Archive for February, 2019

Voices Together: The invitation to communion

Posted on: February 26th, 2019 by Voices Together Hymnal

This article originally appeared on Mennonite Church USA’s MennoSnapshots blog.

Sarah Kathleen Johnson is the worship resources editor for Voices Together and the editor of a companion volume for worship planners and leaders. She is a doctoral candidate in theology at the University of Notre Dame and is currently based in Toronto, Ontario.

Communion is about unity. It is about unity with God and with those gathered together at the table. It is about unity that circles the globe and that transcends time and tradition. When we share bread and cup in the name of Jesus, we celebrate a unity that is both already happening and not yet fully realized.

Perhaps because of the emphasis on unity in communion, questions about the supper often center on who is invited to receive the bread and cup. Are the bread and cup reserved for those who have been baptized or are they extended to all worshipers? In Anabaptist communities, this question takes on particular urgency because of the presence of children, youth, and others who have not been baptized.

Communion is a practice with many layers of meaning anchored in diverse biblical narratives, expansive theological themes, centuries of historical development, and complex pastoral realities.

photo by Heike Quiring Martin

It is understandable that communities living deeply into different dimensions of the meal have developed different practices regarding who is invited to receive the bread and cup. The subtleties of these discussions are beyond the scope of this blog post.[1] However, the result is that Mennonite congregations in the United States and Canada have a broad range of practices when it comes to who is invited to the communion table.

Resources to support the celebration of communion are being developed for Voices Togethera new worship and song collection for Mennonite Church Canada and Mennonite Church USA. Because decisions about who is invited to receive the bread and cup are made by congregations, not the national churches, our aim is to provide resources that support a range of practices. Therefore, we gave ourselves a difficult assignment: to develop two invitations to the communion table that could be used both in congregations that require baptism and that invite all present to receive the bread and cup, one invitation that makes a connection to baptism, and one that emphasizes expansive welcome. Here are the preliminary results, which you are welcome to try out in your congregation (please attribute to Mennonite Worship and Song Committee, 2018):

Invitation to the Communion Table A


Invitation to the Communion Table B


Invitation A emphasizes expansive welcome yet anchors this welcome in the story of Jesus’ final week and last meal with his disciples, a close and committed while also flawed community.

Invitation B emphasizes a connection between baptism and communion yet anchors this link in the baptism of Jesus as the model for the baptism of all members of the body of Christ, rather than in renewing our baptisms as individuals.

Both invitations are deliberately vague — they do not specify who is invited to receive the bread and cup and who is not.

The Voices Together committee strongly encourages congregations to make intentional and theologically grounded choices about who is invited to participate in communion in what ways.

We also advise that it is usually most hospitable to communicate clearly regarding whatever policy is in place. Communities may also wish to recognize that, even if an invitation is extended to all, some may choose not to receive the bread and cup.

The Voices Together committee is exploring including one additional invitation to the table borrowed from the Iona Community. This invitation celebrates how Jesus is the host of the communion meal and that it is in Christ that our ultimate invitation and unity resides.

Invitation to the Communion Table C


The Voices Together committee welcomes your reflections on these resources as they relate to communion practices in your communities. Comments received before April 1 will be considered in the revision process (


[1] Vision (Spring 2001) explores some of these questions from a Mennonite perspective, Liturgy (2005 Issue 4) offers perspectives from a range of Christian traditions. These matters have also been engaged in The Canadian Mennonite and The Mennonite.

[2] Wild Goose Worship Group, Iona Community (Scotland), A Wee Worship Book: Fourth Incarnation, 1999.

Is there such a thing as a Mennonite song?

Posted on: February 19th, 2019 by Voices Together Hymnal

This article originally appeared on Mennonite Church USA’s MennoSnapshots blog.

Darryl Neustaedter Barg is energized by leading singing in worship in very diverse styles but feels most at home by the campfire. He is also a communicator employed by both Mennonite Church Manitoba and Canadian Mennonite University and a member of the Voices Together worship and song committee.

How many of the songs in our “Hymnal: A Worship Book” (HWB), and the two supplements “Sing the Journey” and “Sing the Story” do you think are Mennonite? What does that even mean? If it means songs that are embraced by Mennonites in worship, well, the answer might be all of them. If it means songs with what some might call Mennonite theological distinctives, that would be quite a few of them. If it means songs written by self-identifying Mennonites, you might be surprised. The number of tunes, texts and full songs in HWB is less than 60. The supplements might add a couple dozen more.

There is a little place in Manitoba where songs with Mennonite distinctives, written by Mennonites, are embraced in worship, even though we don’t talk about our songs as anything but “our songs.”

