Over the past two years a task force of WordAlone has been thinking about providing liturgies and hymns that are evangelically sound. Some have argued that we should produce our own hymnal. From my experience on the Lutheran Book of Worship (LBW) committee, I know how difficult the process could be. At the November 2003 WordAlone theological conference, I suggested that congregations choose 30 hymns they think that everyone in their congregation should know. After that speech a WordAlone (WA) member challenged me to provide my list of 30. I was reluctant to do so, fearing that it would be taken too seriously by those who read it. The woman who asked me, however, said it would only serve as a way to help her think about the 30 hymns she would pick.
Since the meeting, I did provide about 30 hymns that I thought worth teaching to our congregations (See “Hymns that teach and preach the faith”). I used a historical grid as a guide, one of the ways hymn text committees check to see if they have produced a hymnal that represents the major movements in the life of the Christian church, because I thought it was important to value the classic hymns of our Lutheran traditions and teach them to our children.
After that list was published on the WA website, several WA members asked that we actually prepare a hymnal, something the WA board of directors had authorized a task force to consider. The question was, for me, a call that I felt suddenly empowered to answer yes, because the people who asked would be able to do a lot of the work, and do it well. The task seemed possible. We have been meeting over the summer, and have decided to proceed, devising a process that would involve the members of the WA Network.
We have decided that the liturgical issues are most crucial. Thus, we are planning to have liturgies—at least one for Communion and possibly others for baptisms, burials, and weddings—ready for the November 2004 WA theological conference, and music for these liturgies by our April 2005 annual convention. Hymnals are quite another matter, but the committee decided that we would devise a process in which we would ask our membership to provide us with their lists of their 30 favorite hymns and submit them to the WA office by mail or e-mail. [Please include hymnal references if available, e.g., LBW 543 or SBH 87. Please type or print legibly your lists, and include the full title of each hymn. If a hymn is not from a familiar Lutheran hymnal, send a copy of the hymn.]
“What hymns do you need in order to have church,” as the black community says? One of my favorite questions is: What hymns do you need to die with? Then of course there is the church year: What hymns do you need to have for Christmas, or other hymns for the church year? What for Easter? Pentecost? What hymns do you need to face various times in your Christian life, or for the topics of the Christians life?
For example, Lutherans used to sing "Dearest Jesus at Thy Word" before the sermon, and "Children of the Heavenly Father" for baptism. What hymns do you need for communion? What do you need for comfort in rough times? “Great is Thy Faithfulness?” “If You but Trust in God to Guide Thee?”
We all have our favorites. Most people think of the tunes first, and that is understandable. We hate to sing good words to dreadful melodies, but we should also look at what the hymn teaches, and how Lutheran hymns traditionally preach the faith. That is, the language of the hymn is directed to the congregation, rather than God, and tells the congregation what God has done for us, not what we are doing for God. The Augsburg Confession and the Apology to the Augsburg Confession say that hymns are to contain the Word of God and cause the people to “experience faith and fear, and finally even pray." (Apology, Art. 24) That's what the Gospel does, as it is preached. While there are many wonderful hymns that do not preach, it helps as you are deciding to think of these ideas as you are choosing your 30 hymns.
The following hymns are my own personal favorite hymns I could not do without. I do not have a favorite for each section, but this list will give you an idea of what our task force is requesting from you.