I Don’t Have a Hammer, But I Have a Mennonite Hymnal

Guest post by Bobby Switzer, student at Goshen College, Goshen, Ind.

Speech made at Laurelville Worship and Song Leaders’ Retreat — 10 January 2015

If I had a hammer, I’d hammer in the morning, I’d hammer in the evening, all over this land, I’d hammer out danger, I’d hammer out a warning, I’d hammer out love between my brother and my sister, all over this land!

(Pete Seeger and Lee Hays).

I don’t have a hammer, but I have a Mennonite hymnal.

I did not grow up Mennonite or singing, and now I cannot imagine my life without either. I distinctly remember the first time I heard a congregation sing. It was on the way back from a work weekend at Camp Friedenswald. I had made some friends from Bluffton, Ohio, and they invited me to join them for the weekend. We stopped in Goshen on Sunday morning to attend church, and I remember feeling nervous because I hadn’t brought proper church attire. All nervousness fell away when I heard the congregation sing You are Salt for the Earth (HWB 226). Immediately upon hearing the verse, I thought, “Wow, this congregation can sing!” But when the congregation got to the refrain and sang its harmony, something in the world shifted. Something in me shifted, and the world seemed illumined. The profound beauty of voices joining together creating this harmonious music struck me then, and I’ve been hooked ever since.

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The Goshen Hymn Club in front of an old Goshen College sign. 

As a senior at Goshen College I’ve had the privilege of singing from Mennonite hymnals in Goshen’s Hymn Club for almost four years. At this stage in my college career, I often look back and think about the moments that have shaped who I am, and many of the most meaningful experiences have been because of these hymnals and the songs contained therein.

At Goshen these hymnals do not gather dust in pews or remain stagnant on students’ shelves as forgotten gifts from congregations; they are used.

Hymnal: A Worship Book, Sing the Journey, and Sing the Story are not hammers, but rather entire toolkits.

Each hymn held in these books has a story and serves a purpose. Hymns do work. I’ve seen college students in the last four years use hymns in many and varied ways outside of the traditional church setting. They’ve sung in the morning, they’ve sung in the evening, they’ve sung all over campus; they’ve sung out warnings, dangers, justice, and freedom. And most significantly, they’ve sung love between their brothers and their sisters, all over the land.

GoshenHymnSingForPeaceWhen gun violence touched close to home with a local shooting at Elkhart’s Martins (grocery chain), we turned to our hymnals. When news of Michael Brown’s death in Ferguson highlighting systemic oppression and racism reached our ears, we turned to our hymnals.

And when stories of drones and new wars in the Middle East appeared on every news station, we turned to our hymnals. If the war goes on and children die…who will keep the score (STJ 66)?

We sang our frustration and lament; we sang our sorrow and weariness. And yet, we sang our hope: Healer of our every ill, light of each tomorrow, give us peace beyond our fear, and hope beyond our sorrow (HWB 377).

These hymnals gave us words when they were so hard for us to form. They gave us voice when we struggled to speak. They helped us to acknowledge real pain, to lament as a community, and they enabled us to cling to the hope that our faith gives us: death does not have the final word.

Beyond naming our hurt, expressing our anguish, and granting us hope, the songs in these books have been used to create. We’ve sung with folks at Greencroft retirement communities in Goshen and formed intergenerational relationships through stories, shared experiences, and song. We’ve facilitated a mid-day hymn sing at Indiana-Michigan’s Mennonite Relief Sale. We’ve said no to divisive political polarization by singing our commitment to community through love by having an Election Day Communion hymn sing.

We are people of Gods peace as a new creation; Love unites and strengthens us at this celebration (HWB 407).

goshen-hymn-marathon1Sing for Peace Hymn Marathon. Photo by Brett Conrad, used by permission of Goshen College Communications and Marketing Office.

Most recently, we’ve used hymns creatively for peacemaking by singing every verse of every hymn in Hymnal: a Worship Book, in our student initiated and led Sing for Peace: A Hymn Marathon. Over 4000 people in more than 40 different countries viewed our singing on the live stream, with people singing along as they cleaned, and cooked, or worked at their computers. Our 30 hours of singing were multiplied nearly 50 times for a total view time of over 1500 hours. A group of over 350 students, faculty, and community members of vastly different backgrounds and theology came together, sang, and raised more than $15,000 for Christian Peacemaker Teams. We sat in a circle, with a Christ lamp at our center and joined our voices despite our differences; we forged relationships with each verse of each hymn.

Hymns truly are the instruments of peacemaking.

Let woe and waste of warfare cease, that useful labor yet may build its homes with love and laughter filled! God give thy wayward children peace (HWB 371).

 

O day of peace that dimly shines through all our hopes and prayers and dreams, guide us to justice, truth and love, delivered from our selfish schemes. May swords of hate fall from our hands, our hearts from envy find release, till by God’s grace our warring world shall see Christ’s promised reign of peace (HWB 408).

GoshenHymnClubWithBobbySwitzerInMiddleThe Goshen Hymn Club; Bobby Switzer is in the center with a plaid jacket and blue shirt.

What I consider most significant, though, is not a 30-hour hymn marathon, but rather a four-year history of gathering in a circle to sing every Tuesday night. For four years on Tuesdays at 9 p.m., Hymn Club has gathered in the choir room, pulled chairs into a circle and grabbed our hymnals. For an hour, we sing hymns, one after another. Hymn Club started with 15-20 people regularly attending my first year, and now our attendance is averaging 40-60 with over 120 attending our larger, campus-wide hymn sings. We’re doing something right, and people can feel it. I believe that each time we gather and sing we form a type of God’s reconciled community, where each person can know and be known by one another. When we sing, we say no to a society that continually seems to drive us apart and say yes to forming community. Hymn singing allows each voice to be held as beautiful and unique, and even more beautiful when joined with others’ uniqueness to create harmony.

