voices together

The experience of music at Mennonite World Conference Assemblies

Posted on: April 16th, 2019 by Voices Together Hymnal

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

Paul Dueck is a retired music educator and presently employed by Mennonite Church Manitoba at Camp Assiniboia. He is passionate about congregational singing and has led music at numerous Mennonite assemblies. Paul is a member of the Voices Together worship and song committee.

In the summer of 1978, I attended my first Mennonite World Conference (MWC) Assembly. Mennonites from 48 nations gathered in Wichita, Kansas. It was a thrilling experience for me to sing under the leadership of Mary Oyer with the thousands that had gathered. I distinctly remember the choir from the Soviet Union. It was the first time that representatives from Russia attended, and their singing was received with thunderous applause and tears of joy. Nelson Mandela said, “Music is a great blessing because it gets people free to dream. It can unite us to all sing with one voice.” This experience shaped my love for singing with the wider global faith community and sparked an interest within me to search for intercultural songs that could be experienced in local congregations.

Having grown up in Asuncion, Paraguay, I was already familiar with some music from Latin America. It was there that I had the opportunity to learn the play the Paraguayan folk harp and learn some of the traditional music of that country. Later in life, I returned to Paraguay with my wife, Linda, and our three daughters, to teach at the Mennonite Seminary (CEMTA). Students from Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay added to the international flavour of the community. My love for intercultural songs was further increased.

In the summer of 1990, I had the privilege of participating in the music team at the MWC Assembly in Winnipeg, led by Marilyn Houser Hamm and Holda Fast. The songbook that was compiled by Doreen Klassen for this gathering is a rich collection of 86 songs from five continents that affirm unity while also expressing diversity. It was a highlight for me to sing these songs and experience them together with some 13,000 people from the wider Anabaptist community.

I will never forget the final gathering at the Winnipeg football stadium with around 32,000 people in attendance.

In the fall of 1990, I began teaching music at the Mennonite High School (UMEI) in Leamington, Ontario. The songbooks that were available to the students for the daily chapels were the “Mennonite Hymnal” and the “Sing and Rejoice” songbook. Having just come from a thrilling gathering of Anabaptists, I wanted the students to be exposed to some of the global songs that were shared at MWC in Winnipeg.

How wonderful it was that we were able to purchase the International Songbook for the school. One disadvantage of this songbook (for those of us that read music) is that the melody appeared on one page and the text in numerous languages on the opposite page. What joyful surprise it was that two years later the school purchased the “Hymnal, A Worship Book” which included numerous songs from the International Songbook. Our musical world was greatly enriched.

The wide range of musical styles provided a wonderful variety to our chapel services. The enjoyment of singing was so evident, that every week, one day was set aside for “music chapel.” In addition to the “Hymnal, A Worship Book,” we added collections that were used at national youth assemblies, since they contained more of the popular contemporary Christian songs. It is this idiom that will be more broadly represented in the new 2020 hymnal “Voices Together.”

Participants from 63 nations came together to celebrate bonds of faith at the 15th MWC Assembly held in Paraguay in 2009. The assembly began with a procession of banners from congregations, conferences, and other groups from around the world accompanied by a Paraguayan harp orchestra. It was a feast to the senses. Together with a very talented and diverse international music team, we helped lead the people in singing. I will never forget the experience when the electricity went off and we sat in total darkness. It was an impromptu decision to sing together, and I still recall the songs we sang. Three of the songs were “Grosser Gott wir loben dich”, “Alabaré”, and “Siyahamba.” In that last song (“We are walking in the light of God”), the electricity miraculously came back on. Singing each other’s songs was a mountain top experience for me.

It was a daunting task to decide on 44 songs that would make up the MWC songbook. How could we represent the Anabaptist global community in such a small collection? The MWC music committee actually debated whether a songbook was necessary at all, since so many people do not read notes. In the end, the decision was made to go ahead with a downsized version. People still appreciate taking a songbook home and perhaps teaching some of the songs to their home congregations.

At all the MWC Assemblies that I have attended, the highlight for me has been the choirs. They always provide such a glorious, diverse representation of singing in our global family.

Hearing a 160-voice choir made up of 11 Paraguayan ethnic groups was a powerful symbol of unity for me. Adding traditional instruments like Paraguayan harps, accordion, charango, conga drums and other percussion instruments gave it a Latin American flavour. Again, a feast to the senses!

