I can’t say that I have an all-time favorite hymn, but there are several that I’m always glad to sing.
There are the standards: "Built on Rock," "A Mighty Fortress," "The Church’s One Foundation." Those are hymns that have been around for generations, not only in the Lutheran church but in other Christian hymnbooks. "The Church’s One Foundation" has appeared in 756 hymnals in its history, including from France, Australia, China, and Korea.
But, most of the hymns I’m enjoying at the moment haven’t been around as long. And they aren’t found in nearly as many hymn books.
In the Lutheran church, it seems that our hymnals are a reflection of what we are doing as a church.
I have used three hymnals in my life as a Lutheran. The red book during my childhood. The green book during my adult life. And the cranberry book is the hymnal of today.
In each hymnal, the hymns are categorized. Some of the categories are for the time of year (Advent, Christmas, Easter, etc.). The rest are divided into themes.
The themes of the red book (the one of my childhood) reflect the church I grew up in. The church was full on Sunday morning, and people just came in. Nobody had to figure out how to get people into the church. There were no church council discussions about how to serve the community. We were there for the people who came into our doors every Sunday morning. The themes of the hymns, to me, reflect that focus of taking care of our own:
Burial of the Dead, Ordination, Home and Family, City/Nation/World, Rogation and Harvest, Repentance and Faith, Aspiration, Inner Life, Contemplation, Pilgrimage, Comfort and Rest, Life Everlasting
With each new hymnal, there is a purging of old, unused, unpopular hymns, and the adding of new hymns.
New hymnals also offer the opportunity to change the themes to reflect changes in the church.
With the green hymnal, some themes went away, and new themes were created. It was no longer a given that people would just walk in our doors. There was less focus on the inward life of church-goers, and a little more emphasis on God’s love and mercy. That translated into new themes of Christian Hope, Commitment and Community. Hymns for confirmation, ordination, home and family, and inner life disappeared.
The cranberry book, which the Lutheran church currently uses, added another set of themes: Grace/Faith, Healing, Justice/Peace, Creation. Again, I think this reflects the church of today. We continue to focus more on the world outside the church doors. We are focused more on the community, on those who need justice, or those who need healing.
The conversations in the community that we’ve had as part of Peace Week Delaware, and our LEAD team (Living Every Day as Disciples) program, confirm for me that the church has changed in my lifetime. We’ve moved from a church that exists to serve itself and become a church that exists to serve the greater community.
And I like the music that’s coming with the change.
- Ann Iona Warner