Friday, July 10, 2015
A new hymnal?
The long-range plan adopted at the 2011 synod convention stipulated that, in the years leading up to 2017, the Conference of Presidents and Northwestern Publishing House would “put plans in motion to publish a new hymnal by the 500th anniversary of the first Lutheran hymnal (1524).” This plan for developing our synod’s next hymnal was also in harmony with the 1993 Joint Hymnal Committee’s desire that Christian Worship: A Lutheran Hymnal would serve as our synod’s hymnal for approximately 30 years.
Funny how little WELS (about 1/6th the size of Missouri) is chugging along on their plan to replace their Christian Worship hymnal published in 1993 with a new one in place for 2024. They presumed that any hymnal has roughly a 30 year life span -- not only in terms of content, I would imagine, but also in durability! I guess they will have to get their act in gear to make that date since our age of copyright and sample testing means long lead times. My point is this, there are some in Missouri and even in the ELCA who suggest that hymnals are dinosaurs -- out dated and outmoded by modern technology. But WELS is working on a new hymnal seemingly oblivious to the fact that some in other bodies have described a hymnal and liturgy book as an antique and backward looking idea of where the church should be and where it should go.
Though I am not a big fan of Christian Worship, I applaud WELS for their intention and expect they will probably make the deadline and the vast majority of their parishes will adopt this hymnal (that is how it went with CW after it was published). Not surprisingly, this includes debates about which hymns, what kind of music (CCM), and lay leadership. For example: Perhaps the area where the sharpest disagreement occurs is over whether our worship should be more “traditional” or more “contemporary.” This disagreement certainly isn’t new and doesn’t come as much of a surprise. It also isn’t a surprise that those terms are often used in different ways by different people, are often misunderstood, and rarely help groups of people have beneficial discussions about worship. Yet, within this diversity debate, there is also a consistent idea: In other words, what everyone is pleading for—or at least ought to be pleading for—is timeless worship.
Timeless worship does not mean no new hymnals, no new hymns, and no changes in liturgical practice. In fact, timeless worship means neither being confined to a particular moment in history (repristination) while at the same time not being enslaved to the present moment either. Though there are those who are sure that no new hymnal is either needed or in the cards for Missouri, I expect that we will also come around and find that as our LSB approaches its 10th anniversary we may well want to begin thinking about a worthy successor to sustain the idea of timeless worship. Few are happy about this (either in terms of cost or work involved to put it together), but Missouri waited too long to replace TLH (largely dictated by things beyond the control of the Commission on Worship), and took a long time to do LSB right (it came along 24 years after LW). In order to do it right again, we will have to begin thinking about it.