well have fared!

    Hymns that teaches us the gospel: It is pure privilege to sing them. We need to sing them. The world needs us to sing them.

    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

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    The following article appeared in the November edition ofForward in Christ. It is is the fifth article in a nine-part series on hymns and their use in our churches.

    A man walked into a Target store demanding to speak with the manager. He wasn’t happy. In his hand he clutched an ad that had recently arrived at his mailbox. It was full of pictures of smiling babies and included coupons maternity clothes, cribs, and newborn onesies. “My daughter got this in the mail!” he said. “She’s still in high school! Are you trying to encourage her to get pregnant?”

    The store manager apologized profusely. A few days later, he called the man to apologize again. This time, however, the man owed the manager the apology. “I had a talk with my daughter,” he said. “It turns out she’s due in August.”

    How did Target know that the young girl was pregnant before her dad did? For that matter, why is the ad delivered to your mailbox different from the one delivered to your neighbor’s? It’s simple. Data from every purchase a person makes at Target is added to his or her customer profile. Target is able to use that profile to predict what the customer is most likely to purchase, not just in the present but even in the future. They then tailor their advertising to that customer accordingly.

    I hope that little story doesn’t dissuade you from shopping at Target (or upset anyone who works there!). Rather than this sort of thing being unique to Target, it is just one of many examples of targeted marketing. Companies don’t just advertise to customers in general. They advertise specific things to specific people. When you think about it, it makes perfect sense. Companies don’t need every customer to buy the same thing. They just want every customer to buy something.

    Compare your relationship with a big box retailer to your relationship to Christ’s Church. When it comes to the Church, you are not the customer of a company. Rather, you are a member of a body (see Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12, and Ephesians 4, for example). Christians have an important relationship not only to Christ but also to other Christians. In the Church, men and women, young and old, rich and poor, even dead and alive, are joined as one.

    Celebrating unity in our worship

    One of the primary places where this wonderful unity can be seen is in public worship. Christian Worship: Manual puts it this way: “At public worship believers of all ages, shapes and sizes join to offer God their mutual response of faith.”

    In the church in Corinth we find a New Testament example of public worship dividing the body of Christ rather than uniting it. In response, Paul wrote, “When you come together, each of you has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. Everything must be done so that the church may be built up” (1 Corinthians 14:26, NIV).

    The church is a body. Public worship celebrates that. And yet, consumerism is the air we breathe. As a result, it’s easy to bring with us the assumptions of our consumer-driven culture as we seek carry out our mission as churches. The same kind of targeted marketing practiced by Target can easily drive our decisions about worship. It might sound something like this: “In order to (insert any number of noble goals), we need more (insert any number of different types of hymns).”

    The noble goals being pursued could include: articulation of the truth, preservation of Lutheran heritage, retention of the youth, or connection with the lost. The types of hymns we think will help us accomplish those goals could include: new hymns or old hymns, hymns with fresh, upbeat tunes or hymns with sturdy, time-tested tunes, hymns that come out of our primarily Western European roots or hymns that come from cultures around the globe, hymns that have distinctly Lutheran origins or hymns from broader Christianity, hymns that are chock-full of doctrine or hymns that are chock-full of emotion.

    Since the start of the hymnal project, the concern people have expressed most often is whether or not a specific type of hymn will have adequate representation in the hymnal. But perhaps the fact that the Church is a body of which Christians are members (rather than a company of which we are customers) leads us to approach the issue from a different perspective.

    As stated in last month’s article, our top priority is to publish hymns that are “centered in Christ” and “in harmony with the scriptural faith as confessed in the Lutheran Book of Concord” (from the adopted list of criteria for hymns). If the Church really is a body of members that spans centuries, continents, and cultures, then an appropriate corresponding variety in our hymnody will sort of take care of itself.

    Capitalizing on unity in our mission

    But what about those noble goals that I mentioned above? One can certainly argue that specific types of hymns can help (or hinder) a specific facet of our mission as churches. However, none of those noble goals can be accomplished by hymnody alone. Every facet of our mission as Christians takes diligent, ongoing work. A specific type of hymn is not the silver bullet for any of them.

    And so whatever might be gained by the predominant use of a specific type of hymn in service to a specific goal, we must also consider what stands to be lost. If different demographic groups in the Church have a body of hymnody tailored specifically to whatever characteristics define them, we lose the visible display of the unity that is so important to the body of Christ.