In the mid-1990s, a few of us camp staff at Mennonite Church Manitoba’s camping ministry: Camps with Meaning, tried writing songs. I have no recollection of why we thought this was a good idea, but to our great surprise, our efforts were well received, and quickly became part of our ever-evolving camp song canon.

This modest success had us thinking more about the role of music in worship at camp and what we sing.

We recognized the power of music in worship and teaching and wondered if we couldn’t be a bit more deliberate.

There was much great praise music coming to us from the contemporary worship music movement, but we wondered if we couldn’t create music that might put that summer’s Bible Curriculum teaching from a Mennonite perspective right into campers’ hearts.

We organized our first songwriting weekend in the spring of 2000. We specifically invited people who had been involved in leading music at our camps the previous summer. There were no “real songwriters” among us. We analyzed what we liked about other songs, and then spent a bunch of time investigating the Bible curriculum and particularly, the theme Scripture text for the upcoming summer. Finally, we spent time in prayer, inviting the Spirit’s creative movement in us. We all went to individual spaces for a while and, after an hour or two, brought rough ideas back to the circle. A few songs emerged that weekend, and one of them is still sung very regularly to this day: “Lord you’ve searched me”, based on Psalm 139 and 1 John 4.

Every year since, we have gathered camp staff who were involved in music the prior summer to take a chance and become vulnerable by trying to write music together. The process has evolved in a number of good ways, but some of the principles from that first weekend are still very much in place. Some years the songs are awesome and some years they are very much not awesome. But they are ours, and they serve a purpose for that summer: connecting campers from various walks of life with the Good News, via folk, pop, rap, skater punk and everything in between.

All the songs that survived through a summer at camp have been collected on the Camps with Meaning website. It has been gratifying to hear about these songs moving out through the church and serving in contexts we could not imagine. I have heard people claim that this is the largest collection of Mennonite music anywhere. I have no idea if that’s true. I still don’t really know if we can or should call music Mennonite.

It has been part of the work of the Mennonite worship and song committee (creating the new Voices Together Hymnal) to collect music by Anabaptist song writers for inclusion in the hymnal. We’ve found that there are fewer writers creating music for corporate worship than we hoped. This probably says something about the environments we have or have not created for song writers in our congregations, but that would be a conversation for another day.

We do know there will be a greater number of Mennonite created songs in Voices Together than previous collections, possibly even one or two from Camps with Meaning. Also watch for the new Together in Worship website, a project parallel to Voices Together, that will gather worship resources, art and music from Anabaptist creators.

Hymnal Visual Art Chosen

Posted on: February 18th, 2019 by Voices Together Hymnal

HARRISONBURG, Va. — Visual art for the Voices Together hymnal has been chosen by the Mennonite Worship and Song Committee. The 12 visual art pieces selected will appear in the forthcoming hymnal—including the pew, worship leader, digital app, and projection editions.

These 12 pieces of visual art will be placed throughout the Voices Together hymnal, inviting worshipers to encounter God creatively in ways that engage all the senses.

Nine Patch #8, monotype, Brenton Good, 2015; chosen for the theme praying

“Mennonite communities are diverse in terms of language and age, as well as ways of learning and expression,” says Amy Gingerich, publisher at MennoMedia. “Including a series of visual worship resources in the bound and projection editions of the new worship and song collection celebrates that diversity.” With guidance from a visual art committee composed of Randy Horst, Merrill Miller, Tom Yoder Neufeld, SaeJin Lee, Sarah Kathleen Johnson, and Bradley Kauffman, the hymnal committee chose visual art to represent the following themes:

  • Gathering
  • Praising
  • Praying
  • Creation
  • Advent and birth of Jesus
  • Life, teaching, and ministry of Jesus
  • Death and resurrection of Jesus
  • Holy Spirit, Pentecost, church
  • Baptism
  • Communion
  • Service and witness for peace
  • Sending


Each of the 12 works selected for the collection is by a different artist and in a distinct style. Brenton Good’s Nine Patch #8 was chosen for the theme of praying, and Anne H. Berry’s Alive was created for the theme of death and resurrection of Jesus (both pictured here).

“Our hope is that including visual art in Voices Together will encourage congregations to invite visual artists to share their gifts in worship alongside other music and worship leaders,” says Sarah Kathleen Johnson, worship resources editor for Voices Together.

“We aspire to honor a diversity of human experiences including race and ethnicity, class and economic status, age, and ability,” says Bradley Kaufman, project director. “We aim to celebrate the theological diversity of the Mennonite church and to provide multiple ways of envisioning and encountering God, one another, and creation.”

