A multi-year process of renewing worship materials is underway in the ELCA. The author takes a look at some vital questions: Why are we doing this now? Will things change? And what criteria will the church use as leaders consider change?
In congregations across the ELCA, God's people assemble weekly to raise their voices in song, to hear God's Word read and proclaimed, to welcome newcomers to the faith through the waters of baptism, and to partake in a foretaste of God's everlasting banquet. This regular assembly around the Word and the sacraments is the most basic Lutheran definition of the church.
The Augsburg Confession doesn't mince words when it confesses that the church is "the assembly of all believers among whom the Gospel is preached in its purity and the holy sacraments are administered according to the Gospel" (Article VII). Worship is the center of the church's life.
Today, congregations use a variety of materials to support their worship. For almost 25 years, the Lutheran Book of Worship has been a primary resource for leaders and worshipers. Since 1997 the ELCA has also been guided by The Use of the Means of Grace, a pastoral statement on the practice of Word and sacrament.
Likewise, in recent years, there has been a flood of additional resources as well. With One Voice, Libro de Liturgia y Cántico, This Far by Faith, Worship and Praise, and Sundays and Seasons are just a few of the many newer worship materials widely used.
And some congregations no longer use books at all. Many make use of self-contained worship folders specifically created for a particular event or worshiping assembly. Other congregations project materials on a screen. And still others use no visual materials at all, choosing to have a leader teach prayers and songs by example or memory. In each of these cases, worship leaders often draw on materials from a wide variety of resources.
For most congregations, the ever-expanding wealth of currently available materials is both blessing and bane: the choices are endless, but technology, the Internet, and the plethora of new possibilities can also be overwhelming. Just how are worship planners and leaders to sort through all the choices in order to make informed and pastoral decisions?
In response to the current situation, the ELCA has entered a process of study and conversation entitled Renewing Worship. One of the main components of this multi-year process is to help congregations think about the basic principles of worship as well as the primary patterns of worship. In addition, current worship materials will be renewed and new resources will be developed to use over the next five years.
For many, this will be an exciting time. The trial use of new prayers, hymns, liturgical rites, or worship styles can spark the renewal of a congregation's life, helping it rethink and retool its mission to the world. The exploration of additional biblical images for God's redeeming grace can deepen our faith and our awareness of a world in need.
For others, this will be a time of uncertainty. What's going to happen to hymns and prayers that have nourished individuals and congregations over generations? Will "they" change the words to hymns and songs that we know by heart? Will "they" include prayers that don't reflect my theological viewpoints or understandings? Will someone be telling me what the "right way" to worship is?
And for others this will be a time of impatience. Will "they" simply give us the same old stuff over again? Given the current demands of changing cultural situations, isn't it time to break loose and try something totally new? Isn't this Renewing Worship process just a way to make congregations buy more books or new computer software?
The answer, of course, lies at the pastoral center between these somewhat differing concerns. Like the master of the household who brings out of the treasury that which is both new and old (Matthew 13:52), a primary goal of the Renewing Worship process is to balance and connect the church's rich traditions with its constantly evolving present and future. Careful pastoral theology always respects the faith of congregations and individuals while at the same time struggling with the questions and experiences of the present.
This is not a new approach. In the past century, most U.S. denominational bodies have found it necessary to renew worship materials every generation or so in order to keep a balance between old and new. Depending on your predecessor church body, this happened for Lutherans in North America in the 1880s, the 1910s, the 1930s, the 1950s, and the 1970s.
The ELCA is currently at one of these points of transition. New worship resources for the 21st century need to be developed that take seriously both the tradition — that which is the "living faith of the dead" — and the expanding gifts of God's continuing creation and revelation. Renewing worship requires a vigorous embrace of both old and new for the sake of participating in God's mission to the world.