    In fact, the case can be made that displays of unity serve every facet of our mission as well as anything else. Unity is one of the things that makes the Christian Church distinct and identifies it to the world as something divine. On the night before he died, Jesus prayed to his Father that all believers “may be one as we are one - I in them and you in me - so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me” (John 17:22,23, NIV).

    A proper approach to variety in our hymnody will assuredly mean that none of us has a set of hymns that is exactly what suits us best at all times. Instead, it means that all of us will have something far better.

    A Body of Hymnody for the Body of Christ

    Pastor Kurt Eggert, the project director for Christian Worship, wrote: The Lutheran church is ecumenical in its selection of hymns and other worship materials. Whatever is scripturally sound and true, poetically and musically worthy, and edifying for the faith of worshipers may be drawn on for use in our hymnal. For this principle we can thank Luther himself.”

    So how much variety is there in our current body of hymnody? Christian Worship contains 340 hymns from various English sources and 283 translations: German, 208; Latin, 36; Danish, 18; Norwegian, 8; Swedish, 5, Greek, 2; Italian, 2; French, Czech, Bohemian, and Welsh, 1 each. Anyone familiar with Christian Worship: Supplement knows that it (intentionally) expanded that variety even more. How our synod’s next hymnal will compare remains to be seen. But the goal - providing a body of hymnody that serves the whole body of Christ - remains the same.

    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

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    The following article appeared in the December edition ofForward in Christ. It is is the sixth article in a nine-part series on hymns and their use in our churches.

    Thinking I’m not the most charming conversationalist to begin with, it was doubly challenging for me to visit Betty at her home once a month. A stroke had taken away a fair amount of her ability to speak, but then a subsequent series of mini-strokes robbed her of what little speech she had left. Delivering the devotion and saying the prayer were easy; it was the small talk that was challenging. It wasn’t like having a conversation with myself; it actually was.

    Until, one December, I sang a Christmas hymn with Betty. There was no doubt that she had learned the one about the herald angels singing. Her face lit up; she knew every word. I could hear her singing the words of the hymn far more clearly than any spoken response she had made in recent years. “God and sinners reconciled! Glory to the newborn King!”

    As surprising to me as that particular case was, I know it’s not all that uncommon. Hundreds of pastors tell dozens of similar anecdotes of elderly Christians clearly recalling hymns they learned decades earlier. But will there continue to be those kinds of stories, and if so, what will be the hymn lines that those aging Christians recall?

    Hymns tell the story

    From the home of an elderly shut-in, the scene changes to a large body of water in Egypt. What if you had just stepped onto the other side of the Red Sea without getting your feet wet? If Egyptians who were intent on killing you were instead washing up dead on the shore and God was fully responsible for your deliverance, what might you say? What might you sing? “I will sing to the Lord, for he is highly exalted. Both horse and driver he has hurled into the sea” (Exodus 15:1). You might sing about what God had just done for you. You might sing it over and over again until you know it by heart.

    Good hymn texts tell that story, the story of God’s deliverance through Christ. Like Christ-centered, law-gospel sermons that are fresh and energetic, good hymn texts tell the story of God’s love for the unlovable, and they come at it from every scriptural angle imaginable. They speak of how the Father sent his only Son to take our place, how Christ suffered indescribable agony to purchase us, how Christ rose to take the sting out of our death. They tell of how the Spirit preaches forgiveness and faith in Christ into our hearts through Bible truth, how he pours those blessings over us in Baptism, how he feeds those blessings to us with our Savior’s body and blood.

    Hymns that do that are going to last. They are going to be published in one Lutheran hymnal after another. And, with God being gracious to us, over and over again we and our descendants are going to sing about “the wonders God has done, How his right arm the vict’ry won. How dearly it has cost him!” (Christian Worship [CW] 377:1).

    In a memorable way

    Christian recording artist Fernando Ortega wrote: “It’s easy to write a chorus that says, ‘God, you are a holy God. I need your grace to see me through. I need your mercy to make me new. Let me live each day for you.’ I just made that up in 2 minutes and there’s nothing wrong with it. It would fit easily and competitively among the hundreds of worship songs that are available to choose from.”

