Monday, February 19, 2018
Time for a supplement?
There has been a buzz about the prospect of a hymnal supplement to Lutheran Service Book. Truth be told, the hymnal is now twelve years old and it would probably be fifteen or more by the time that a supplement could be published. Given that many suggest the lifespan of a hymnal is not that much more than a generation, say twenty-five years, or so, it might seem that now would be the time to begin such a project. But I am not so sure. . .
I participated in the Long Island introductory workshop for Lutheran Book of Worship in 1978. I participated in the Albany introductory workshop for Lutheran Worship in 1982. I led several introductory workshops for Hymnal Supplement 98 and did the same for Lutheran Service Book eight years later. I loved being a part of it all. That said, the times are not the same and the landscape has changed significantly since 1978. Each successive book was affected by and was conditioned by some of those changes in the church and in the world and any future book will as well.
LBW was supposed to be the book of books and, in the end, the book of unity only confirmed the divergent courses of the Lutheran bodies who had cooperated to produce it. Some will bemoan LW as a flawed book. I am not so quick to join the naysayers. No hymnal produced in the aftermath of a church split and a rejection of the cooperative effort would be uniformly loved. I laud the group who labored intensively for eighteen months to fill the void and deliver a hymnal. I challenge those who love LSB to show me how that book would have been possible without the underappreciated efforts of the LW hymnal committee. So in the end we did not get the book we invited other Lutherans to partner in and the replacement was about as welcome as an ex-wife at the wedding of the next wife but things happen in the church slowly and deliberately. Yes, I know the legitimate theological reasons for it all and do not lecture me on why it all went astray but I want to take note of the landscape of the church in which this all took place leading us to LSB.
It was easy to produce a more popular book than LW. The times had changed. The TLH copies were wearing out and LW was not going to last the full twenty or twenty-five lifespan. So when HS98 was published the church was ready to receive a new book and everyone knew that this supplement was, in effect, a trial hymnal that looked a great deal like the hardcover book that would follow it. In the end, the LCMS happily received a new hymnal in 2006 (not that long ago) and it got a very fine book indeed. So rather quickly the past was set aside and the LCMS was a one book church body again. Except for those whose worship practices no longer revolved about the book or any book, for that matter.
Now we are settling into a longer time of relative calm and satisfaction with LSB on one hand and those who will probably never be in any hymnal again. The lines have been drawn differently now and I am not sure we are ready for more liturgical diversity. I hope we are at a point where we are rediscovering the value of more unity and uniformity on Sunday morning. There is much about this resource that we are still discovering and much that is just now becoming the norm for those of us using it (a very high number, indeed). We have four liturgical options, two musical settings of one Divine Service from LBW/LW, two hymn settings of the Divine Service (Deutsche Messe and the one from HS98), and the beloved Common Service from hymnals going back to the early 1900s. Do we really need more options? Do we really want more options?
Certainly the LCMS does not have the funds to begin another hymnal and probably not a supplement. CPH is not sure that there is a real market that would pay for the development of a printed book to sit in the pews with LSB. Congregations are not sure they want to spend $15 or more on a supplement -- especially when they can print off what they want in a very professional format. So what am I saying? I think the obvious answer is to expand Lutheran Service Builder (the other LSB). This digital hymnal tool provides the resources to print off what the parish wants and needs without a big investment in a book -- either by the church or the congregation. What we all seem to want are resources we can add judiciously to supplement the hymnal. So my vote goes to expanding Lutheran Service Builder by adding in the best of TLH and LW hymns that did not make the cut into LSB and to add the best of new resources -- texts from Jaroslav Vajda and Stephen Starke, and newer writers like Lisa Clark as well as a host of new tunes. One big example is the new hymn written for the 500th Anniversary Year. Furthermore, Builder offers the platform to deliver this content quickly, cheaply, and easily so that the congregation does not have to buy a whole book for a dozen hymns that it wants to use. In the end, it also leaves the business of copyrights and legalities to CPH which probably owns or administers most of them already.
Yes, I know that a seminarian has done a great service in providing a component for Builder that includes all hymns from TLH not under copyright restriction. He has done a great job and he is to be commended for it. That said, I am not sure the best way is for folks to step in and do this on their own. For one thing, I am not a fan of all TLH hymns and hope that some less worthy hymns will not be restored to use among us. And I know many from LW that I truly do miss. And I know there are other hymns in in other CPH books that need to be set up in Builder form. In the end, my concern here is perhaps tied to that part of our LCMS constitution in which we covenant together to use doctrinally pure hymnals and agendas. I think this means that we should use official channels for official resources. Putting TLH hymns in a form to add to Builder is a signal of the direction we need to head as a church body and I think Sem. Evan Scamman and Emmanuel Press have shown us the future but now it is time for us to take up the mantle of leadership and build on this lead.
So, my vote is to wait a while for a printed Hymnal Supplement (shall we say Hymnal Supplement 26?). The landscape continues to change. Expand our current hymnal with added resources through Lutheran Service Builder. This will enable more variety that some desire while keeping the liturgical unity and uniformity that is healthy to our identity as a church body. It will not tax the resources of our Synod or CPH or the parish. And it will give us time to think about a worthy successor for LSB when that day comes. After all, nearly everyone I know still calls LSB the new hymnal anyway.