To sing each other’s songs still remains for me one of the most beautiful ways to experience unity in diversity, and so I am very grateful to participate in the collection building for the new “Voices Together” hymnal.

Voices Together Lent and Easter Sampler

Posted on: March 13th, 2019 by Voices Together Hymnal

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

by Benjamin Bergey, Katie Graber, Sarah Johnson, Bradley Kauffman, SaeJin Lee, Cynthia Neufeld Smith and Adam Tice, members of the Voices Together worship and song committee.

The Winter 2019 Leader magazine from MennoMedia includes many resources for the Lent and Easter seasons, which extend from Ash Wednesday to Pentecost. Lent is traditionally a time for self-reflection, repentance, and seeking transformation through prayer, fasting, and charitable giving. Easter is a joyful 50-day celebration, longer than the 40-day fast of Lent before it. Worship resources for Easter can be used every Sunday from Easter to Pentecost to celebrate the presence and power of the risen Christ.

In addition to general worship planning information, pages 51-80 include new songs and spoken worship resources that are being considered for the Voices Togethercollection. These items correspond to Lent and Easter themes, and many could be used beyond those seasons as well. Context provided here expands on information in Leader magazine to help congregations plan how to use and introduce these new items in the coming months of 2019, Year C of the Revised Common Lectionary.

Your congregation may already subscribe to Leader magazine; subscriptions and individual copies are available at www.MennoMedia.org or 800-245-7894. Sampler downloads and demo videos of new songs can be found at http://voicestogetherhymnal.org/downloads/ (or click the titles of individual entries below).

Worship Resources

Winter Leader pages 72-78
(Numbers alongside titles correspond to the numbering system in Leader magazine)

12.-28. Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer

Drawing on Take Our Moments and Our Days: An Anabaptist Prayer Book (vol. 1 and 2), these versions of morning and evening prayer were prepared for the new hymnal by Eleanor Kreider, Barbara Nelson Gingerich, Mary Schertz, and the Voices Together worship resources committee.

The prayers follow a threefold pattern: praising God, listening to God through Scripture, and responding to God by interceding for others. The words come directly from the Bible or are minimally adapted. The three “calls”— to praise, discipleship, intercession — are Scripture words, as are the introductions to thanksgiving and confession. Both services include the prayer that Jesus taught us as well as a song from the Gospels, either of Zechariah or Mary.

The services are suited to group or individual prayer. They are helpful for opening committee meetings or small group sessions. You may adapt these services for public worship, taking care to keep the threefold structure clear: praise, listen, respond. Depending on the setting, you may add spontaneous elements, songs, meditations on the readings, poems or other writings, silence, testimonies, dance, or extended prayers. Alternatively, you may wish to shorten the services. Individual elements from these resources may be used in other worship contexts.

Suggested Scripture readings, additional options, and more information are available at the “Anabaptist Resources for Prayer and Study” section of the AMBS website .

29.-30. The dust that shapes the journey

Resource 30 presents an option for creating a visual focus while the words of resource 29 are spoken. The visual focus could be created for the first Sunday of Lent, or for each Sunday of the season. This could be an especially appropriate call for worship on Ash Wednesday and could also be used each Sunday of the season of Lent.

31. Before you, Jesus Christ

This prayer could be used on various occasions during Lent. Consider singing a setting of “Kyrie Eleison,” Greek for “Lord, have mercy,” in place of the spoken responses.

32. True evangelical faith

These words from Menno Simons echo Isaiah 58:1-12, one of the readings for Ash Wednesday. This resource could be used throughout Lent as we seek a deeper commitment to serving God and the people around us.

33. God, we sometimes find

Although Voices Together provides prepared words for worship, free prayer led by the Spirit is also an important Anabaptist worship practice. Worship leaders are encouraged to pray spontaneously; this prayer from Jordan is an example that was transcribed and adapted from an extemporaneous prayer. It is particularly appropriate for Maundy Thursday, however, it may also have a home in contexts beyond Sunday worship such as schools, homes, social service agencies, or retirement communities.

34. Living God

This prayer references Jesus’ appearance to the gathered believers in the reading from the Second Sunday of Easter (John 20:19-31).

35. Not straight away

This poem may be an especially appropriate call to worship on Easter Sunday. It may also speak hope into seasons of doubt and loss in our lives and communities.

36. Mennonite World Conference Shared Convictions

Lent and Easter have been seasons focused on faith formation since the early church. An affirmation of faith may be a particularly appropriate addition to the order of worship during the Easter season.

