A Short History of Mennonite Hymnals – Presentation by Ken Nafziger

nafzigkjHow our hymns influence and reflect our changing theology

Dr. Kenneth J. Nafziger, longtime and noted professor of music at Eastern Mennonite University—plus a key figure in putting together a hymnal and two song supplements—spoke at a recent breakfast meeting of a group called Anabaptist Center for Religion and Society (ACRS).

His topic? How our hymns influence and reflect our changing theology.

Former radio speaker Margaret Foth introduced Ken and reflected on memories of her mother singing—almost every morning—the familiar “I owe the Lord a morning song, of gratitude and praise . . .” There were numerous affirmative nods around the room—obviously a similar remembrance for many.

As Ken got up to speak about the history of Mennonite hymnals, he first told a story of P1080508the origins of this “quintessentially Mennonite” hymn, written by Amos Herr, a Lancaster County (Pa.) bishop. One Sunday morning when the snow was s deep Amos’s horse couldn’t make it through the drifts to church, Amos wrote this song of gratitude. “It has been in every hymnal since then,” Ken noted, a “simple and sturdy tune like Shaker furniture, with clearly conveyed ideas.”

This story reminded Ken of the time he took a group of EMU students to southwestern Germany, an area from which the predecessors of many North American Mennonites hail. Some in that tour group were music students, and someone in a congregation they were visiting asked that they sing “I Owe the Lord a Morning Song.“ Many of the EMU students, youngsters that they are, didn’t know it! So the congregation in Germany sang it in English for the EMU students! They said that PAX and CPS volunteers in the late ’50s and early ’60s had taught them the song.

Ken followed his wonderful story by launching the roomful of expectant listeners into a rich a cappella verse or two. I don’t think anyone was disappointed to sing this old song, nor in Ken’s rundown that followed of Mennonite hymnals in the U.S. (an admittedly incomplete history, he noted). Many of the old timers (I’ll count myself as one) in the audience remembered these titles, all published by Mennonite Publishing House or Herald Press (the ones with links are still sold on the MennoMedia store).

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Below are just 11 out of his list of 25 of “Mennonite Hymnals in the U.S.”

1902 Church and Sunday School Hymnal
1916: Life Songs #1
1924: Children’s Hymns and Songs
1927: Church Hymnal
1938: Life Songs #2
1947: Junior Hymns
1969: The Mennonite Hymnal (from whence came #606)
Sing and Rejoice, Sing the Journey, and Sing the Story, 1979, 2005, and 2007, respectively
1992 Hymnal: A Worship Book (co-published with Brethren Press for Mennonite and Church of the Brethren congregations)

Ken gave additional juicy one-liners about the difficult job of producing a new song collection that pleases everyone. Some of these may have been quotes from other people:

  • The only thing wrong with a new hymn is that no one knows it yet.
  • It is easy to slide into ruts in our music.
  • The power of social singing—for the fun of it—is underestimated.
  • #606 was put into a section of the 1969 hymnal that had songs more difficult to sing. When its new number in Hymnal: A Worship Book, #118, was first announced in some venues, there were audible boos and hisses!
  • New hymnals unleash new creativity by poets, pastors and musicians who want to publish new hymns they’ve written or composed.
  • Catholics originally did not sing during their worship—that changed with Vatican II when they were told they could or should sing.
  • Many of us remember the Medical Mission Sisters, a nun’s group out of South America in the ’60s, which popularized folk-type music for Catholic worship.
  • Old Mennonites did not traditionally use instruments; Ken remembers one Gospel Herald editor writing that a guitar was the perfect accompaniment for worship because it was “so cheap.”
  • Songs with rhythm have been a serious challenge for Mennonites.
  • The first printing of Sing and Rejoice was withdrawn and destroyed because it had a stanza with the word “gay” in it.
  • The 1992 hymnal was the first hymnal for Mennonites to be organized according to different acts or movements of worship such as gathering, praise, thanksgiving.
  • It was also the first hymnal with a section on “doubt.” Ken said people thanked him for helping to create a section on doubt in a hymnal.
  • “How Great Thou Art” cost more to include than any other song; it should perhaps never have been copyrighted.

