Why Voices Together? Why now?

Hymnal: A Worship Book is a strong denominational hymnal that has served the church very well. It was the voice needed by the church in 1992 and into the 21st century. The Sing the Journey (2005) and Sing the Story (2007) supplements have also been well-received. As we build on the foundation of Hymnal: A Worship Book, we recognize that much has changed about our world and about our church. What are the songs that will sustain our faith in 2020, 2030, and 2040? What words and images connect us with each other and with God now and into the future?

There is no reason to make a new hymnal if it will be exactly the same as the current one. Part of the purpose of making a new hymnal is to reflect and amplify shifts happening in the church, in the lives of people, and in society.

About half the material in Voices Together will be drawn from the existing hymnal and supplements.

How is Voices Together organized?

Hymnals are typically organized in one of three ways. They are developed around the Christian year (for example, Advent, Christmas, Good Friday, Easter), around theological concepts (such as God, Jesus, Holy Spirit, church), or around acts of worship (for example, gathering, praising, praying). Many hymnals draw on aspects of all three.

The 1992 Hymnal: A Worship Book is mostly organized by acts of worship. The focus on what songs are doing rather than what they are about was a significant innovation. Voices Together builds on the acts of worship structure started in Hymnal: A Worship Book while developing the model a step further. The forthcoming collection begins with gathering and concludes with sending—and everything is held within this order of worship. The overall structure looks like this:

How would you describe the theology of Voices Together?

A lot of listening has gone into creating Voices Together. Through focus groups, “heart song” surveys, four samplers, and countless events, the committee has gathered much insight. It’s out of this careful listening that Voices Together is emerging. It’s our sincere prayer that Voices Together is a reflection of who we are theologically and how we have opened ourselves to movements of the Spirit. We also turn to the Mennonite World Conference Shared Convictions and the Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective as points of reference.

Does that mean people will see their personal theology mirrored back on every page? Likely not, as that is not the intent of a hymnal. Rather than a book for personal piety, a denominational hymnal represents the theological breadth of the church. In Voices Together, we seek to represent the theological breadth of Mennonite Church USA and Mennonite Church Canada.

We want Voices Together to connect us with Christians around the world and in our neighborhoods—even those with whom we may disagree theologically. While your congregation might choose not to sing a song for theological reasons, others might find that piece central to faithfully following Jesus.

Voices Together will have 1,024 pages—more than any of our previous hymnals. This is space for roughly 780 songs and more than 250 worship resources. As we make space for abundant material, we realize that in many parts of the Mennonite church we worship less frequently than in generations past. Thirty years ago, many Mennonite congregations had Sunday evening worship and midweek services, in addition to Sunday morning services. Today, many consider attending services twice a month to be regular participation. Consider a church that meets weekly and sings five different songs each week. That congregation, for example, sings 260 songs in a year.

It’s been said that a congregation’s musical core contains roughly 200 songs—and the 200 songs in one congregation are likely not exactly the same as in another. For example, in some congregations, hymns form the core, while in others contemporary worship songs are core. We anticipate that congregations will find ample material compatible with their core—as well as plenty of new material to explore and share.

Will any of my heart songs be found under familiar page numbers?

We have not numbered the collection yet. The Voices Together team has decided to prioritize the overall organization of the collection above specific numbering given to any one worship resource or song.

Will some of the words be changed from Hymnal: A Worship Book?

Because we aspire to welcome all in worship, yes. Just as some language was altered in Hymnal: A Worship Book, the Mennonite Worship and Song Committee is studying historical versions of pillar hymns and consulting other contemporary hymnals as they consider possible updates. The Voices Together committee works to respect and value the living memory of the Mennonite church, so changes are made case by case. When considering language changes, the committee has tried to maintain balance—around topics including ability, geography, race, economic status, and gender—while also respecting the place of lived memory. While some selections will have noticeable changes, others will remain as presented in Hymnal: A Worship Book.

Is it ethical to change the words to someone’s poetry?

Sometimes it surprises us to learn how many changes a hymn has undergone to get to the form that we know and experience as authoritative. In short, the lives of enduring hymn texts often have been marked by fluidity—sometimes undergoing many changes over decades and centuries whether or not we realize it. When we discover that a familiar and well-established text raises concerns, we are sometimes surprised to learn that the author’s original had more expansive language than the version handed down. Researching original sources is integral to our work.

Many modern writers revise their own work over time. Indeed, some writers included in Hymnal: A Worship Book will no longer authorize us to use previously published versions because of their own spiritual and artistic journeys. In cases like this, we have to agree to their revisions if we want to carry certain songs forward into Voices Together. In other cases, we have asked living writers to consider our desired changes. We have received responses from yes to no to “I like your revision better than my original.” All these sorts of requests are endeavored with respect for the writer, knowing that one’s creative work is highly personal and is often closely linked to one’s convictions.

How have songs been screened for consideration?