I believe this is a radical act of peacemaking: being in a circle singing, and looking on each face as a beloved child of God made in God’s image. When sharing a hymnal while singing, it is hard to harbor hate, and walls of division begin to break down. Hearts that are cold melt, and a community forms. This is what I’ve experienced these last few years because of this hymnal, and this is what I pray we can experience in Kansas City this summer. I pray that we can use our songs, our voices, and our hymnals to sing past our differences and to see each other as beloved children of God.

When we sing to God in heaven, we shall find such harmony, born of all we’ve known together of Christ’s love and agony. Will you let me be your servant, let me be as Christ to you? Pray that I may have the grace to let you be my servant too. (HWB 307)

 

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Bobby Switzer, Goshen, Ind. 2015

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The Goshen College Hymn Club posts many wonderful hymns on You Tube, such as this one, “Praise, I Will Praise you Lord.”

For Mennonites singing #606 “Praise God from Whom All Blessings Flow” at this same Laurellville Music and Worship Leaders retreat several years ago, check this YouTube video.

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For all these hymnals and more, visit the MennoMedia store under “Hymnals and Songbooks.”

Holy Pancakes Races! Getting From Shrove Tuesday to Easter

By Mary Ann Weber

Shrove Tuesday, also known as Pancake Day, is a fun day for our congregation. We gather in the evening to eat pancakes and listen to poetry. And because it’s the day before Lent begins we also acknowledge our need for confession. All of these things are prelude to the highlight—pancake races!

Pancake races are a tradition in some countries and the oldest one began in 1445 in Olney in the United Kingdom. It’s believed to have begun when a woman who was engrossed in trying to use up fat (traditionally forbidden in households during Lent) making pancakes, when she realized she was late for a service at her parish church. She grabbed what she was doing and ran down the street to the church. Today the race continues and women run in traditional housewife attire holding frying pans with pancakes. In the U.S.,

Summer Parsons crosses the finish line Mar. 4, 2014, to win the Liberal leg of the International Pancake Day race in 63.5 seconds.

Summer Parsons crosses the finish line Mar. 4, 2014, to win the Liberal leg of the International Pancake Day race in 63.5 seconds. (Photo Courtesy of International Pancake Day Board)

there is a big pancake race in Liberal, Kansas, and they were good enough to share photos for this blog post from their races so you can get the idea.*

Our church in Indiana modifies the race by including everyone regardless of age or gender, as long as they are dressed in traditional homemaker clothes including a long skirt, apron, and a head scarf. Women, men, boys, and girls look forward to getting their outfits together and running around the church with a frying pan and pancake. They need to flip the pancake during their run.

Pancake Day racers at Mary Ann's church--male, female, all ages--ready for the big event.

Pancake Day racers at Mary Ann’s church–male, female, all ages–ready for the big event.

Shrove Tuesday, which has turned into Fat Tuesday for many, is a day of excess and fun. It is in stark contrast to the Lent season.

Lent is a time to reflect on Jesus’ suffering and sacrifice. Christians experience renewal and are transformed through acts of prayer and confession. Some people follow the practice of sacrificing something during this season so they give up special treats or foods. I’ve known quite a few who have given up chocolate for Lent, and those who have made efforts to ride a bike instead of drive their car. Still others add something to their lives during Lent, usually in the form of a spiritual practice to aide in prayer or confession. For example, a young man in our congregation studied Lent texts and then wrote a hymn each week. We sang the songs and benefited from his thoughtful, wonderful compositions.

Lent gives way to Holy Week, Good Friday, and Easter Sunday. This is an eventful time in the church calendar year. Leader magazine (http://www.leaderonline.org/) offers resources for planning worship services throughout Lent. The resources invite us to encounter God as we reflect on things that we have witnessed. The worship resources, as with Lent, all lead up to Easter Sunday, when we share what we have witnessed through Jesus’ empty tomb.

May we all experience God’s love and grace as we observe the events during this time of the year.

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Mary Ann Weber
Managing Editor for Curriculum

 

 

*In Liberal, Kansas, the winner (center, below) receives, among other prizes, a small hymnal from St. Peter and St. Paul’s Church in Olney, England where the tradition began. One hymn that is always sung during the Shrove Tuesday service in Liberal is “Amazing Grace,” penned by John Newton when he was the curate of the church in Olney between 1765-1780. The Olney Hymns were first published in February 1779, and are the combined work of Newton (1725–1807) and his poet friend, William Cowper (1731–1800). We thought this footnote was appropriate as the publisher of a long and rich tradition of Mennonite hymnals.

Liberal’s International Pancake Day winner, Summer Parsons (center), holds the Olney Hymnal, her gift from Olney, England, which she has just received from Olney representatives Tony and Viv Evans (far left and far right). The Evanses presented the hymnal to Parsons immediately following the shriving service on Pancake Day.

Liberal’s International Pancake Day winner, Summer Parsons (center), holds the Olney Hymnal, her gift from Olney, England, which she has just received from Olney representatives Tony and Viv Evans (far left and far right). The Evanses presented the hymnal to Parsons immediately following the shriving service on Pancake Day. (Photo Courtesy of International Pancake Day Board)