Alive, pen and ink, Anne H. Berry, 2018; created for the theme death and resurrection of Jesus

“The theme of death and resurrection is challenging in the sense that both words tend to conjure binary associations of ‘light/good’ versus ‘dark/bad,’” said Berry, creator of Alive. “It was important for me, consequently, to integrate the imagery of life and death together in the composition, uniting light and dark in a complementary way. The visuals provide a certain level of agency for people like me—people of color—who want to see ourselves acknowledged and affirmed through positive representation.”

For more information about Voices Together, go to To schedule an interview with Bradley Kauffman, project director, contact LeAnn Hamby at (540) 908-3941 or email

Voices Together: The work of including Indigenous voices, perspectives and ways of worship in the new Mennonite worship and song collection

Posted on: February 14th, 2019 by Voices Together Hymnal

This post originally appeared on the Mennonite Church USA MennoSnapshots blog.


Katie Graber is an ethnomusicologist who studies race and ethnicity in a variety of contexts including Mennonite music, American music, and European opera. She has taught classes on Western music history and world music, and she accompanies Suzuki recitals and school choirs. She leads singing at her church in Columbus, Ohio, and chairs the Intercultural Worship committee for the Voices Together project.

When Hymnal: A Worship Book was published in 1992, it contained both familiar and new songs. The next worship and song collection, Voices Together, will also include songs from past and present, and from around the world in a variety of languages and musical styles. One of many streams of content the committee is caring for is Indigenous languages and voices. We will incorporate worship resources such as prayers emerging from Indigenous Christian contexts and readings that address the history of colonialism and movement toward reconciliation (such as a territorial acknowledgment; for examples, see the Doctrine of Discovery Coalition’s worship resources and these resources from KAIROS, an ecumenical group in Canada). Voices Together will also include Indigenous song: tunes, texts, and translations. These worship elements are an important aspect of recognizing the diversity of Mennonite Church USA and Mennonite Church Canada, and of acknowledging our Christian and colonial history in North America.

In the late 1800s, scholars in the U.S. and Canada began to “collect” and “preserve” songs and traditions of Indigenous groups. While there were some noble reasons for these projects, they were also very much tied up with power and control. For example, the U.S. government funded research on songs, linguistics, and kinship systems at the same time they were prohibiting rituals, disallowing Indigenous languages in schools, and allotting land to intentionally break up tribal units. These goals and outcomes cannot be disentangled from one another. Today, there are initiatives to return ritual objects and human remains to their rightful locations and communities, but in the midst of these efforts, sacred songs cannot simply be taken home. There are histories of elders being reluctant, or even refusing, to teach songs to ethnomusicologists because they understood this reality. Digitized recordings from the 1890s and beyond (such as this Library of Congress collection) attest both to this collecting and to the gaps where songs were not given. In Canada, a national Truth and Reconciliation Commission was established in 2008 to document the impacts of Indian Residential Schools funded by the federal government and operated by churches for the purpose of stripping Indigenous children of their language and culture, an act of “cultural genocide.” Many church bodies, including Anabaptist Church Leaders, have formally apologized for their involvement. The 2015 final report includes 95 Calls to Action, including calls specifically for churches. This is one small step in an ongoing and multifaceted journey between Indigenous peoples and Settlers in Canada. As central practices in the faith and life of Mennonite communities, worship and music must be considered in relation to this history and the work of reconciliation.

In light of this context, how can the Voices Together committee be intentional and respectful about including songs from Indigenous communities?

We have worked to engage Indigenous Mennonite people and congregations to learn more about their worship practices and how they would like their music to be represented in a denominational publication. For example, a Vital Worship Grant allowed several committee members to travel to White River Cheyenne Mennonite Church to hear about their history and participate in worship (see video below and read Keshia Littlebear-Cetrone’s contribution to AMBS’s Vision journal for more on this topic). We have also consulted Cheyenne and Navajo songbooks used by Mennonite congregations, as well as ecumenical worship resources. Additionally, we have had personal, phone, or video meetings with Steve Heinrichs (MC Canada Settler-Indigenous Relations), Mennonite pastors who have Indigenous constituents, and representatives of other denominations (including the United Church of Canada and Anglican Church of Canada) who have engaged similar questions of how Settlers should or shouldn’t sing and worship with Indigenous communities.