Congregations and individuals have submitted hundreds of “heart songs” for the committee’s consideration. In addition, writers, artists, songwriters, and composers have submitted thousands of pieces of original material. Beyond this, the committee has surveyed dozens of hymnals, collections of worship resources, and single author or single composer collections.

On January 1, 2017, the Mennonite Worship and Song Committee launched a web portal to receive new and original works of art, worship resources, tunes, texts, and songs. When the submissions period closed on January 1, 2018, we had received some 2,200 submissions.

The committee’s process includes preliminary screening, reviews by small teams, and committee discussion and discernment. As they review items for consideration, the committee keeps an eye toward achieving a balanced collection with the following:

What types of worship resources will be included in Voices Together?

Voices Together will include worship resources as well as songs. As in Hymnal: A Worship Book, there will be resources to support central worship practices like baptism, communion, child blessing, marriage, and funerals. There will also be Scripture readings arranged for use in worship and other prayers and readings. We are excited to include 12 works of visual art by 12 Anabaptist artists in the hymnal.

How will Anabaptist writers, artists, and songwriters be represented?

Numerous Anabaptist songwriters have submitted original work for consideration as well as new tunes for texts selected by the committee. We are excited to maintain important past contributions and expand to represent a new generation of Anabaptist writers. We’re also working to present some early Anabaptist writings in new ways. Individuals and teams of Anabaptist writers and artists have helped shape worship resources for Voices Together too.

Describe some new features not found in previous Mennonite hymnals.

  1. Voices Together is the first worship and song collection to contain visual art. Twelve pieces of visual art have been chosen for inclusion. These 12 pieces of visual art will be placed throughout the Voices Together hymnal, inviting worshipers to encounter God in ways that engage sight as well as sound.
  2. Voices Together engages the many technology changes that have happened in recent years. The Voices Together app (available through the GIA Hymnals App platform) and a projection edition will each offer congregations and individuals new and exciting ways to access music and to participate in worship.
  3. Voices Together will feature chord symbols for a majority of songs in order to resource congregations where guitarists or keyboardists rely on this type of notation.
  4. Voices Together will introduce more contemporary worship music and expand our musical vocabulary across many spectrums, in response to wide-ranging expressions of worship in Mennonite congregations.
  5. Voices Together will have more work by Mennonite writers, artists, composers, and songwriters than any previous collection.
  6. Voices Together will feature many supports for worship planners, leaders, and pastors. The new Worship Leader edition is a simple, accessible volume filled with theological grounding, practical suggestions, and words for worship. It will include quick introductions to topics like the Christian year and the use of technology in worship, along with easy-to-use suggestions for preparing prayers. It will also include worship resources for the practices central to our faith and life—including baptism, communion, child blessing, and funerals.

What will be the ratio of four-part harmony to unison songs?

This is still coming into focus. We hear earnest requests to maintain a robust concentration of four-part songs. We hear similarly compelling calls for songs that are accessible to people who are more drawn into worship by singing from a unison score. We are tracking this closely and expect to provide abundant songs in parts as well as in unison.

Will audio recordings of the songs be available?

We are working to respond to this need. The scope of the overall project is massive and the work pace is swift. Because the committee has been consumed with collection building, the process of creating recordings will happen early in 2020. We hope to roll out a set of recordings with the publication of Voices Together.

How will Voices Together be indexed?

The indexes for Voices Together will resemble the ones in Hymnal: A Worship Book. In addition, we expect to have an index of Anabaptist contributors and one for languages.

What will be the number of songs in languages other than English?

This, too, is still coming into focus. We have received heart song lists from numerous Mennonite congregations that worship in a language (or languages) other than English. We are prioritizing a plurality of languages for Voices Together to be expansive in naming the many voices we are drawing together. We know that roughly 25 languages are used in worship among Mennonite Church Canada and Mennonite Church USA congregations. Among our plans to include various languages is the hope to represent each of these 25 languages somewhere in the collection. We also look to maintain and expand much of the global song that has helped congregations worship with Christians around the world.

What will Voices Together cost my congregation?

Costs are available here.

What should be done if a box arrives damaged?

If a box arrives damaged, do not open the box before taking pictures to document its condition.  Next, open the box and take pictures to show how it was packaged including the packing materials.  If product is damaged and needs to be replaced, start a UPS claim at: https://www.ups.com/us/en/help-center/claims-support.page.  Great photos are key in the success of getting books replaced.  This website has concise instructions to file a claim.

Will there be launch events for Voices Together?

Yes! Plans are in the work for launch events in multiple places. Two weekend-long launch events are planned in fall 2020:

In addition, work continues on planning for similar launch events in January and February 2021 to be held in Ontario, Pennsylvania, and Kansas.

How do I go about setting up a Voices Together event in my congregation?

Many congregations and regions are eager to host Voices Together trainings. The Voices Together committee comprises 12 volunteers and 1 paid staff member who have devoted the last three years to this far-reaching project as a gift to the church. Committee members are eager to help introduce Voices Together as their schedules permit. MennoMedia provides a suggested fee schedule for engaging members of the Voices Together team in workshops and launch events.