In 2006 Mennonite World Conference approved this statement of seven Shared Convictions representing the beliefs and practices of Mennonite and Brethren in Christ churches around the world. The statement was adopted after a 13-year consensus-based process of development. It is the first faith statement adopted by the global Anabaptist community.

The Shared Convictions were not created primarily for use in congregational worship,
although some congregations do read them aloud together in worship regularly. Instead of
reading them in their entirety, consider selecting one section and adapting it to serve
as a call to worship, introduction to the reading of Scripture, invitation to prayer, response, sending words, or another act of worship.

The Shared Convictions are available online in additional languages.


Winter Leader pages 55-71

All this Pain (Beautiful Things) 
This song would be suitable throughout Lent, as we acknowledge the brokenness in the world and our hope for transformation and resurrection. Congregations can sing this song very simply with guitar alone, or with a full worship band. The repetition of “beautiful things” in the chorus with different syllabic emphasis helps to illustrate the beauty found in unexpected places. After singing the verses, chorus, and bridge, the latter two can be sung together to add a new texture and harmony.

Dust and Ashes 
An increasing number of Mennonite congregations have begun to observe Ash Wednesday, which initiates the Lenten season. In this song we identify with the dust and ashes in many aspects of life and our desperate need for the cleansing and refreshing water of God’s Spirit. This song can be used on Ash Wednesday, or more metaphorically throughout Lent.

Parts 1 and 2 can be split in many different ways. While teaching this song, it may be effective to have a leader or leading group sing the top line, and the congregation sing the echo. Congregations can also divide by left and right sides, high and low voices, or other ways.

Sanna, Sannanina
In this song, we join the people of Jerusalem in singing “Hosanna” as Jesus enters into the city on what we call Palm Sunday. The singing could accompany a joyful processional with palm branches.

While a common perception of African music assumes percussion accompaniment, this song is from South Africa, where many vocal genres traditionally do not include drums. Hymnologist Michael Hawn offers the following about HWB 64 Asithi: Amen, also from that region: “In South Africa [this] song is often accompanied on marimbas with an underlying 123-123-12 beat. Since this song is of Xhosa origin, drums are not as commonly used. Handclaps on two dotted quarters followed by a quarter-note beat are appropriate” (full article here). A 123-123-12 clapped beat also fits well with “Sanna, Sannanina.”

Stay with Me
This meditative song echoes the words of Jesus as he prayed in the garden after the Last Supper. The theme and quiet atmosphere suits a Maundy Thursday service, or it can be sung throughout Lent as a call for attentiveness to God’s presence.

This traditional Welsh lullaby is represented in harmony as taught by the Welsh group Cowbois Rhos Botwnnog. Tenors may double the melody if desired. As with many folk tunes, this can also be sung in unison with simple accompaniment.

Vos Sos
On Good Friday we remember the agonizing death of Jesus. This Salvadoran text is visceral in its description of Jesus’ suffering, and it invites singers to relate his experience of torture to that of modern victims of violence. This is particularly timely in light of ongoing unrest in El Salvador and other parts of Latin America.

This hymn was written as the “Lamb of God” movement of the composer’s “Misa Popular Salvadoreña” (1980). The same mass also introduced “Santo, santo, santo (Holy, holy, holy),” HWB 400.

The initial address, “Vos sos,” may be unfamiliar even to some fluent speakers of Spanish. It is commonly used in some regions of Central and South America, and is equivalent to “Tu eres” or “You are.”

To My Precious Lord
This contemporary Korean song is widely sung in both Korean national and immigrant congregations, including Anabaptist-Mennonite affiliated churches. It is often used to mark the giving of offerings. Corresponding to the Gospel reading of the 5th Sunday of Lent, it narrates the story of a woman who anointed Jesus’ feet with oil (Luke 7:36-39).

The text, which is rarely set to music, is a first-person setting that establishes an intimate tone and invites the congregation to identify with this woman’s devotion. The hymn then transitions beyond the personal to the ecclesial, as the verses move through Jesus’ passion, death, and the anticipation of Parousia (the second coming).

This meditative song ought to be sung at a slow enough tempo that the leaps feel natural and smooth, honoring the dignity of the musical and poetic gestures. It can be accompanied with guitar or a simple arpeggiated piano accompaniment. A flute or violin may be used to double the melody, which would assist in teaching this song.