A quick look around the ELCA suggests several reasons why this is a kairotic time to proceed. The past three decades have witnessed not only a coming together of various Lutheran theological and ecclesial traditions, but these years have also been marked by growing ecumenical consensus and relationships. Just 20 years ago, the ELCA didn't exist and there were no full-communion relationships in the U.S. between Lutherans and non-Lutherans. New relationships bring new gifts, challenges, and possibilities.
Likewise in the past 25 years, the church has also embraced a broadened understanding of culture. With each passing year it becomes clearer and clearer that culture is a crucial element — both positive and negative — in bearing the witness of Christ. This includes a variety of rich musical traditions, changes in the usage of language, a renewed understanding of the central pattern of Christian worship, and an explosion of electronic media and technologies.
And finally, the rapid expansion of available resources means that worshipers and leaders must now consult numerous resources to plan or participate in worship. Pew racks are overflowing with books, bulletins, and supplements to the point that people can't juggle anything else. It is time to take stock of all the possibilities and forge a common center.
"Will Things Be Changed?"
The concern about the alternation of beloved rites, texts, and prayers is real for many people. Since prayers and songs accompany many of life's transitional experiences, any change in music or words can seem unsettling to our self-understanding and our memories. Also at stake here is the ability for people to use the texts they "know by heart" as they pray, worship, and grow in faith.
The quick answer to this important question about change is both "no" and "yes." Sometimes things are best left unchanged — and that will certainly be the case for many materials. At the same time, any renewal of worship materials struggles with the question of new versus historic translations, common ecumenical texts, ongoing revisions required by living authors and poets whose works are under copyright, and the continuing evolution of language and meaning.
For example, many people no longer understand that "to fear and love God" is not about being scared of our Creator, but to stand in respect and relationship.
Furthermore not everyone in a congregation comes with the same experiences. Because ELCA congregations consist of people from various religious backgrounds, they bring a wide variety of tunes and texts and worship traditions in their hearts and minds. Sometimes what one person knows may or may not match what another knows. To form a common experience, sometimes change is necessary.
But this doesn't mean that materials need to be altered simply for the sake of change. The ongoing memory of individuals and congregations means that any change must be undertaken with great seriousness. Many texts and tunes are indelibly marked on the hearts and lips of individuals as well as worshiping assemblies. Often these songs have served as foundations of faith and hope during transitions in the lives of people and communities. The church may best embrace these treasures by maintaining their continuity.
What Will the Criteria Be?
There is no "one-size-fits-all" approach when it comes to revising current materials or to the development of new materials. Sometimes one approach works, sometimes another depending on the history, memory, and current context of the church. What seems clear is that each decision needs to balance a variety of approaches and questions.
Sometimes the best approach is to do nothing. This is the "leave well enough alone" approach. Don't try to fix things that aren't broken. "Silent Night" and "Beautiful Savior" and the King James Version of Psalm 23 are fine just the way they are. To radically alter such texts and tunes emblazoned on the hearts of the whole church would be a foolish mistake.
A second approach, however, is to enliven the liturgical texts and translations of older hymns and songs by recovering biblical and poetic imagery that might have been included in original texts but obscured over the centuries. This is the "shake the dust off" approach.
For example, the original text of "Wake, Awake, for Night is Flying" has rich eucharistic overtones that have been lost. Perhaps it is time to gently recover such deep theological themes and images in our hymnody. At other times, new translations from original languages may offer the greatest possibility for future use.
A third approach in revising materials is to tap the memories of the worshiping assembly. This is the "let's get back to basics" approach. The repeated singing of a specific hymn or the repeated praying of a particular prayer often makes revision difficult, or in some cases suggests that an older version might be restored.
After 25 years, many, many people still sing "I love to tell the story, 'twill be my theme in glory" instead of LBW's "I love to tell the story; I'll sing this theme in glory." Or on Christmas Eve, the slightly archaic "Lo, How a Rose E'er blooming" still rings in the memories of many congregations. Likewise if people are more likely to participate in singing "Savior, Like a Shepherd Lead Us" to the tune BRADBURY rather than to HER VIL TIES, then perhaps a return to a former version is warranted. Simply stated: older is sometimes better.