As we consider songs to include in the new collection, we consider context, sources, and the great diversity of beliefs and practices among North American Indigenous people. For example, many groups sing Indigenous songs as well as European, North American, and other styles of music in English or other translations. Voices Together ought to honor all of those traditions as truly part of Indigenous experience, rather than representing only music that non-Indigenous people expect to hear. Geraldine Balzer, who shared insights with committee members from her experiences working and worshiping with Inuit communities for many years (and who wrote this analysis of recent Mennonite collections), cautioned us to go further than legal copyrights when we think about sources. In many Native American cultures, songs are understood as given — from the Spirit to a human recipient, and from one person or group to another. If we take this seriously, we cannot print a song in our Mennonite hymnal simply because other denominations have already published it.

In addition to important questions about ethics and representation, the committee also considers whether a tune and text is accessible to non-Indigenous singers. If a song’s rhythms appear difficult, or if the range is wide, some congregations may be reticent to try it. We hope that singers have the grace to try new songs with open minds, knowing that each song is meaningful to someone else and has the potential to be meaningful to them as well. Our goal is to create a worship and song collection that allows people to raise their voices together and meet one another as creations of God — and therefore to be bound to work for peace and justice with and for one another. In this way, perhaps, we can experience a divine presence that is larger than any of our individual and group identities.

Voices Together: Advent Resources

Posted on: February 12th, 2019 by Voices Together Hymnal

This post originally appeared on the Mennonite Church USA MennoSnapshots blog.

Adam M. L. Tice is text editor for Voices Together. His hymn texts appear in numerous recently published hymnals. He lives in Goshen, Indiana, and attends Faith Mennonite Church.


The Fall 2018 issue of Leader magazine includes a section of material under consideration for the Voices Together worship and song book being published in 2020. This post provides background and performance suggestions for those songs, which are being used this Advent and Christmas by Mennonite congregations across the U.S. and Canada.

In the Beginning

A Texas native, Chris Shelton is pastor of Broadway Presbyterian Church in Manhattan. “In the Beginning,” a metrical paraphrase of John 1:1-14, is among his first publications. It is paired with the German tune LASST UNS ERFREUEN, which presents a wide range of options for singing. It can be done paperlessly, with a soloist singing the stanzas and the congregation singing the “Alleluia” sections from memory. The melody is versatile enough to welcome a variety of accompaniments, ranging from guitar to organ; for some congregations a cappella singing will beautifully carry the text. Consider varying the musical texture throughout the hymn by contrasting unison with harmony, low voices and high voices, and differing instrumentation.

Unexpected and Mysterious

Jeannette Lindholm is a professor of English at Salem State University in Oregon. Having published her first hymn in the Evangelical Covenant Church’s 1996 hymnal, she subsequently studied hymn writing with Carl P. Daw, Jr., at Boston University. “Unexpected and Mysterious” was first issued as a choral anthem in 2004. Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006) paired it with the Calvin Hampton tune, ST. HELENA.

Calvin Hampton (1938-1984) was a prolific organist and composer. This tune is among his most widely published and sung. It is most often paired with the text for which it was written, “There’s a Wideness in God’s Mercy.” Its shifting rhythms and unusual harmonic palette make it an evocative vehicle for Lindholm’s text. Having an ensemble prepare the first two stanzas may allow the congregation the opportunity to navigate the melody smoothly. This piece is an instance in which the challenges of learning may illuminate the meaning of the text more fully. And of course, because the text is written in a widely-used meter, it may be paired with a familiar tune for more immediate accessibility.

Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus

“Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus” is a familiar and beloved Advent text by the prolific Charles Wesley (1707-1788). Knowing that Wesley frequently wrote many more stanzas than are found in contemporary hymnals, the Voices Together committee hoped to expand upon the two included in Hymnal: A Worship Book by including more of the original text. Upon examining Hymns for the Nativity of Our Lord (1788 edition; originally published in 1744), we found that Wesley only wrote two; however, the following hymn drew upon many of the same themes, and even repeated a few of the same rhymes. That led us to suspect that he wrote both around the same time. We drew upon that second text, “Light of Those Whose Dreary Dwelling,” to provide a second stanza.

Welsh composer Rowland Hugh Prichard (1811-1887) wrote the tune HYFRYDOL (pronounced “hu-fru-dul”) when he was only twenty years old. Its versatility is evident in its appearances in Hymnal: A Worship Book. It is paired with four different texts there, as well as one each in Sing the Journey and Sing the Story.

With Mary, Sing Magnificat

“With Mary, Sing Magnificat” is also by Jeannette Lindholm. While its first line points to possible use during Advent, its wide-ranging themes make it suitable for many other uses throughout the year. It begins with reference to two familiar Biblical canticles — the Magnificat, Luke 1:46-55, and Miriam’s song, Exodus 15:20-21. Further references give voice to women often ignored or forgotten: Anna (Luke 2:36-38), Rizpah (2 Samuel 21:1-14), and Shiprah and Puah,described here as “clever midwives” (Exodus 1:15-22). Beyond simply cataloging Biblical women, the hymn invites all singers to emulate their courage and prophetic voice.