    Ortega went on to compare his quickly written chorus to a well-crafted, Christian hymn (“Come Down, O Love Divine”), which he described as “timeless.”

    But how does the hymnal committee determine which hymns will become timeless? We try to do that through comparative evaluations—thousands of comparative evaluations.

    There’s a reason Betty still knew that Christmas hymn. I can remember the comfortable smile on her face when I read her the Luke 2 Christmas account. The Christmas hymn, however, also included rhyme and meter and music. The combination made the truths of the incarnation all the more memorable for her. Hearing and singing that hymn in her childhood home and in the Lutheran congregation of her youth had anchored it in her heart.

    With the long-lasting impact hymns can have, throwing some lines together or using “any old text” just won’t do. Which lines would you want, would I want, would we want to usher us into old age, to remain in our brains when our brains may be losing track of other less memorable, less important things?

    Out of hundreds, here are a couple that have made a deep impression on me:

    “When he shall come with trumpet sound, Oh, may I then in him be found, Clothed in His righteousness alone, Faultless to stand before the throne” (TLH 370:4; CW 382:4; ________).

    “And then from death awaken me That these mine eyes with joy may see, O Son of God, Thy glorious face, My Savior and my Fount of grace” (TLH 429:3; CW 434:3; ________).

    I’ve quoted the texts as I first learned them in The Lutheran Hymnal, but also with their Christian Worship citations. The blank space represents our next hymnal. There are, of course, plenty of things to sing about other than death and resurrection and judgment day, but none more important. Betty never had her eyes set on living in an oceanside mansion with an infinity pool that looked out over a dazzling sunset every evening. Her eyes were aimed at the mansions in the house of her heavenly Father, where she is today, free from the limitations of a stroke-riddled body and brimming with joy. She is, in fact, standing on the shore that’s far better than the far shore of the Red Sea, the shore where the saints in heaven raise the hymn of how God has delivered them from every enemy. She’s singing the song of Moses and the song of the Lamb (Revelation 15:3).

    The examples above are the kinds of texts that are worth singing, worth learning, worth preserving. In many cases, they are hymns from centuries past and have already appeared in hundreds of hymnals. In some cases, they are from this century and are just starting to show up in a handful of hymnals. In every case, we are taking a close look at the words, making sure that they faithfully and accurately reference God’s gracious deliverance in Christ and that they do so in a well-crafted way. We want such texts to make a lifelong impression in the hearts and minds of God’s people, right down to our own youngest children and a generation yet unborn.

    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

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    The following article appeared in the January edition ofForward in Christ. It is is the sixth article in a nine-part series on hymns and their use in our churches.

    It was the season for high school musicals. The long months of winter rehearsals were finally at an end. The curtains cracked open for a packed house to a production of The King and I. After three hours of sights and sounds, the senses were most certainly satiated—or saturated!

    One of the songs that always received thunderous applause was “I Whistle a Happy Tune.” Governess Leonowens whistled her happy tune to her son Louis when they arrived in Siam fearful of their future in a new home in an exotic country. The lyrics aren’t exactly Shakespeare, but the tune certainly is sunny.

    Thirty years later, I can still hear the whistling.

    More than a tin-whistle hymnody

    When it comes to the tunes and harmonic settings of the hymns in Christian Worship (CW), people haven’t always whistled for joy. As it turns out, one person’s “whistler” is another person’s “groaner.” The Hymnal Committee has received significant feedback on the musical elements of the project. Some comments come from trained musicians with significant experience. Other comments come from brothers and sisters without musical training. Their comments often involve the difficulty of some hymn tunes.

    On the other hand, even if the thought is rarely stated, each comment also comes with a personal preference attached. There are 375,000 WELS members who know what they like and like what they know. And here we face a musical temptation. We need to be wary of stopping with what we like and know. Worse yet, we need to be careful of projecting our preferences on a denomination of people.

    Dr. Martin Franzmann pokes this tendency in the eye: “Another argument might be called the ‘tin whistle’ argument. Its essence is something like this: ‘After all, a man can make music on a tin whistle to the glory of God, and God will be pleased to hear it.’ True, true, true—if God has given him nothing but a tin whistle; but God has given us so infinitely much more. When He has given us all the instruments under heaven with which to sing His praises, then the tin whistle is no longer humility but a perverse sort of pride” (Ha! Ha! Among the Trumpets, p. 92). What is true about tin whistles and trumpets is also true about the notes that those instruments play.

