A New Song Collection and Hymnal is Coming!

Mennonites sing to express their faith. That’s what we said in our first hymnal planning session last week in the Twin Cities.

Representatives of Mennonite Church USA, Mennonite Church Canada and MennoMedia spent a day in some intensive, but very good meetings, planning a new hymnal for our churches. This was a follow-up on some decisions reached last fall, where the two denominations asked MennoMedia to take the lead in planning and producing a new song collection.

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While this first meeting had just four of us—Amy Gingerich and myself from MennoMedia and Dave Bergen and Terry Shue from Mennonite Church Canada and Mennonite Church USA, we agreed that our next meeting will include one more each from our denominations, in particular persons with expertise in music and worship. This group will not actually produce a song collection or hymnal; rather we are just a “steering committee” who will hire and select the team that will produce the final product. Besides one full time project director and some other, part-time staff, there will be a committee of 10-12 persons from across the church, hopefully representing the broad diversity of our denominations and especially gifted in music, poetry and worship.

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This sign in the children’s Sunday School classroom at Faith Mennonite seemed very appropriate for us as we go forward!

One important bit of work for us was the statement of some values that we hope this process and final product will express:

  • Collaboration and cooperation.
  • Openness and transparency.
  • Leanness and responsiveness—meeting perhaps more intensively, over a shorter time period.
  • Lots of communication, since people want to know what’s happening. Good marketing will be included in this.
  • An excellent product that will help form faith for a new generation.

Lots of questions remain unanswered:

  • Who will be on the committee?
  • How many new songs versus old ones?
  • What kinds of supplementary products will be included (such as audio and visuals)?
  • Will “Praise God From Whom” be #606 again?

We look forward to the next five years as we see this product take shape and hope and pray for a resource that helps preserve and treasure a faith tradition in music.

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~Russ Eanes
Executive Director, MennoMedia

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Read the complete news release on the project sent out this week.

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WANT TO STAY IN THE KNOW? Sign up for quarterly (approximately) email news releases/updates on the song collection project by sending your email to this address: HymnalInfo@MennoMedia.org.

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Check out existing and vintage hymnals and songbooks we still sell!

Everything you need to know, you will learn tomorrow

2013ImportOf2011Photos 028I recently spent a day in Nashville with a group of publishing peers. Our association is called the Protestant Church-owned Publisher’s Association (PCPA) and MennoMedia, previously Mennonite Publishing Network, and before that, Mennonite Publishing House, has been part of it for decades. I enjoy these meetings, partly for the sense of camaraderie, but even more so for the things I learn.

I never fail to come away challenged, encouraged and sobered. We all are feeling greatly challenged these day and we frankly share our successes and our failures. When I think that our problems at MennoMedia are unique, I realize that we are in good company. With the drastic changes happening both in church denominations and in the publishing industry, we are continually reminded that, “This work is not for the faint of heart.”

In our November meeting, our group had the privilege to hear from one of our peers, Neil Alexander, of the United Methodist Publishing House, who has announced his retirement. He shared some wisdom with us out of his 20 years’ experience as CEO. I share here the 10 things I heard from him:

  1. Be realistic about our situation: There are no safety nets and lots of competition. The assumptions of our core business model are being upended. There is no sentimentality and no discrimination—disruption hits everyone and you can’t make it go away.
  2. You are behind every day that you wake up. Hence the saying, “Everything you need to know, you will learn tomorrow.”
  3. MORE-BETTER-FASTER—this is what the customer wants.
  4. Be courageous in adapting new methods, while staying faithful to the mission. This is key: it’s a hard balance to strike, but a constant reminder of the “why” of what we do.
  5. Relentlessly innovate. If we don’t, someone else will—and then our job will be to manage decline.
  6. Prudently manage the risk. I would add here—don’t be afraid of mistakes, so long as you learn from them.
  7. Keep your head up—stay alert.
  8. “Mission” and “business” are not the same thing, but they are not enemies, either. The sweet spot is the conjunction of the two, when business and mission meet. This is a great reminder for denominational publishers who often get caught in an imagined competition between the two.
  9. Staff need to be highly adaptive, fearless but not stupid, must possess the ability to integrate, and have a capacity to change and grow. We must possess humility and not hubris.
  10. We must have a transcending purpose with a compelling objective. I like this one the most.

