Voices Together committee holds final meeting
WATERLOO, ON — A stack of paper containing 780 songs and a binder of 320 worship resources greeted each member of the Voices Together committee when they arrived for their tenth and final committee meeting in early October.
In nine previous meetings, the committee had discussed content to include in this new worship and song collection for the Mennonite church. But this was the first time committee members saw selections all together. The committee spent five days of their meeting singing and worshiping through it, followed by two days further discussing the selections.
“Because all new songs and worship resources were anonymized in the first three years of our discussions, meeting ten was the first time everyone saw who wrote the different pieces,” said Bradley Kauffman, general editor. “Our work until now has been on computer screens, so it was momentous to be able to see and hold hard copies of each piece.”
At least one verse of each song that the committee plans to include in the new worship and song collection was sung while the group was together, meeting at Erb Street Mennonite Church in Waterloo, Ontario. All new songs were sung in full. Each worship resource was read in its entirety and works of visual art were viewed as a series.
“Every single song and worship resource represents so much work around our circle to even get them to this draft point. So much research and detail work come together to make just one page in Voices Together. And for every song that’s here in the collection, I think of how many songs we looked at and set aside. I hold a lot of gratitude for the tremendous amount of work that has brought us to this place,” Kauffman said.
The committee working on this new Mennonite worship and song collection has included 13 volunteers as well as Kauffman as general editor. A steering committee of staff from Mennonite Church USA, Mennonite Church Canada, and MennoMedia have also been part of the process.
“I have been so impressed with committee members’ thoughtfulness and willingness to listen to each other’s views. This collection is for a diverse church and not for any of us individually,” said Intercultural Music Editor Katie Graber of Ostrander, Ohio.
“We all brought different gifts, and each of our gifts was clarified in this process,” added Anneli Loepp Thiessen of Ottawa, Ontario. “It has been hard work but has also been personal devotion.”
The goals of this final meeting were to:
- Affirm the collection that is Voices Together.
- Identify a small set of needed changes.
- Equip committee members to understand why each song or worship resource is included and be able to tell its story.
- Celebrate and bless the good work that has been done.
“Look at the images and structures in these songs and worship resources. What do they say about what we believe?” asked Allan Rudy-Froese of Elkhart, Indiana, and Waterloo, Ontario. “We are singing and proclaiming new ways of being and organizing the world around God.”
“It is energizing to see the thousands and thousands of decisions we’ve made show up on the page. While recognizing that we must continue to work on all kinds of balance, the larger stories that Voices Together is telling are beginning to emerge.” said Worship Resources Editor Sarah Kathleen Johnson of Toronto, Ontario.
Each committee member came prepared to share about one worship resource and one song that has been meaningful in this process.
Tom Harder of Hillsboro, Kansas, shared about “Healer of Our Every Ill” and how that song has been meaningful to him through the years and meaningful to sing with the committee.
Committee members have celebrated and lamented together in these years. Mike Erb of New Hamburg, Ontario, lost a brother to suicide two years ago. Text editor Adam Tice of Goshen, Indiana, had a dream of standing with Erb in that experience. “I dreamed that the committee was together, and Mike wanted to sing something for us. When I woke up, I wrote down what I could recall from the dream and refined it over the course of a few days.” That song about grief and loss is slated for inclusion in the collection.
Darryl Neustaedter Barg of Winnipeg, Manitoba, highlighted the deep and collegial relationships among committee members and the ways they have worked together well amid different personal preferences. “We all genuinely like and respect each other, and that has made our process work well. It is hard to imagine not meeting every few months.”
At the first meeting in September 2016, Kauffman invited the committee to adopt a process that would value relationships above specific decisions. That has guided the group throughout its work. Kauffman was thanked by committee members for his wisdom and direction, and the ways he modeled a healthy give and take for the team.
“It was inspiring to sing this collection from God’s people across centuries, representing thousands upon thousands of hours of creative energy, spirit, and art,” said Music Editor Benjamin Bergey, of Harrisonburg, Virginia. “As we sang the last song, a wave of God’s spirit came over me, reminding me why we have served in this capacity: for the people, for the church—to aid in faith formation, discipleship, and reconciliation among ourselves and in the world.”
“Our final meeting was one of those mountaintop experiences that can leave a person transformed forever. I will forever be grateful for the privilege of being part of this journey with colleagues whom I now call friends,” said Paul Dueck of Winnipeg, Manitoba.
“I was able to experience not only the committee’s brilliant musicianship, but the deep faith and devotion that each member brings to this holy and monumental task,” said Doug Klassen, executive director of Mennonite Church Canada, who participated in the first two days of the meeting. “At many points my voice wavered as was overcome with mystery and wonder.”
“I’m impressed by the committee’s care to make this collection relevant to current and future generations of Anabaptist Christians,” said Shana Peachey Boshart, denominational minister for Mennonite Church USA. “As I sang with the committee, I was encouraged and excited. There are songs here sure to become new heart songs; there are old Anabaptist hymns being introduced to the church for the first time; familiar tunes with compelling new texts; edits to familiar hymns I couldn’t even detect. These folks are gifted for this work, and I am grateful for their dedication and skill.”
The committee has now spent at least 50 days at in-person meetings between September 2016 and October 2019, with additional in-person meetings for subcommittees and editors. Over the last 12 months, the committee zoom platform has averaged 52 hours per month of activity.
“This is an incredible volunteer effort. Their dedication to the church through this project will bless all of us in years and decades to come,” said Amy Gingerich, executive director of MennoMedia.
The work that remains on the Voices Together collection is significant. Various types of collection analysis and balance assessments are ongoing. Many songs remain in queues for additional work by the text or tune subcommittees. Just over half of the collection has been typeset, with the remaining half to be finished before the permissions process starts early next year. Various types of collection analysis are ongoing.
Kauffman estimates that the committee has screened about 10,000 pieces to make their selections. The committee is not yet releasing what songs or worship resources have been selected, pending full approval in the permissions process.
On the final evening, the committee clustered in a tight circle to link arms, to share, to weep, and to offer glory to God and thanks for the Spirit’s leading.
Voices Together will be published in fall 2020 by MennoMedia. To find out more, visit www.VoicesTogetherHymnal.org.