    God has given WELS much more than a tin-whistle hymnody. He’s given us two thousand years of singing the Savior’s story! What does Christian music sound like? It sounds like Gregorian chant (“Oh, Come, Oh, Come, Emmanuel,” CW 23, the most sung hymn in WELS according to surveys!), the folk music of Europe (CW 369) and America (CW 379), the cathedrals of England (CW 594), and the mission chapels of Africa (Christian Worship: Supplement 719). It sounds like the chorales of Luther (CW 200). Our music is as old as the psalms and as recent as tunes and settings composed this year. In short, the Holy Spirit does not create Christian monotones!

    Music to bring Christ-centered texts

    Unlike Governess Leonowens, it is not enough for confessional Lutherans to whistle happy tunes to convince themselves that they aren’t afraid. Instead, we want our tunes to carry Christ-centered texts that drive out fear. Our tunes need to touch not only our emotions but also our minds. Lutheran tunes are often less, so that hymn texts may be more.

    This ministerial view of music is at least as old as the ancient church father St. Augustine: “Without committing myself to an irrevocable opinion, I am inclined to approve the custom of singing in church, in order that by indulging the ears weaker spirits may be inspired with feelings of devotion. Yet when I find the singing itself more moving than the truth which it conveys, I confess that this is a grievous sin, and at those times I would prefer not to hear the singer” (Evening in the Palace of Reason: Bach Meets Frederick the Great in the Age of the Enlightenment, p. 49).

    In other words, is this a piece of music that carries the gospel to my heart and thereby leads me to the heart of Jesus, or does it lead me to the music? Both are emotional experiences. Only one, however, is a Christian worship experience. Music must be content to remain the text’s servant, never the text’s master.

    Tunes that touch the heart

    Our tunes are also meant to serve hymn singers. This does not mean that every tune will be immediately accessible. Why? Because music that is immediately accessible often makes for music that is quickly expendable. No one had to teach children born in the ’60s and ’70s the theme song of Gilligan’s Island. Its music is immediately accessible. We had to work a bit, however, to learn the melody of the national anthem. Thirty years from now, the national anthem will still be taught and sung. The theme song of Gilligan’s Island will remain a childhood curiosity and most likely be forgotten.

    Our tunes also serve singers by giving sound to the entire panoply of human emotions. We grieve over our sins (CW 305) and rejoice in God’s forgiveness in Christ (CW 390). We struggle with the ever-present difficulties in life (CW 444) and rejoice that in Christ we have the ultimate victory (CW 428). There are times in life when we are called on to stand up for Jesus (CW 474) and fight the good fight of faith (CW 457). There are other times where it is best to be still and know that our Lord is God (CW 415). Some tunes are happy, others sad; some tunes lead to grieving, others to rejoicing. Why? Because all of these emotions—and many more—are felt by the family of believers this side of heaven. Tunes that are only and always light and happy can lead to a Leonowens-esque view of the Christian life—all happy, all the time. The book of Psalms puts the whole spectrum of human emotions on our hearts and lips.

    Thank God that Lutheran music is never an exercise in “whistling past the graveyard.” Instead, we sing the gospel of the One who conquered the graveyard. Our music is never an effort in happy-sounding self-deception; instead, it serves as a vehicle for the gospel. God has blessed us with so many wonderful sounds through the centuries. Our century and our new hymnal will be no exception!

    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

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    The following article appeared in the February edition ofForward in Christ. It is is the eighth article in a nine-part series on hymns and their use in our churches.

    “The people barely sing along.” “The congregation sings poorly during the service.” “The pastor complains of low participation by the congregation in singing.”

    Have statements like these ever been heard in your congregation? You might even assume that they come from the lips of 21st-century lifelong Lutherans who are saddened by the fact that congregational singing isn’t what it used to be.

    But these laments came out of church visitation programs conducted in Germany during the decades following the Reformation. Some of them describe congregational singing well over a century after the Reformation began.

    Yes, Luther said, “Next to the Word of God, music deserves the highest praise” (Luther’s Works, Vol. 53, p. 323). His efforts to put the gospel back on the lips of the people is one of the reasons the Lutheran church is often referred to as “the singing church.” But for the first hundred-plus years, the Lutheran church’s journey to earning that title apparently got off to a pretty rough start.