How Shallow Former Shadows
In this hymn we confront the realities of Good Friday and the audacity of calling it “good” when it encompassed such horror. This text appears in Hymnal: A Worship Book, but in this sampler it is paired with a different tune.

Now the Green Blade Rises
This song relates to John 12:24 when Jesus said, “Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” This also associates the liturgical season with the natural season of spring. The word “Lent” comes from the old English word “lencten/lengten” which refers to the lengthening of daylight hours that occurs in springtime. This ecumenically popular Easter carol appeared in the 1979 Sing and Rejoice supplement; it can be sung throughout the Easter season.

Zisuh Nih A  Zultu Hna Sinah (Peace Be with You)
According to the lectionary schedule, this song corresponds to the Sunday after Easter and the appearance of Jesus to the gathered believers (John 20:19-31); it could also be sung to accompany the Old Testament reading about Abraham (Genesis 15: 1-12) on the 2nd Sunday of Lent.

The video linked in this title takes place at Chin Emmanuel Baptist Church (a Mennonite congregation) in Houston, Texas. When Voices Together committee members Katie Graber, Bradley Kauffman, and Darryl Neustaedter Barg visited, the congregation’s worship band taught them three of their heart songs. All were in Chin, a language from Myanmar; two were translations (“What the Lord has done in me” by Hillsong and “Above all,” most famously recorded by Michael W. Smith).

In the video, you can hear Olivia Tluang describe what the third song means to her. She and other members of the band explained that “Zisuh Nih a Zultu Hna Sinah” was written by a Chin person who was an early convert to Christianity. The melody bears some similarity to gospel hymns, especially “I have found a friend in Jesus (Lily of the valley),” published in 1881 and included in hundreds of hymnals since–including the 1940 Mennonite Hymnary. That song has been translated into a variety of languages, so it is possible that Chin Christians knew it as well. However, “Zisuh Nih a Zultu Hna Sinah” is not a copy or translation; it has a text that focuses on the ways that God provides.

Pastor Simon Tlumang provided an English translation of the song, and Voices Together text editor Adam Tice created the metrical text included in Leader. The chorus is translated metaphorically; Pastor Simon gave this literal translation and scriptural references for the attributes of Jehovah in the Chin original:

Jehovah Shammah is living with us. (Ezekiel 48:35)
Jehovah Shalom is our peace. (Judges 6:24)
Jehovah Jireh makes a plan for us. (Genesis 22:14)
Jehovah Sabaoth, we have victory.
Hallelujah, let the name of GOD be glorified.

Seeking Warmth from Charcoal Blazing
The first stanza of this hymn reflects Peter’s denial of Jesus during the night of Maundy Thursday. The second stanza comes from the Gospel reading for the second Sunday after Easter (John 21:1-19), when Jesus appeared to Peter and the other disciples on the shore of the Sea of Galilee.

The Lord is Risen Indeed (EASTER ANTHEM)
William Billings’ Easter Anthem, found in the 1969 Mennonite Hymnal, is a good example of regional variety in Mennonite singing practices. Perhaps because Billings is often celebrated as the first U.S. American composer, this song appears to be more widely sung in the U.S. than Canada. Furthermore, while it is well loved among many congregations on the east coast of the United States, people from other areas may have encountered this anthem rarely if ever. If it is unfamiliar, recordings are readily available online to get a sense of the rollicking fugal entries and the celebratory repetitions of text.

While some phrases are written for single voice parts, others can sing along to fill out the sections (i.e. the opening bass line can also be sung with tenors if fewer basses are present). The fermatas at the ends of phrases should simply be held for and extra beat followed by a breath, flowing directly into the next phrase so the momentum is not stalled. The church choir may be the best vehicle for enjoying this anthem on Easter Sunday.

The text comes from I Corinthians 15:19-26, the Epistle reading for Easter Sunday.

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 (SarahJ@MennoMedia.org).


[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.

Music and worship leaders gather at Laurelville conference

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

Eagerness mounts for Voices Together hymnal coming in 2020


MOUNT PLEASANT, Pa.—“I’m amazed at the exhilaration that comes from a room full of voices singing together,” said Brent Alderfer, a member of Blooming Glen Mennonite Church, Pa. and part of a group of 11 persons from that congregation who joined the annual Laurelville Music and Worship Leaders Retreat in western Pennsylvania in early January.

