WordAlone - Steven King and Jim Culver dialogue
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King and Culver on
Renewing Worship

by Pr. Steven King and Pr. Jim Culver

Date unknown

Dear Colleagues:

I thank Jim Culver for his insightful and accurate report on the ELW Hymnal. I apologize for not writing something myself earlier, I have been swamped the last couple weeks. I agree with Jim's analysis entirely.

I did attend the training event in Chicago two weeks ago, representing my synod (SW MN). I received the 'white telephone book' proof-copy of the hymnal, which is not entirely complete. Jim did a great job of hitting the significant points.

To add my own personal observations: I did appreciate the inclusion of several hymns from what I would call the "Celtic" Christian tradition (which is of particular interest to an Irish boy like me). I also believe that the baptismal service in ELW is better than the LBW. However, Jim is right in saying that there are still a number of language issues -- although not as many as when we first complained. I agree that the worst in this regard is the Psalter (which the ELW leaders openly admitted was a choice they made to throw a big bone to those who wanted language changes, since they felt they had been so 'conservative' with changes in the rest of the hymnal).

Having been there for training, there a few comments I can make about how the ELW is being sold:

The constant refrain was that "This is a book for a large diverse church; there is something here for everyone." A repeated quote was: "If you find something on one page that you like, you may find something on the next page you don't like. But in some other part of the country, they will have the opposite reaction."

Another constant refrain was: "The time for discussion is over; the book is now what it will be when it's printed" -- meaning, they will not be listening to any more critique. This sentiment also translated into what we as the synod worship team are being asked to do.

If I ever thought that I was been asked to serve as a trainer or teacher, I was mistaken. We were given a pre-written (and rather wooden) four hour speech that we are expected to deliver in our synod. The introduction sessions we will be leading are not 'training sessions' as I had thought, but more of a 'let's walk through the hymnal' sort of travelogue. (Actually, the introductory sessions will be more of a rapid "whirlwind tour of the ELW" -- since they are trying to cover everything in one workshop.)

Also, we were cautioned NOT to engage in debate about the material itself. In fact, in the final Q & A session, Michael Burk referred to 'an article that has been circulating' telling people to "Think Long and Hard Before You Buy the New Hymnal" (shame on you, naughty Scott Grorud!). Burk told us not to engage such questions or even attempt to refute them. Apparently, someone is worried that too much theology might get in the way of sales.

One of the questions that I asked was why the ELW introductory 'study' document "With the Whole Church" was not a BIBLE study. (By the way, when did the word "bible" get dropped from the phrase "bible study"?) I read the so-called 'study' -- it is one more typical example of a: "What do you think?" exercise in navel gazing.

So why did they not write a bible study? All Michael Burk said was, "Well, you know, the next big emphasis we'll be dealing with in the ELCA is how to interpret the Scriptures." So I guess that means we are all supposed to stop preaching and teaching for the next four years, until the ELCA tells us what the Bible means.

To their credit, I can say that the official presenters were all respectful, and made no specific criticisms of any person or group in the church by name. However, there was a lot of bad-mouthing of 'WordAlone' among participants. (I was in disguise as a pro-ELCA enthusiast, so I got to hear what people really think.) By the way, I should let you all know: the title 'WordAlone' is used to refer to ANY voice critical of the ELCA or the new hymnal -- sorry, you STS/EC's are lumped in with the rest of us bad guys!

All in all, it was a very mixed experience. Jim's title "The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly" is right on. There are some good things in ELW as well as some bad things. I would say: It is possible for a solid confessional Lutheran to use the ELW without going to hell for it -- but on the other hand, we already have that with the LBW.

Well, that's just a few comments from me. Sorry I have not had the chance to work on it in more detail. But I'm sure I will.

Pastor Steven King

SWMN Synod CORE-Contact

PS. We were told that all of the finalized ELW materials will be on the ELCA website by July 15 (except for hymns, for which there are copyright issues). So next week, you will be able to take a look yourself.

The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly

I don't intend to start an extensive conversation about the new hymnal, but thought some of you would be interested in this information. Pardon me if it's out of order.

I'm a member of our synod's worship committee and we had a meeting in Indianapolis at the synod office on Friday morning. A member of the synod staff who convened the meeting had a proof copy of Evangelical Lutheran Worship (without the indexes, which were available as a photocopy.) The proof copy is about two inches thick, about as thick as say your average dictionary, but since ELW will be printed on thinner paper, it is supposed to be about the same size as LBW. The people who went to Chicago for training to introduce the new book also got a copy to take home with them. (Five people from our synod went to Chicago for the training and will be introducing the book at workshops this fall.) I got to look at it briefly and made some interesting discoveries.

I still haven't had a chance to carefully study the hymn texts posted on the website. But from a quick glance at the hymn texts in the proof book, most of the texts may be acceptable or tolerable. I made a few notes about my observations to bring home with me. First, the hymn "Praise, My Soul, the King of Heaven" has two versions of the text. I already knew that from the website. In the new book the "sanitized" bowdlerized version by Walt Bouman ("Praise, My Soul, the God of Heaven") is the one between the staves of music. In other words the version that eliminates all masculine language is given preferential treatment, and the modified traditional version from LBW appears to be a grudging concession to those benighted souls who won't get with the program. The morning hymn, "Father, We Praise You, Now the Night is Over" has been modified in the first line to "Lord God, We Praise You." "Father" is gone.