    Serving new treasures

    From the beginning, Luther’s efforts to restore congregational singing included the production of new hymns. In a one-year span from 1523 to 1524, Luther wrote 24 hymns. Some of them found their way into the first Lutheran hymnals, which were published in 1524.

    This sudden production of new hymns is understandable. Luther and the other Reformers wanted the theology of Scripture to be implanted deeply into the hearts of the people. But it was not easy. One might wonder why they didn’t stop since it was difficult to get people to sing these hymns.

    We can be thankful that they didn’t. Luther and the others continued to write new hymns. As a result, we celebrate the Reformation singing “A mighty fortress is our God, a trusty shield and weapon” (Christian Worship [CW] 200:1, written by Luther in 1528 or 1529).

    New songs appeared even after Luther’s death. As a result, we confront our own mortality, singing, “Lord, let at last your angels come; to Abram’s bosom bear me home that I may die unfearing” (CW 434:3, written by Martin Schalling around 1567).

    As the years went by, new songs helped Christians sing God’s truth. We remember our Savior’s passion, singing, “A Lamb goes uncomplaining forth, our guilt and evil bearing, and, laden with the sins of earth, none else the burden sharing. Goes patient on, grows weak and faint, to slaughter led without complaint” (CW 100:1, written 100 years after Luther by Paul Gerhardt and first published in 1648). In addition, we approach the Lord’s Table for Holy Communion singing, “He who craves a precious treasure neither cost nor pain will measure, but the priceless gifts of heaven God to us has freely given” (CW 311:3, written by Johann Franck and first published in 1649).

    And we have new songs to sing from our own time. We take up the task Jesus has given his church, singing, “Preach you the Word and plant it home to those who like or like it not, the Word that shall endure and stand when flow’rs and mortals are forgot” (CW 544:1, written by Martin Franzmannn and first sung in 1973). We also exit God’s house on Sunday, singing, “Go, my children, sins forgiven, at peace and pure. Here you learned how much I love you, what I can cure” (CW 332:2, written by Jaroslav Vajda in 1983).

    Our Lutheran forebears put into practice what Jesus said to his disciples: “Every teacher of the law who has become a disciple in the kingdom of heaven is like the owner of a house who brings out of his storeroom new treasures as well as old” (Matthew 13:52).

    Hymns are one way to teach. We have old hymns that teach God’s truths, and we have new melodies and words too. We will use the old hymns, but the Holy Spirit will continue to move God’s people as he has always done to create new hymns to praise God and teach his truth. The musical feast will have such variety.

    Serving them well

    If the early Lutherans encountered frustration for more than a century as they strove to promote congregational singing, we ought not expect things to be different today. Odds are every person reading this article has experienced the frustration of trying to use a new treasure brought out of the storeroom of Christian hymnody.

    Let’s assume that our synod’s next hymnal has two hundred “new” hymns. Those new hymns don’t need to all be served to God’s people within the first year. Our church body’s next hymnal presents us with the opportunity to bring out new treasures to God’s people for an entire generation.

    In the last few years I’ve experienced the joy of doing so. More than 20 years after Christian Worship was published, I’ve still been able to give people an opportunity to sing new treasures, not because the treasures themselves are new but because they are new to people. I’ve enjoyed listening to my youngest walk around the house singing, “A mighty fortress is our God, a . . .” (she doesn’t have the second line down quite yet). I’ve enjoyed watching my congregation acquire a taste for treasures like “Lord, When Your Glory I Shall See” (CW 219), which is by no means easy to sing the first time around.

    Learning our next hymnal’s new hymns isn’t a race. It’s a feast. Let’s sit back, slow down, and savor every bite.

    Respectfully making room

    What exactly does it mean that our next hymnal will have two hundred or more new hymns? “New” means a variety of different things. In some cases, it simply means it’s new to us. It might be a hymn that has been around for many years but is finding its way into our hymnody for the first time. It might be a hymn from previously-used resources like The Lutheran Hymnal.

    In other cases, new will mean repackaged or repurposed. It might mean that the translation was altered or different stanzas selected. It might mean that the text was paired with a different tune.

