HARRISONBURG, Va. — The Mennonite Worship and Song Committee is introducing the table of contents for Voices Together. This marks a significant development for the new hymnal coming in Fall 2020.
Hymnals are typically organized in one of three ways. They are developed around the Christian year (for example, Advent, Christmas, Good Friday, Easter), theological concepts (such as God, Jesus, Holy Spirit, church), or acts of worship (for example, gathering, praising, praying). Many hymnals draw on aspects of all three.
The 1992 Hymnal: A Worship Book is organized by acts of worship. The focus on what songs are doing rather than what they are about was a significant innovation. This table of contents structure is among the most important contributions of the volume to Mennonite worship. Not all contents in Hymnal: A Worship Book are held within the acts of worship structure. For example, baptism, communion, songs for occasions like weddings and funerals, and songs of a more personal nature (the “Worship in Our Faith Journey” section) are held outside this structure.
Voices Together is building on the structure of Hymnal: A Worship Book while developing the model a step further. The forthcoming collection begins with gathering and concludes with sending—everything is held within the order of worship. The overall structure is still present:
- gathering with praise and reconciling ourselves to God and one another;
- telling God’s story through Scripture;
- responding to God’s story by confessing faith, giving, and prayer; and
- being sent out to live God’s story in witness and service with God’s blessing.
However, there are two significant shifts. First, Voices Together frames faith and life stories as part of our response to God’s story, signaling that there is space in corporate worship for our stories to be shared and held in prayer. Second, baptism and communion are placed within the order of worship, implying that these are regular worship practices integrally connected to the week-by-week worship life of the church. Even if they are not celebrated each week, baptism and communion are also part of our response to God’s story.
The “Sharing Our Stories” section holds both the faith journey material from Hymnal: A Worship Book and material associated with the ministries of the church at significant moments in human lives. Therefore, child blessings, marriages, and funerals are also anchored in a broader worship context.
“This structure has become a crucial part of our process for selecting content as we work toward providing target numbers of songs within each category, and toward a balanced collection,” says Bradley Kauffman, project director for Voices Together. Worship resources editor Sarah Kathleen Johnson notes that “the worship resources at the back of the pew edition will also be organized according to this structure, although only the major headings will be listed. The worship leader edition will follow this structure as well.”
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.