But not always. A fourth approach to revision includes an expansion of language for God and humanity. This is the "broaden the possibilities" approach. The Bible includes a rich palette of images and words for God and creation. A mother hen, leaping mountains, an outstretched arm, wisdom's house: these are all biblically based images for God's active embrace and redemption of humanity. The strategy here is not to replace commonly used language, especially that rooted in the biblical witness to Jesus Christ, but to mine the Scriptures in order to continually embrace the rich revelation of God. That said, there is no reason why any hymn or prayer or rite needs to overuse any one image or name for God.
This fourth approach is also about music. The diversity of Christian communities across the globe presents new musical possibilities that offer a broader witness to the church's rich musical traditions. A haunting psalm tone from Korea, a rollicking African song of praise, the lament of a Palestinian prayer — these are all examples of expanding the musical vocabulary by sharing the gifts of creation.
A fifth approach is ecumenical, sometimes known as "let's get in step with others." Often Lutherans have had a unique version of a song or prayer or rite that resulted from an accident of history. We sing a hymn or pray a prayer this way or that, not because of any theological reason, but because our predecessors inherited a particular liturgical tradition.
In this day when Christians move freely across denominational boundaries, it may be time for some rites, hymns, and prayers to be adopted in their commonly used version. For example, perhaps we should join the club and sing "Amazing Grace" like everyone else by adding the three missing beats in the middle of the hymn. Or just maybe we need to embrace an ecumenical version of the Apostle's Creed in which Jesus "descended to the dead" rather than "into hell."
|A primary goal of the Renewing Worship process is to balance and connect the church's rich traditions with its constantly evolving present and future."Principles of Worship" Outlined in Worship Renewal Process|
A sixth approach is the "creative." Gifted poets, writers, and composers are constantly creating new materials for worship. Not everything will stand the test of time, but unless the church tries new things, our worship will grow stagnant. Just 25 years ago, who had heard of Marty Haugen, Susan Palo Cherwien, Robert Buckley Farlee, Handt Hanson, Marty Nystrom, Graham Kendrick, Iona, Taizé, Geron Davis?...and the list could go on and on. New materials will always be needed if the church is to continually fill its hearts with a new song. But beware: not all new materials will become a staple in the long-term diet.
And finally, any renewal of hymns and prayers must also attend to the correspondence of vowels, rhymes, and accents with the shape and meter of the musical setting. As people in the pew know, some hymns and songs work well while others don't work at all. This is usually based on more than the experience of tuneful music or an engaging text. It is about the whole package. The mouth and heart and mind all align into a wonderful experience of prayer or song.
Let it be said clearly: some text and tune combinations are more successful than others in encouraging congregational singing.
No renewal process is perfect. During the upcoming years, there will be some flops, some wonderful new discoveries, some embracing of old friends, and the loss of some favorites that might need to be retired from regular use. There will be trial-use materials for various rites and occasions in the life of a congregation and individual. For a while one might wonder where everything is headed — and just what version of a text or song we should use.
But the good news is this: God is the one who is constantly at work renewing the worship of the church catholic. New resources may be developed and encouraged, but rest assured that no new book or CD-ROM, whether it is red, green or platinum can alter the primary experiences of our worshiping assemblies. It is Jesus Christ who stands in our midst explaining the Scriptures and breaking the bread. And with burning hearts and open eyes our worship will be renewed.
Frank W. Stoldt, an ELCA pastor, is cantor at the Evangelical Church of St. Luke, Chicago, Illinois and general manager, worship and music, at Augsburg Fortress.
|"Principles of Worship" Outlined in Worship Renewal Process|
It has been almost 24 years since the predecessor churches of the ELCA published a series of resources under the title Lutheran Book of Worship (LBW). Since LBW's publication in 1978, the ELCA and its publishing house developed a wide variety of additional resources in order to enrich and supplement congregational worship.