    In other cases, new will mean new. There will be recently written hymns from today’s batch of talented hymnwriters God has raised up for his church.

    A taste for some of these new hymns will come almost immediately. A taste for others will take time to acquire. In both cases, our prayer is that future generations will agree that a great many of them are treasures.

    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

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    The following article appeared in the February edition ofForward in Christ. It is is the eighth article in a nine-part series on hymns and their use in our churches.

    There’s a storage box in my basement that contains my high school and college football jerseys. My dear wife has inquired a number of times about whether or not we are still going to keep that box of old stuff. Each time she has been lovingly informed that we will hold onto the contents of that box as long as I am still breathing air.

    There’s a group of hymns that seemingly fall into the same category: (1) been around a long time; (2) not seeing much use; (3) holding onto them may seem rather questionable. They typically come from 16th- or 17th-century Lutheranism. Examples from Christian Worship (CW) would be Luther’s “In the Midst of Earthly Life” (CW 534) or Gerhardt’s “I Will Sing My Maker’s Praises” (CW 253). They are sometimes nicknamed “heritage hymns.” Some have wondered if we should preserve them under that name in a hymn category of their own. Others wonder, “Are we really going to print them, again, in the next book?”

    Fact check

    Among the things people sometimes say about these “old Lutheran hymns” is that they are “too sad-sounding,” “too strange-sounding,” or just “too hard to sing.” There may be some truth to these statements, but it isn’t necessarily the whole truth.

    • “Sad-sounding”—Of 192 German chorales in Christian Worship, only 45 are in a minor or minor-sounding key. Music in a minor key can certainly be appropriate for serious themes such as contrition and cross-bearing, but it is not sad by definition. “What Child Is This” (CW 67) and “The King of Glory Comes” (CW 363) are both in a minor key, and we probably wouldn’t call them sad.

    • “Strange-sounding”—Our 21st-century American ears sense that something’s different when hearing the music of “Our Father, Who from Heaven Above” (CW 410). Of 192 German chorales in Christian Worship, 24 use what is known as modal music (as do some Star Wars themes and any number of Beatles songs). With its different scale of tones, it’s not what we’re accustomed to listening to, to say nothing of singing. And yet we do! Just not consistently. “What Wondrous Love Is This?” (CW 120) and “In Peace and Joy I Now Depart” (CW 269) are both written in the same musical mode, but WELS congregations sing “Wondrous Love” 12 times more frequently than “Peace and Joy.”

    • “Hard to sing”—In a side-by-side comparison, musicians would conclude that the melody of “Evening and Morning” (CW 430) should be noticeably easier to sing than that of “Wake, Awake, for Night Is Flying” (CW 206). Yet WELS congregations sing “Wake, Awake” 20 times more often than “Evening and Morning.” You may have never sung or even heard of “Evening and Morning.”


    In the hymnal in which I write all my notes, “Wake, Awake” has a note that says, “TT 1599.” That’s shorthand for “this text and tune have been paired together since 1599.” For “From Heaven Above to Earth I Come” (CW 38), it says, “TT 1539.” You do the math.

    Our next hymnal will include a good number of hymns written and composed in the 21st century, but something has to be said for a melody and a text that have been sung together for more than two centuries before the United States became a nation. If 20, even if 40, of the seldom-sung heritage hymns appeared in the next hymnal, there will still be 600 others to choose from if worship planners wish to bypass the “not easy” ones. What has to be said, though, is that such hymns have demonstrated their worth.

    The heart of the matter

    Songwriter Harlan Howard is quoted as saying, “All you need to write a country song is three chords and the truth.” That will always be at least half true of these classic Lutheran hymns. They will have the truth of the gospel, but seldom will they be a three-chord song. The composers were craftsmen, well-trained in their musical trade. The authors treated rich biblical themes that were not always in the shallow end of the pool. Stashing these hymns away in their own nostalgic hymn category—perhaps to be used on special occasions, perhaps not—falls short of what they deserve. What W.G. Polack (author of The Handbook to The Lutheran Hymnal) said of one of the more difficult heritage hymns really applies to all of the musically challenging ones: “The congregation that masters this tune possesses a treasure of which it will never grow weary.”