Anticipation and energy for the new Voices Together music and worship collection, which is nearing the end of the research, song collection, and testing phase, was in high gear at Laurelville. A video of singing, plus a photo gallery by photographer Kreg Ulery of participants enjoying the worship, music, and jam sessions can be found on the website for the hymnal at voicestogetherhymnal.org.

Over 150 participants gathered to test and explore songs in strong consideration for the upcoming hymnal. The retreat focused on sections of the book from “Creation” through “Reign of Christ.”

Attendees learned about the joys and challenges of shaping a worship book for the 21st century church and examined leadership skills to take back to home congregations. Emily Rittenhouse, from Blooming Glen, noted, “I got a better grasp of what an enormous undertaking this has been for the team, and how much that has pulled them away from other important things in their lives.” She added, “It is a sacrifice and a gift that will be interwoven into the songs we sing for decades to come.” Project director Bradley Kauffman estimates the team has reviewed at least 5000 pieces of music.

Michael Bishop, pastor of music, worship and pastoral care at Blooming Glen is enthusiastic about the new collection. “Voices Together will honor our past peoplehood, provide tools for living in these days, and draw us toward the work of God, who is always leading into a new creation,” he said. He notes that the team from their church included choir singers, song leaders, and those involved in leading worship. Robin Schilling, a leader from Blooming Glen added, “I was inspired with new ideas for the coming year.”

Tom Lehman, a member of Chapel Hill Mennonite Fellowship in Durham, N.C. mentioned, “We were encouraged in considerable detail to sing songs in more than our own native language. The idea, of course, is inclusivity.” Alderfer affirmed, “Singing connects us to people around the world.”

Adam Tice, text editor for the hymnal, suggested that a suitable hymn collection should probably include at least a few hymns that the individual user does not appreciate, always mindful that any particular song may be someone else’s “heart” song which resonates deeply with them.

Mark Diller Harder, pastor of St. Jacobs Mennonite Church in Ontario said “I am filled with deep confidence and trust in this dedicated team. There is thoughtfulness and intentionality that balances continuity and change, all with an openness to the Spirit’s leading.”

Pre-orders and final pricing will be available this summer at the Mennonite Church Canada and Mennonite Church USA gatherings in June and July, respectively.



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Staff Release
Mennonite Media
More information: LeAnn Hamby at 540 908 3941 or LeAnnH@mennomedia.org.

Photos courtesy of Kreg Ulery.

Group focused on worship practices gathers as part of the Voices Together project

Posted on: September 6th, 2018 by Voices Together Hymnal

Voices Together Central Worship Practices Committee will seek input this fall


HARRISONBURG, Va. — In addition to considering the songs we sing in worship, a group of people is taking a look at the words and actions that accompany central worship practices such as baptism, communion, child blessing, and funerals.

Six people who have been meeting virtually for the last two years via videoconference gathered together in person for the first and only time to speak through and listen to the worship resources that will be part of Voices Together, a new hymnal to be published by MennoMedia in 2020 for Mennonite Church Canada and Mennonite Church USA.

The Voices Together Central Practices Committee has been gathering and assessing the words that accompany baptism, communion, footwashing, child blessing, marriage, healing/anointing, funerals, membership, and leadership rituals. The committee refers to these acts of worship collectively as central practices because of their central role in expressing and forming Anabaptist Mennonite identity for individuals and congregations.

The Central Practices Committee that is part of the Voices Together project includes (from left to right) Irma Fast Dueck, Isaac Villegas, Heidi Miller, Sarah Kathleen Johnson, Adam Tice, and Allan Rudy-Froese.

“We sing songs about who we are, but we also use words and actions to express our faith in congregational worship and at significant moments in our lives. These are resources congregations turn to again and again,” said Sarah Kathleen Johnson, worship resources editor and co-chair of the committee. “When we baptize, we use water and words. When we share communion, we eat and drink, and we use words. We are caring both for what is said in worship and for instructions that aid leaders in preparing.”

Irma Fast Dueck, co-chair for the group, said, “It is a daunting task to attempt to find language that accompanies an experience such as baptism or communion, for these are practices whose meaning dwarfs any words that could possibly be said. And these words may be repeated by the church for the next 25 years or more. That’s overwhelming, and yet as I work alongside this group on these practices, I felt a remarkable sense of connection—to those working with me and the deep and rich tradition. The whole experience made me feel remarkably hopeful. And blessed.”

