The new WELS hymnal is moving into production.
Michael D. Schultz
Something has been going on in Israel. It was no small thing.
A noble cause
King David established a huge endowment fund with his own money to build it. Why? Why did he invite the citizens of his kingdom to make their own generous donations to this temple construction fund? Why did he painstakingly make all the arrangements for a massive construction project he would never use? Why did David’s son Solomon dive into the task of constructing the temple, an undertaking so expansive that 150,000 foreigners living in Israel were enlisted to do manual labor, while 3,600 more foreigners served as their foremen? Why did he devote seven years to raising this magnificent edifice that would come to be regarded as one of the seven wonders of the ancient world? Why did he see to it that there were tons and tons of gold for the unimaginably lavish overlays?
He overlaid the inside with pure gold. He paneled the main hall with juniper and covered it with fine gold and decorated it with palm tree and chain designs. . . . He overlaid the ceiling beams, door frames, walls and doors of the temple with gold, and he carved cherubim on the walls. He built the Most Holy Place, its length corresponding to the width of the temple—twenty cubits long and twenty cubits wide. He overlaid the inside with six hundred talents [about 21 tons] of fine gold. The gold nails weighed fifty shekels. He also overlaid the upper parts with gold. 2 Chronicles 3:4-9
What accounts for such great devotion to such a noble cause? It’s commonly called Solomon’s temple, but it wasn’t really Solomon’s. From the earth beneath it to its highest pinnacle along with everything in between, the temple was the Lord’s. The eternal God made himself known there as the God who would not only dwell with his people but who would deliver them from the curse of sin and the horror of hell. The temple was all for God—all about God. And God allowed his people to come there to learn about him, to be forgiven, to receive his blessing, and to honor and thank him with songs and psalms and prayers.
The cause continues
Something has been going on in our church body. It is no small thing.
Though the new hymnal project will never approach the scale of the temple project, there are similarities. For a total of seven years now, roughly a dozen committees of men and women have devoted themselves to a noble cause. They have worked to bring together texts, music, psalms, songs, rites, readings, commentaries, manuals, and technology, all aimed at one thing—directing our eyes of faith to the Lord of the church, Jesus Christ our Savior.
We’re at the point where the majority of the research has been concluded. Hymns and psalms and rites are being laid out and so is the accompaniment music. A digital service builder program, capable of outputting high-quality service folders in minutes rather than hours, is being populated. Final chapters of manuals and commentaries are being written. For the next 18 months, the Hymnal Project committees will go back and forth with Northwestern Publishing House. No effort will be spared to make sure that proper nouns are capitalized, book titles italicized, and copyright holders recognized; to make sure that hymn number 430 is in fact followed by hymn number 431; to make sure that each note and syllable in the pew edition matches perfectly with its corresponding counterpart in the accompaniment edition.
Closer than ever
I have a confession to make. I already have a few new favorites, a few new psalms, hymns, and ritual songs that I really like. Will they be your favorites? Maybe. Maybe not. But as I continue to see materials come together and turn pages one after the other, I often pause and think, “Hmm, that’s going to be really nice.”
What has been difficult is not being able to share any of those items quite yet. This has not been due to lack of requests. It has been wonderful to hear from pastors who would like to sample new liturgical materials at their conference worship services. It has been encouraging to hear from directors who would like to take their choirs through new psalms or hymns. It has been tremendous to hear from organists and keyboardists who are asking if they can get early copies of accompaniment materials so they can learn the new music and be ready to hit the ground running when the new hymnal and all its auxiliary resources launch, God-willing, in Advent of 2021. But the materials are not quite ready for prime time. All of that proofreading and final formatting has yet to be done. All of the important copyright contracts and permissions have yet to be completed.
We are, however, closer now than ever when talking about a new hymnal will turn into holding a new hymnal. Additionally, there are no less than 17 actual books being produced, along with three digital products. I am excited about all of these items.
The true glory of this project
But just as the temple was certainly not Solomon’s, so the hymnal is certainly neither mine nor any committee’s. The image that will grace the cover of all those books and all the digital resources is one that points eyes of faith to the Lord of the church, Jesus Christ our Savior.
It was tempting to drop a few hymn titles into this article and to talk about a few of those new, personal favorites. That day will come. For now, though, as the compilation of resources concludes and the production of resources commences, it’s time to be grateful for the team effort that has brought us to this point. It’s time to start letting congregations know the specifics of how they can plan for new worship materials. (Publication of a preview in early 2020 will help with that.) More than anything else, though, it’s time to remember what it’s all about.
The glory of the new temple in Jerusalem came from our glorious Father in heaven, who met his people there and blessed them through the promise that his Son would bear their punishment and seat them on thrones in his eternal kingdom. New hymnal materials are not being produced so that we can get more songs out there that people will really like or that will somehow make church more enjoyable. Jesus never spoke very highly of expending effort or energy just to please people. He did speak very highly of directing all honor to God and of proclaiming God’s good news of forgiveness and life everlasting to all who will hear it.
For new hymnal materials to do that would be truly golden. I am excited to know that they will.
Learn more about the WELS Hymnal Project at welshymnal.com.
This is the first article in a three-part series on the new hymnal being released in Advent of 2021. Look for the next article on hymns in December.
Author: Michael D. Schultz
Volume 106, Number 10
Issue: October 2019