    While I’ve enjoyed hearing it on the radio, I’m guessing people may not be singing Blake Shelton’s “I’ll Name the Dogs” three hundred years from now. But something good happens when worship leaders and musicians lay out plans, invest the time, and do the work of teaching the congregation solid Christian hymns that have already lasted that long. And that’s what’s most true of the “not easy” hymns—they need to be taught.

    Even the chorale has to be taught to people before they can appreciate the lessons it teaches. A fundamental understanding of the chorale, as the sung Word of God and a confession of faith in music and poetry, can only exist in the realm of theory unless the people are encouraged to learn and sing chorales in practice (“The Chorale: Transcending Time and Culture,” Robin Leaver).

    There’s no great benefit in pulling those old football jerseys of mine out of storage, even if I still plan to keep them. There is, however, a boatload of benefit in hearing and singing the gospel-rich heritage hymns of Lutheranism. While more frequent use of them does not make the pastor who selects them or the congregation that sings them any more Lutheran, we encourage leaders to take up the task of teaching them because we have no plans to be the hymnal project that lets them go. They are one slice of many hymn resources we are working to make available.

    Introducing Older Hymns

    When it’s time to roll one out one of these heritage hymns, remember to: (1) use announcements, articles, and classes to educate people about its upcoming use in worship; (2) let children or adult choirs learn it and teach it to the congregation; (3) sing the same one several weeks in a row to give people a chance to learn it.

    Christian Worship: Handbook is one resource for interesting information about these hymns’ backgrounds, authors, and composers. For example, consider the fascinating story behind CW 574. Access the story by going to Christian Worship: Handbook, p. 581, or by visiting

    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. The deadline for submitting feedback is May 1, 2018.

    View Cut Hymns List

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    Last year, one-third of WELS congregations were invited to sample and review service materials for our synod’s next hymnal (the other two-thirds had been previously invited to participate in sampling either hymn or psalms resources).

    135 congregations participated in this field testing effort, sampling materials from September through November of 2017. Congregations were first asked to introduce a new service text and progression, using canticles that were already familiar to their congregation. After familiarizing themselves with the text and progression of the service, congregations were asked to introduce a new set of canticles by composer Ricky Manalo. At the conclusion of the testing period, feedback was sought from pastors, musicians, and congregation members.

    Feedback on the Service Text

    In developing the service materials for the new hymnal, it has been the goal of the Rites Committee to provide both clarity and consistency among the services used for the congregation’s main weekly services. We want people to know the function of each element of the service and for each service element to serve the same function in each service.

    In response to sampling this revised service text and progression, congregations expressed appreciation for the consistency and clarity it provided. For example, the canticle “Lord, Have Mercy” (Kyrie) will not be connected with the confession of sins but will be a series of petitions on the basis of God’s mercy following the absolution. The Verse of the Day will now be called the Gospel Acclamation and people will stand prior to it, making it clearer that this service element is not a sung response to the Second Reading but rather serves to prepare us for the hearing of the Gospel. Worship leaders and worshipers responded favorably to these elements of the service.

    Perhaps the part of the service where the response was most negative was related to the post-Communion conclusion of the service. The “Song of Simeon” (Nunc Dimittis) was not included as a standard element of the service but was replaced by a note indicating the optional inclusion of a hymn or canticle following distribution. The Rites Committee will revisit this issue as they finalize the services for the new hymnal. While it remains to be seen how many and which specific ones, we can say with certainty that musical settings of the Song of Simeon will be included somewhere in the new hymnal - even if it is in a separate “Canticles” section and not within the services themselves.

    Feedback on the Service Music

    It has also been the goal of the Rites Committee to provide both familiar and new musical settings for the orders of service. As mentioned above, one of each was provided as part of this testing effort. There were a variety of reactions to the new canticles that were provided. For example, one respondent said, “Excellent tunes. Best available that I've heard,” while another offered, “the canticles remained a struggle to the end of the field test.”

    To some extent, this mixed reaction is to be expected any time someone is asked to learn something new. The specific canticles that were provided, while certainly accessible, have elements that take some time to fully master. It should be noted that the same characteristics that cause a canticle to take longer to learn also keep a canticle from becoming stale over the lifetime of a hymnal.

    Our current plan is to include three main orders of service in the printed hymnal (besides other services like Morning Praise and Evening Prayer). One of those orders of service will include canticles already familiar to WELS worshipers and two will include new canticles. Additional canticles, including ones already familiar to us, will be made available digitally.