Of the ten settings of the communion liturgy, only the first two have all the texts within the liturgical pages. The others are generally somewhat abbreviated with references to canticles in the section of service music. I checked setting 4 (LBW setting 2), the one we use in our congregation. Surprisingly, the Lenten verse, "Return to the Lord your God for HE is gracious and merciful" survived without pronoun tampering. (In WOV the "for he" was changed to "who.") Other settings have a different Lenten verse to replace the Alleluia. The first Eucharistic prayer from LBW (Holy Lord, Mighty God, Gracious Father) is gone, as well as the concluding doxology, "Through him, with him, in him." The website gives only 4 Eucharistic prayers, and though there may be others in the minister's edition, I saw only 4 in the proof edition of the pew book. The first one is a slightly revised adaptation of the Luther Reed prayer from LBW minister's edition (a slight revision in contemporary language from SBH.) The changes include adding a musical response in the middle: "Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again." At the end there is a sung amen, not the "through him, with him" doxology. The other four texts which you can check on the website include a Eucharistic prayer for Advent, and one for Lent/Easter, and I don't recall the last one. Words of Institution alone are also an option right at the beginning side by side with Luther Reed. I know that some of you have theological problems with Eucharistic prayers, but whether you use them or not, what is printed in the hymnal has theological implications apart from the question of whether you think this is compatible with Lutheran theology. Particularly with regard to Trinitarian language. One of the Eucharistic prayers gives a pious sounding substitute for "Father, Son, and Holy Spirit" in the concluding doxology.

There is no post-communion canticle, but it suggests for those who want one that "Now Lord you let your servant go in peace" may be sung. The service music section also includes various musical settings of the WOV revised edition of the paraphrase from Psalm 105: "Thankful hearts and voices raise," the WOV re-write to avoid "sing his praise" and other "abominable" instances of masculine pronouns in reference to deity. Nothing in the liturgy suggests that this is an alternate post-communion canticle, but those who want it and look for it and are willing to tolerate the heavy-handed rewrite can use it. (We use it during the Easter season and some other Sundays during the year, but will stick with the LBW version, thank you.)

Other comments about liturgy. Setting 5, a modest revision of LBW 3 (based on SBH 2) looks nice. The only major change, other than the new musical responses during the Eucharistic prayer, is to replace Glory to God with a hymn paraphrase based on "All Glory be to God on High," but only 3 verses as opposed to the four in the hymn section. None of the WOV communion liturgies are included, but I was told by Lorraine Brugh that some of the music made it into the service music section. We have used Jeremy Young's version of "Lamb of God" a number of times and rather like it. But I don't know if that made it into the service music or not. Didn't have time to check everything.

Here are some surprises from the service music section. The Freylinghausen setting of "Create in me a clean heart, O God" is restored to the original version as found in the Lutheran Hymnal of 1941, rather than the Harold Gilbert botched up version from SBH. I am grateful that one of mistakes of SBH is not going to be perpetuated for another generation, as one would have expected from Gilbert's version being included in WOV (732). Nobody involved with WordAlone's hymnal project should take note of this and encourage use of the original version rather than the SBH version, or at least to provide the original version as an alternate to the SBH version.

Another surprise: The Anglican chant setting of the Te Deum from The Lutheran Hymnal is included with modest updating to make the language contemporary. That should please folks from LCMS background, though I think I like one of the SBH chants better. But since it's primarily folks from LCMS background who use the Te Deum in ELCA (shame on the rest of us!), perhaps that was a wise choice. The Schubert Sanctus (as in WOV) is in the service music section and they have also added Schubert's setting of "Jesus, Lamb of God." Nice!

The chant setting of the Lord's Prayer from LBW setting 3 is not only included in setting 5 of ELW but also in Evening Prayer and Compline. Nice!

The funeral service omits the prayer, "Lord Jesus, by your death you took away the sting of death" and replaces it with "O Lord, support us all the day long of this troubled life." I will miss the LBW prayer, but used both at the conclusion of my parents' funeral services (not at the grave, where the Baptist minister did the thing he learned taken from Shakespeare about the "undiscovered country from whose bourn no traveler returns.") "Rest eternal grant him / her and let perpetual light etc." is gone.

There are probably lots of comments I can make about the hymns after I have a chance to review the texts posted on the website. But I will say this about the proof book I saw yesterday. The layout is very nicely done, there is occasional artwork, and there are some very appealing songs from a variety of sources. Though I may not appreciate some of the things that have been done with texts, most of the classic chorales of the Lutheran heritage have survived in rhythmic form and usually without excessive textual damage. There is much about the book I will like, though because of the heavy-handed feminist linguistic agenda at work in too many places, I cannot recommend that my congregation buy it, though I could live with it if I ever get called to a parish that has it.

There is a brief note before the psalm section explaining that liturgical use of psalms doesn't have to be a literal translation and they have the right to take some liberties with biblical texts. However, the drastic purge of masculine pronouns is very evident. I don't know if a single one survived anywhere in this "psalter." I doubt it.

There are so many good things that will be in the book that it gives me great pain to say, "No thanks," but there are other ways to use the better stuff from the book without putting it in the hands of your unwary people who might not know when to reject the poison.

Jim Culver