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Grindal: Lutheran hymnals

—should be Scriptural and Catechetical

by Gracia Grindal (WordAlone board member)

December 12, 2003

Lutherans in the WordAlone movement can restore American Lutheran hymnody to its evangelical core by using the three sources of Lutheran piety-Scripture, the Confessions and a teaching hymnal-according to Gracia Grindal, professor of rhetoric at Luther Seminary, St. Paul, Minn.

She suggested at the recent WordAlone Network conference, "Reclaiming Evangelical Worship," in Anoka, Minn., that congregations, individually, should each select 30 hymns from Lutheran traditions and use them repeatedly so people can learn them by heart.

These hymns should teach the faith and express it, according to Grindal, who teaches several courses on hymnody. They should be catechetical, and should restore the Gospel to the center of worship.

She said the worship conference was called because the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) is in the process of building a new hymnal. This is an important and almost an emergency situation, she said.

Grindal said the new hymnal is being put together by a small group of liturgists who do not represent the many strands of pieties in the ELCA and thus much of the church's rich historical heritage is being lost.

The committees needs people who disagree, she said, but added the new worship resource's leaders haven't brought disagreements about what constitutes a good Lutheran hymnal to the table and thus have made themselves sitting ducks for criticism from the church.

"Now all of those who are hearing about their work and who do not feel represented on the committees of the new worship resources materials are going to go after them," she stated.

Proposed books that are now available will have some things people like and a lot they don't, she said and added she sees things that are "problematic." She suggested people look on the Internet as well as at published proposals to get a fuller picture of what changes are offered.

Grindal also reviewed the history of hymnals in America and said they reveal the character of the churches that put them together. She noted that each new hymnal precluded a merger.

Early American hymnbooks didn't have liturgies, she noted. Starting after the American Civil War they had liturgies, and until the "Common Service Book and Hymnal" of 1917, most of them had the Small Catechism and the Augsburg Confession. With the hymnal of 1917 the catechism and confessions were dropped and have not been put back since.

The order in which the hymns are presented reveals the bent of the hymnal, she indicated. Many of the older hymnals offered hymns for worship first in the book, then for the church (or liturgical) year and finally had hymns about the order of salvation (steps listing the way in which we are saved).

The two most recent, the "Service Book and Hymnal" or Red Book and the "Lutheran Book of Worship" start off with hymns according to the church year, then have hymns for worship and then about the order of salvation, showing their more liturgical and less evangelical nature.