English composer and hymnal editor Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958) used the folk tune FOREST GREEN with “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” which has become the standard pairing for that text in the British Isles. Consider using folk instruments like fiddle and guitar to provide a dancing feel to the tune, evoking Miriam’s dance.

Poor of the Earth

Brooklyn-based hymn writer Jacque Jones served as President of The Hymn Society from 2014-16. With a background in theater, she often presents imaginative tellings of Biblical narratives from various perspectives, as with the shepherd in “Poor of the Earth.” The plaintive folk tune WAYFARING STRANGER allows for an expressive rendering of the text, especially with its repeated question, “How Will I Know?” Accompaniments ranging from bluegrass/folk to jazz can be appropriate; a simple a cappella rendering of the melody would also evoke the lonesome feeling of the text quite powerfully.

Noche anunciada

In 2017 the editors of a forthcoming Spanish/English hymnal (Santo, Santo, Santo, anticipated in 2020 from GIA Publications and the Calvin Institute for Christian Worship) invited me to provide English versions of a number of Spanish language hymns. Included in the set was the beautiful Argentine carol, “Noche anunciada.” I submitted the piece anonymously through the Mennonite Worship and Song Committee web portal. The arranger, Carlos Colón, is originally from El Salvador and works at Baylor University. If fluent Spanish speakers are not available to help, online videos of choral arrangements of the song can aid leaders in preparing the Spanish pronunciation. The tune lends itself readily to guitar accompaniment.

While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks

“While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks” was one of the earliest English hymn texts written in a narrative form and not based on the Psalms. Author Nahum Tate (c. 1652-1715) anticipates later work by Isaac Watts in integrating Gospel material, while still remaining close to the King James version of the scripture.

The tune by George F. Handel (1685-1759) is derived from a soprano aria in his opera Siroë, Re de Persia (Siroes, King of Persia), 1728. It was adapted for congregational use by the 1790s.

Solemn Stillness, Weary Streets

Song writers Maria and Christopher Clymer Kurtz live in Harrisonburg, Virginia, and attend Park View Mennonite Church. In “Solemn Stillness, Weary Streets,” they integrate images from various Christmas carols as well as the nativity narratives found in Matthew and Luke. Although presented in the Leader sampler in four parts throughout, the Voices Together team has found in testing that it is quite effective to keep the stanzas in unison, breaking into parts at the refrain. Although the melody is written as a soprano line, consider mixing the voices, or having the tenors and sopranos trade parts.

Jesus Entered Egypt

I wrote “Jesus Entered Egypt” in 2007. It appears in Glory to God: the Presbyterian Hymnal (2013). In the 2016 Companion to that hymnal, Carl P. Daw Jr., writes:

“Some sense of the scope of this text can be gained from noticing that the first stanza identifies Jesus as ‘this refugee,’ while the third stanza describes the ‘wandering poor’ who search for ‘a refuge.’ This distance between ‘refugee’ and ‘refuge’ describes the vast area of life where Christians are called to be aware of those whom Jesus called ‘the least of these’ (Matthew 25:40).”

The narrative of the flight into Egypt is an essential part of the Christmas story, but is often overlooked in the midst of joyful carols.

While KING’S WESTON is paired with “At the Name of Jesus” in Hymnal: A Worship Book, some singers may recall its Epiphany association with “From the Eastern Mountains” in the 1969 Mennonite Hymnal. Composer Ralph Vaughan Williams originally intended the tune for unison singing, an option which might allow for a heightened awareness of the text.

See Whose Glory Fills the Skies

“See Whose Glory Fills the Skies” draws upon Charles Wesley’s “Christ, Whose Glory Fills the Skies” for use with a popular Gospel song tune. The text as found in Hymnal: A Worship Book consists of three stanzas of six lines each, arranged in an ABABCC rhyme scheme. The present version includes four stanzas of two rhyming lines each.

The tune WE’LL WALK IN THE LIGHT has normally been associated with Wesley’s “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing.” The refrain and the phrase “Jesus, the light of the world!” have remained, providing a response to “See Whose Glory.” While it has origins in white Gospel singing styles, the tune has proven popular and durable in African-American churches. The arrangement by African-American composer Evelyn Simpson-Currenton reflects the influence of jazz and the blues. A robust accompaniment will enable fully engaged singing.