However, the complexity and number of separate, but related materials, as well as the growing emphasis on the missional and ecumenical nature of the church in the 21st century, have brought the ELCA to the point of needing a new and common approach for the next generation of primary worship resources.
At its November 2000 meeting, the ELCA Church Council acted to approve a proposal from the board of the Division for Congregational Ministries to explore the issues and possibilities for the next generation of ELCA worship resources. The funding for this multi-year project is being shared by the ELCA churchwide organization and Augsburg Fortress, Publishers.
In preparation for the process, four consultations made up of clergy, theologians, musicians, and lay persons from across the United States met in February 2001 to begin working to develop a set of principles for preaching, language, music, and space/environment as they relate to worship. The result of their work, "Principles for Worship," has been reviewed and was sent to the board of the Division for Congregational Ministries. At their February 2002 meeting, the board authorized publication of "Principles for Worship" for churchwide study and response. This study document will be available in print format on or about June 1. One copy of "Principles for Worship" will be mailed to each ELCA congregation, and additional copies will be available from Augsburg Fortress.
The "Principles for Worship" document is also available for preview and response on the "Principles for Worship" page of the Renewing Worship website (www.renewingworship.org). A full list of the participants in the four consultations is available at the end of the document. –Cheryl Dieter, Renewing Worship Coordinator, Division for Congregational Ministries, ELCA, Chicago, is also minister of worship and music at Trinity Lutheran Church, Valparaiso, Indiana.
ELCA Trial-Use Worship Resources Timeline
July 2001: the first volume of trial-use resources in the Renewing Worship series was published: Congregational Song: Proposals for Renewal. This volume demonstrates various strategies for renewing hymnody. Most of the volume's hymns can be viewed or downloaded for inclusion in worship folders. Check out the "View and download files" page under "Congregational Song" on the Renewing Worship website at www.renewingworship.org
Sept. 10-11, 2001: The group working on rites for baptism, affirmation of baptism, catechumenate, and confession/forgiveness met for its first time to begin work on a volume called Baptism and Related Rites. The group met again in November 2001 and then held their final meeting on January 17-18 of this year. A draft version of the rites was distributed to the review committee in January. Baptism and Related Rites is scheduled to be published on or about June 1.
September 27-28, 2001: A second editorial group began work on rites related to marriage, healing, and funerals. This set of trial-use resources will be published in Fall 2002 under the title Life Passages.
January 14-15, 2002: The New Hymnody editorial team met for its first time. Members of the group developed a methodology for carrying out their task, deciding how best to involve others in their work, developing preliminary guidelines for evaluating new hymn texts and tunes, and outlining a process for encouraging the submission of new texts and tunes.
Those who are interested in submitting a new hymn tune or text for consideration are invited to check out the Renewing Worship website for details.
February 2002: Two new editorial teams began their work during this month. The Liturgical Music editorial team will work closely over the next two years with two other groups, the Primary Worship Services editorial team and the Daily Prayer, Psalms and Canticles group. Based on the texts established by those two groups, the Liturgical Music editorial team will provide music for Holy Communion, daily prayer, seasonal rites, the Psalter, and biblical canticles.
Unlike the other editorial teams, this group will not publish a separate trial-use resource. Rather, music chosen by this group will be incorporated into other resources as they are published.
The Primary Worship Services editorial team, which also met for the first time this month, is responsible for developing rites for Holy Communion, liturgies of the word, eucharistic prayers, and prefaces. Publication of these rites for trial-use is currently scheduled for Spring 2004 — Cheryl Dieter, Renewing Worship Coordinator, Division for Congregational Ministries, ELCA, Chicago, is also minister of worship and music at Trinity Lutheran Church, Valparaiso, Indiana.