These are helpful insights, coming from a lot of years of experience. We have a lot to learn from each. This is one side of our work: a media and church landscape and environment that is evolving rapidly; old assumptions no longer fitting; trends coming faster and unexpectedly; plus the constant needing to adapt.

There is another side to be balanced against the difficulties in the preceding paragraph. I will share more of that in a post next week: the timelessness of our message; the need for rootedness, community and tradition; the need to non-conform to a rapidly changing and fast-paced society and environment, the need to slow down so that we hear God’s voice. How can we do our work, keeping both in mind and still keeping our souls, and our mission, intact? Maintaining this tension is essential to our work and the biggest challenge we face. How do we serve our mission, stick to our core values, do what we do best and develop our niche, in this environment? These are questions we face as we go forward.

More on that next week! Meanwhile, I’d love to hear your comments and questions.

~Russ Eanes, Director

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Why We Pray the Office

Over the past eight years those of us who work in publishing and media for the Mennonite Church have on different occasions taken time during the work day, or work week to pray together the “office” during morning prayer. Using our own (Herald Press) published book of daily prayer, Take Our Moments and Days, some of us now take time from our busy work schedules to drop everything and come together in prayer, to pray together the “morning office.”

9374I believe that while prayer is many things: contemplative, personal and corporate, among many other descriptors, it is also work, important work. It is important that we take time for it as co-workers, if we want to be faithful to the God-given mission at MennoMedia and I believe that the success of our mission depends on this work.

Still, many think that this is some unusual practice, something new or even New-Age, or simply an anachronistic relic of the High Church. It is nothing of the sort; rather it is a time-honored tradition thousands of years old, predating Christianity and still practiced universally by a wide variety of Christian traditions. A good description of what it is comes from Phyllis Tickle, in her book The Night Offices.

Like the observance of Sabbath, or the exercise of tithing, like fasting or the sharing of a sacred meal, like the measuring of time by the seasons of the liturgical year or the making of holy pilgrimage, fixed-hour prayer is a spiritual discipline or practice that came into Christianity by inheritance rather than by intention… [it] refers to the holy and regimented interruption of diurnal time for the purposes of prayer and praise before the throne of God.

Calling it “the office” can be a bit confusing because we tend to associate that word with a physical place of work. However, it has a much older definition, referring to a specific religious practice or service, including daily prayer.

While I grew up Episcopalian and was familiar with the Book of Common Prayer and used its morning and evening prayers, for me they tended to be more personal, rather than corporate, though it was not intended that way. Later, while a member of an intentional Christian community, in Elkhart Indiana, I became familiar with another prayer book, Praise God: Book of Common Prayer at Taize, when several of us stopped our work daily to come together to pray the noon-time office. It became a favorite part of my day and started a tradition for me that has had a long-lasting effect.

Over the years I have also collected and used several other resources (besides Take Our Moments and Our Days) for daily prayer, all of which can to be used for corporate prayer. They include: Celtic Daily Prayer, from the Northumbria Community; Celebrating Common Prayer, from the Society of St. Francis; and the previously mentioned Night Offices by Phillis Tickle, one of a series of books about the rhythm of daily offices that she has authored. These are just a few and there are many others that I could mention. All have enriched not only my personal life, but when used corporately make us part of a worldwide movement that crosses continents and time zones, and that has spanned history. I believe it will also be a significant part in seeing God at work in our daily lives and in the lives of those around us and should help us to see God’s “Kingdom come, on earth as in Heaven.”

What are some of the specific prayer or devotional practices that mean the most to you?

The Anabaptist Prayer book is available in two volumes from Herald Press, one geared for the upcoming liturgical season that goes from Advent through Pentecost, and the other for “Ordinary time” which is the rest of the year, pictured above. 

~Russ Eanes, Director

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