Johnson, along with Adam Tice and Allan Rudy-Froese, is also part of the Mennonite Worship and Song Committee working on the new hymnal. Other members of the Central Practices Committee are Isaac Villegas and Heidi Miller.

The group started by talking through the theological and practical core of each practice and identifying the types of resources to include in Voices Together to support each practice, said Johnson. Writers, mostly pastors and scholars, have been creating drafts of these resources since April 2018. The three-day gathering in August allowed the committee to workshop and hone them, thinking through the practical ways in which someone speaks while holding a child or sharing the cup. It’s work that couldn’t have happened in the same way in a video chat. “You can’t read corporately online,” said Johnson.

Versions of these resources will be available later this fall for several months of testing, according to Johnson. “We wish to give communities the opportunity to explore, test, and respond to these resources before they are published,” she said. If you are interested in having your congregation test these worship resources, please email editorial assistant Karen Gonzol (KarenG@MennoMedia.org) before October 1, 2018.

Central worship practices can be a source of tension and division within the denomination. Mennonites, like other denominations, are wrestling with the large questions of who receives communion, who is allowed to be married, and who is able to be ordained. Though Voices Together is a denominational hymnal project, it is local congregations who make choices about central practices that can be divisive in the church as a whole. There’s diversity within the Mennonite church, and both the Worship and Song Committee and the Central Practices group are trying to offer resources for a range of congregations. “We aspire to prepare resources with enough space for local congregations and other bodies to make a range of choices regarding these questions,” said Johnson.

The resources will be included in the hymnal, and additional options and instructions will be found in a leader book that accompanies the hymnal.

It is in worship that these words will come to life, said Villegas. “This has been spiritual work, intimate labor—to receive the phrases and sentences from faithful people from the broad expanse of our tradition, from the past and the present, and to hone their words into prayers and litanies that will sustain the faith of all of us,” he said. “My hope is that our people will experience themselves drawn into God’s life when they turn these words into flesh through their worship.”

For more information or to schedule an interview, contact LeAnn Hamby at 540-908- 3941 or email LeAnnH@mennomedia.org.


Hymnal volunteer hours valued at $296,280 annually

Posted on: August 29th, 2018 by Voices Together Hymnal

HARRISONBURG, Va. — Producing a new hymnal is a major undertaking. A project of this significance takes many hours and substantial funding. Before the Voices Together hymnal is ever produced, MennoMedia will spend approximately $700,000 in production and development costs.

As this significant monetary figure is one crucial part of the momentum behind Voices Together, it is worth remembering that many in-kind donations are essential for completing a project of this magnitude. The volunteer Mennonite Worship and Song Committee is contributing extraordinary levels of time and expertise to bring Voices Together to fruition. In addition to the 12 committee members, more than 50 other volunteers have contributed directly to the collection on subcommittees and as consultants, with many others making their voices heard through surveys, community events, and financial contributions to the project.

The 12 members of the Mennonite Worship and Song Committee have committed many hours to collection work. “Committee members and affiliated networks of scholars, writers, pastors, and musicians are donating an estimated 12,000 hours annually,” said Bradley Kauffman, project director for Voices Together. “Frequent video conferences, independent work, and three in-person meetings per year add up to a life-altering level of volunteer commitment for each member. They are giving an extraordinary gift to the Mennonite church.” The number of hours is likely to climb as the committee begins its third and most labor-intensive year of work in September.

The organization Independent Sector values volunteer time at $24.69 per hour. Applying this approximation to volunteer hours brings the annual monetary value of hours donated to the hymnal project to roughly $296,280.

“Every member of the committee is highly dedicated to this project, and each one brings expertise in specific areas. It has been amazing to see them bring their many gifts together for the benefit of the church,” said Amy Gingerich, executive director and publisher at MennoMedia. “As a small church agency, this project would not be possible without their volunteer hours, and we are so grateful for their work.”

MennoMedia is accepting donations for the new hymnal collection by check or online at VoicesTogetherHymnal.org.

For more information about the Mennonite Worship and Song Collection project or to schedule an interview with Bradley Kauffman, project director, contact LeAnn Hamby at (540) 908-3941 or email LeAnnH@mennomedia.org.

Creating a hymnal cover

Posted on: June 26th, 2018 by Voices Together Hymnal

Designers, editors, and marketers weigh in on Voices Together process

First impressions are important. A great book cover catches your eye in three seconds and you pick it up to read further or you move on.