    We sincerely thank all the congregations that participated in this field testing effort for their time, effort, and feedback. The feedback we receive from testing efforts like this is very valuable as we finalize the patterns of worship that will assist the next generation as they gather around life-giving Word and Sacrament.

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    From July of 2017 through March of 2018, the WELS Hymnal Project published nine segments of our current body of hymns, indicating which of those hymns were initially designated to be cut from inclusion in our next hymnal. As we did, we invited feedback from WELS members. Anyone interested could cast their vote for up to ten hymns from each segment, indicating that they would prefer to see those hymns kept. Among the nine different segments of the list, more than 8,000 responses were received. The window for submitting feedback closed on May 1.

    At its meeting last week, the Hymnal Project’s Executive Committee discussed the results of that feedback. The Executive Committee decided to take the twenty hymns that the most people wanted to see included and put them back into consideration for the final list.

    Those twenty hymns are:

    • 13 There's a Voice in the Wilderness Crying
    • 106 Come to Calvary's Holy Mountain
    • 112 There Is a Fountain Filled with Blood
    • 129 Alas! and Did My Savior Bleed
    • 158 I Am Content! My Jesus Lives Again
    • 213 Forever with the Lord
    • 242 Oh, that I Had a Thousand Voices
    • 260 Let All Things Now Living
    • 284 How Precious Is the Book Divine
    • 295 Dearest Jesus, We Are Here
    • 322 On What Has Now Been Sown
    • 345 In the Cross of Christ I Glory
    • 347 Jesus! and Shall It Ever Be
    • 368 O Savior, Precious Savior
    • 433 Jesus, Savior, Pilot Me
    • 473 Savior, I Follow On
    • 488 Savior, Thy Dying Love
    • 505 Love Is the Gracious Gift
    • 566 We All Are One in Mission
    • 571 From Greenland's Icy Mountains

    In addition to putting these twenty back into consideration, the feedback we received will be beneficial as we do our final work on the list and things like balance across the various sections of the hymnal comes into play.

    We are extremely grateful for the time and effort people took to provide us with feedback.

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    We plan to offer a brief update on the work each committee is doing each month. This month we hear from Rev. Paul Prange, chairman of the Psalmody Committee.

    The Psalmody Committee (PC) has selected all of the Psalm settings that will be printed in the new WELS hymnal. Those settings have been approved by the executive committee and are being prepared for publication. Some of the settings are responsorial, single-tone, like all of the CW settings, and others are responsorial, double-tone, like some of the CWS settings, or metrical paraphrases, which look like hymns with refrains. Worship planners who like a particular style for any Psalm should be able to find appropriate settings in the new psalter and in the electronic resources accompanying the new hymnal.

    Now the Psalmody Committee is working on reviewing and curating thousands of settings for Psalms that are not chosen to go with the readings for each Sunday. All 150 Psalms will have at least two settings in the new WELS psalter, along with prayers, Luther quotes, and notes for personal devotional use. The PC hopes that its work will result in a rich Lutheran resource for generations to come.

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    The Technology Committee of the WELS Hymnal Project continues to pursue its original objectives for the project, namely to support and enhance the utility and effectiveness of the new hymnal through well-designed resources. The Technology Committee has divided that work into three main areas: 1) a service builder application for pastors and worship planners, 2) a resource for musicians and directors, and 3) a mobile application for laypeople.

    The Technology Committee is working with software developers to accomplish the first two objectives. While the full scope of these products is still under development, the Technology Committee has pursued a set of feature requirements that we expect will successfully meet the needs of a large number of pastors, worship planners, musicians, and choir directors.

    The committee’s focus on the preparatory work for a service builder and musicians’ resource has necessarily kept us from devoting time and resources from development of the mobile application for laypeople. However, such a product is still on the agenda for the committee. Furthermore, such a product will be better served with a development effort that begins closer to the release date of the hymnal.

    Another project of the Technology Committee has been to oversee the visual design of the new hymnal. While it may seem unusual for this committee to oversee such work, the rationale is sound: a single committee overseeing the design work will ensure that the design of the entire product line be consistent and functional across both print and digital formats.

    Our focus between now and the end of the year is on finalizing the business model for the first two software products as well as the design templates for all the major products in the future set of resources.

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