What will the Mennonite church in North America look like in the next 30 years? No one has a crystal ball, but one group of forward-thinking people is helping us imagine how we might be doing congregational worship in the next generation.
Last weekend, I attended a one-day resourcing event on Voices Together, the new song collection that is currently in development to serve congregations in Mennonite Church Canada and Mennonite Church U.S.A. Currently into its third year of development, Voices Together is a project of MennoMedia, involving music and worship experts from both countries. They expect to release the final product in 2020. (You can learn more about it at voicestogetherhymnal.org.)
The current Hymnal: A Worship Book, published in 1992, and its companions, Sing the Journey (2005) and Sing the Story (2007) have served our congregations well. While there are some of us who still mourn the loss of songs that didn’t transfer over from the 1969 The Mennonite Hymnal, many of us have found “heart songs” in the current trilogy of books. Others have abandoned a physical book altogether, worshipping instead with songs projected on screens or learned by heart.
Part of our reality is that—in Canada and the U.S.—Mennonites worship in at least 26 languages. We are urban and rural, newcomers and long-time residents. Congregations differ from each other in terms of theological emphases. In Sunday morning worship, we span the generations, from babes in snugglies to elders with walkers. Some of us love the sound of electric instruments; others prefer the harmonies of a cappella singing.
I have yet to visit a Mennonite church that does not love to sing. Bringing together notes, words and breath, we embody our faith. Through hymns and worship songs, we praise and thank our Creator. Our music points us to Scripture and helps us express—and teach—our theology. Singing enables us to pray corporately, and it calls us to actions of justice and peace.
Those core functions of congregational music likely will not change in the next 30 years. But they will look different.
The Voices Together team members are taking into account current technologies for teaching and transmitting congregational songs (not only hymnbooks but also YouTube, tablets, apps and projectors). They are asking what themes and topics might be especially relevant to our mid-century faith. They are wrestling with hymn texts and inviting us to consider how the language we use for worship might exclude those on the margins. They are imagining how to incorporate visual art and gestures into our traditionally word-based worship.
This is a labour of love, starting with the many hours volunteers have already put into envisioning, planning, researching, creating and testing the songs and other worship resources that will be a part of the collection. Estimates are that the project will cost about $900,000 in Canadian funds, and much of that will need to come from donations. In the U.S., two Mennonite organizations have made commitments to match donations. In Canada, a family foundation will match donations to Voices Together, up to $15,000. Consider how you might contribute, so our Mennonite voices can sing together a new song.
To download a Voices Together Advent and Christmas worship sampler and to see videos of sample songs, visit voicestogetherhymnal.org/downloads.
Seeking Eastern Canada reporters
Change is in the air. In August, Canadian Mennonite bid farewell to Dave Rogalsky, who served faithfully for 12 years as correspondent for all of eastern Canada. We are seeking a replacement for him, to report mainly on events and people in the larger Kitchener-Waterloo area. Because Mennonites in Eastern Canada are numerous and spread over a large area, we are also securing local reporters to contribute to CM’s content. Joelle Kidd is reporting from the Greater Toronto area and Maria Klassen is reporting from the Niagara area. We welcome them and look forward to reading their stories as much as we hope you will. We are still looking for local reporters to cover the areas of Leamington and Ottawa eastward.