As people who sing to articulate our faith, Mennonites care a lot about the cover of their hymnals, as hymnals are one of the ways that Mennonites talk about faith.

A team of designers, editors, and marketers from MennoMedia worked for months to develop a cover for the new Voices Together hymnal, and we felt convicted to craft something that would thoughtfully reflect who we are.

In the week since we have unveiled the Voices Together cover, we have received so much support for the design (thank you!) and a number have also asked about the thought that went into the development process.

Here is a look at some of the considerations that went into the Voices Together cover:

Durability: We knew we needed to find something to stand up to heavy repeated use over decades. In some congregations the Voices Together pew edition will be picked up and handled multiple times each week. Therefore we wanted to find a color and cover material that would wear well, something that would hold up to smudgy fingers, to occasionally being dropped, and to being carted around within congregations.

Previous hymnals and supplements

Color choice: Our first attempts to choose a color focused on colors that could be distinguished from the previous four volumes. We tested out ideas with various groups of people in the church. More than 900 people contributed to a cover survey we posted earlier this year on Facebook, and burgundy and charcoal gray rose to the top. However, these colors did not generate any cohesive excitement.

Some shades of red or burgundy looked too much like the 1969 hymnal, some shades looked too orange, and some shades already looked dated. Could a brighter red also be interpreted as placing a lot of emphasis on the blood of Christ and not enough on the love of God?

When we looked at shades of black some felt it would be too easily confused with pew Bibles, and also look like an older hymnal and not something brand new for 2020 and beyond. And the grays just did not generate excitement.

Blue? Too much like Hymnal: A Worship Book unless we went with a lighter blue, but that wouldn’t wear well.

When we reintroduced purple as an option it seemed that everyone was enthralled. There were some hesitations that it would be too similar to Sing the Story supplement but the overall positive response out-weighed that concern.

Purple works well for a hymnal because it is both a vibrant color and it connects well with the liturgical year. Churches all over the world often drape the cross in purple during Lent. During Advent, many congregations light purple candles. Jesus is sometimes pictured with a purple sash to signify royalty.

The brightness of this purple has a fresh look that makes this new hymnal stand out from past ones. Culturally, purple has associations with royalty, majesty, and the kingdom of God.

Fonts: The two fonts on the cover are Palatino (Voices) and Scriptina (Together). These fonts speak to our solid tradition in the Mennonite Church and the overlapping and inbreaking of fresh inspiration. Voices Together will contain hymns foundational to Mennonites, new expressions of praise, as well as those songs and hymns that have emerged in the last decades. The mixture of old and new fonts on the cover showcases this intermingling to create something fresh.

Dove symbol: The Mennonite Hymnal (1969) has a small crown debossed in the top right. Hymnal: A Worship Book (1992, copublished with Brethren Press), has a lamb in a briar, in blue foil. What kind of symbol, if any, should be on a new worship and song collection for the church? The dove was chosen to represent the gospel of peace and carrying Jesus’ message around the world. The dove also represents the Holy Spirit, enlivening our worship and empowering us to follow Jesus. The circle can represent wholeness, community, the oneness of God, and Jesus as light of the world.

Font color: We evaluated various colors for the fonts that you see on the cover and determined that gold works well with the purple background. The gold foil follows the same font color as in some of older hymnals, such as The Mennonite Hymnal (1969), Church Hymnal (1927), and Church and Sunday School Hymnal (1902).

Full package: The titles of previous Mennonite hymnals have emphasized the notes on the page rather than what we do in worship: raise our voices to God together. Worship is about God—a time set apart for honoring God. And it’s in worship where we as the church unite through song. As one person wrote on Facebook this week, “In an increasingly diverse church–theologically, racially, economically—Voices Together  makes a theological statement: We are in this together. Our existence is not about the individual but about the whole; a whole that is held in Divine Love. Worship of the Divine comes out of this fundamental reality: We are One.”

Staff contributing to this blog post:
Amy Gingerich, publisher and executive director
Merrill Miller, senior designer
Bradley Kauffman, Voices Together general editor

All contributions that MennoMedia receives for Voices Together development costs are being doubled, up to $100,000 in the U.S. by Everence and MCC U.S. and up to $15,000 in Canada by a family foundation in Ontario, from now until Dec. 31, 2018. Read more here about the Voices Together, Giving Together campaign and consider a pledge at www.VoicesTogetherHymnal.com