What songs will Mennonites sing?

MennoMedia asks churches to help shape future song collection

September 9, 2011 | Web First
Steve Shenk | MennoMedia
Harrisonburg, VA and Waterloo, Ont.
In 2012, the present "blue" Worship Hymnal will be 20 years old. It contains 668 hymns.

Congregations throughout Mennonite Church USA and Mennonite Church Canada are being asked this fall, winter, and spring to keep track of all the songs they sing. Their research will help determine what the next collection of music for the church will look like.

What emerges might look like the current Hymnal: A Worship Book. Or it might be PowerPoint files. Or another emerging format. It might be all of the above.

The planners are calling the end product a “song collection.”

Who are the planners? They are the Bi-National Worship Council. The council, formed in 2009, is co-chaired by Dave Bergen of Mennonite Church Canada, Marlene Kropf of Mennonite Church USA, and Amy Gingerich of MennoMedia. Supporting the project is MennoMedia, which was formed from a merger in July. It has offices in Harrisonburg, Va., and Waterloo, Ont.

The planners are asking questions like, “What kind of worship resources are needed for Mennonite congregations in the future” and “How is music used in worship?”

The Worship Council developed a four-session study guide, The Heart of Mennonite Worship: Five Vital Rhythms. The council encourages congregations to use the study guide sometime between September 2011 and April 2012.

The study guide can be ordered—for free—by calling 800-245-7894 in the U.S. and 800-631-6535 in Canada. It can be downloaded at no cost at www.MennoMedia.org/worship.

Congregations are also urged to participate in a survey that will let the planners know what they sing each week during an eight-month period. They can go to www.MennoMedia.org/worshipand click on “survey.”

There are three easy ways to complete the survey: (1) Fill it out online each week; (2) download a chart to fill out and send in at the end of the survey period; or (3) send worship bulletins to MennoMedia via e-mail or regular mail.

In July, delegates at the Mennonite Church USA and Mennonite Church Canada conventions had a chance to respond to presentations on the song-collection project. They also listed their congregations’ “heart songs,” meaning songs that have become beloved by their churches.

One delegate said his congregation is so diverse that what is a “heart song” for 60 percent is not for the other 40 percent.

The U.S. delegates were assigned to table groups, and one table reported agreement on the importance of songs that focus on community rather than on the individual.

The Canadian delegates divided into groups for a discussion on worship and music. They reflected considerable diversity in styles of worship and tastes in music. Some noted that the diversity leads to hard feelings in churches. Other times the diversity brings richness to the worship experience.

Said one Canadian delegate: “Music brings the congregation together when people are willing to accept each other’s preferences.”

Amy Gingerich, co-chair of the Bi-National Worship Council and MennoMedia’s director of print media, said “Singing has become almost a sacrament for Mennonites. Our past hymnals have become books or prayer, and our song collections an entrance into how we experience God.

“As we contemplate how to meet the changing music needs of our churches,” she continued, “we want to hear from everyone so that our new song collection is something that brings us together as a body of believers united in worship.”

Added Gingerich: “A song collection is years in the making, and hearing from congregations is the right place to start as we seek to learn what songs have been embraced by our faith communities.”

The current hymnal used by Mennonites and Church of the Brethren—Hymnal: A Worship Book—will be 20 years old in 2012. Two Mennonite supplements were added over the years: Sing the Journey and Sing the Story.

Mennonite top 15

Delegates at the Mennonite Church USA convention in July voted on the top “heart songs” in their congregations. A tally showed the following top-15 ranking:

  1. Praise God (“Mennonite national anthem”)
  2. Rain Down
  3. My Life Flows On
  4. Great is They Faithfulness
  5. Praise, I will Praise You Lord
  6. Amazing Grace
  7. How Great Thou Art
  8. What Is This Place?
  9. Be Thou My Vision
  10. Will You Let Me be Your Servant
  11. Wonderful Grace of Jesus
  12. Guide My Feet
  13. Holy, Holy, Holy
  14. Here in This Place
  15. The Love of God is Greater Far

All of these songs are in the current hymnal or supplements except for “How Great Thou Art,” which was in the previous hymnal.

--Sept. 9, 2011

In 2012, the present "blue" Worship Hymnal will be 20 years old. It contains 668 hymns.

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