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 builds on the structure of Hymnal: A Worship Book while developing the model a step further. The 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 was a crucial part of our process for selecting content as we worked 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 are also organized according to this structure, although only the major headings arre listed. The worship leader edition follows this structure as well.”