P1080509Finally, Ken offered practical ideas and thoughts as you use music in your congregation:

  • Consider giving children or youth a hymnal upon baptism or confirmation.
  • You can tell if you’re getting into ruts with your music if there is one or more section of pages whose edges are very well used or smudgy from hands.
  • Always use a song from the global church in every service, as a reminder that we have a global church, and a prompt that the way we live in the world is different.
  • Congregants are often more moved by songs than the sermon. Music moves words close to the heart and soul.

Work on a new song collection begins in earnest in early 2016. The new hymnal project organizers are soliciting applications for paid staff (full and part time), and volunteers.

Anyone who is an active member of a Mennonite Church Canada or Mennonite Church USA congregation can apply to be on the hymnal committee. In addition to a short application, those applying to be on the hymnal committee must provide three references, including one pastoral reference. To apply or get more information, click here. To read the complete news release on the project, check here.

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#project606

 If you’re on Twitter, you can help spread the word with this ready-made Tweet:

Want to be part of shaping what Mennonites sing?@MennoMedia staff are working on it! Site goes live Jan 1. Watch for more on #project606.

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Have you ever wondered, are all Mennonites good singers??

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In addition to his EMU course load, Kenneth Nafziger is artistic director and conductor of the annual Shenandoah Valley Bach Festival (Harrisonburg, Va.), and of Winchester Musica Viva (in Winchester, Va.). He was music editor of ‘Hymnal: A Worship Book’ (1992), editor of its accompaniment handbook, and assistant to the editor of ‘Sing the Journey’ (2005) and ‘Sing the Story’ (2007). He is active in the United States and Canada as a guest conductor, workshop leader and clinician. He co-authored a book ‘Singing, a Mennonite Voice’, which was released in 2001. For more information on Ken go to his personal web page.

How did Christianity become so tame?

News release
August 26, 2015

How did Christianity become so tame?RewildingTheWay

Todd Wynward rewilds Christianity by investigating Scripture as inspiration for redemptive rebellion

HARRISONBURG, Va. and KITCHENER, Ontario—God’s dream for human society is far wilder than we can imagine, so when did we become addicted to the North American way of overconsumption, status-seeking, gadgetry, and fossil fuels, and how might we break free? Wilderness guide and author Todd Wynward addresses these questions in his latest book, Rewilding Faith: Breaking Free to Follow an Untamed God (Herald Press, September 1, 2015).

Wynward, who has spent more than one thousand nights outdoors, writes in the wilderness tradition of John the Baptist and Kurt Hahn (founder of Outward Bound) to discover meaning in self-denial and hope in uncolonized spaces. Wynward and his family have lived in a 30-foot yurt; they milk their own goats, collect rainwater, and use a composting toilet, yet as Wynward is clear to point out, they are still very much part of culture.

Todd photo (3)“If you’re daunted by our example, don’t be: we’re pretenders,” says Wynward. “Yes, we’ve cultivated a slightly parallel existence, but we’re still solidly embedded in consumer culture.” He points out that his family owns one laptop per person, too many cars, a cappuccino maker, and cell phones, and claims they have a voracious appetite for Netflix. “We daily take our son to soccer practice in a Prius and monthly drive a hundred miles to shop at the nearest Trader Joe’s.” He feels that even though they dabble with homesteading in the high desert, “we’re still entangled in empire, deeply part of the system.”

In other words, Wynward and his family are part of a group of Christians who live between worlds, striving to follow the Jesus Way while still being shackled to Caesar and enthralled by empire. But he says there is hope for these “half-disciples.”

“I pin my hopes on the fact that God is extravagant, mercy within mercy within mercy,” says Wynward. “God knows our hearts. He created us, inconsistent and imperfect, to be just as we are. God expects us to love our families and seek to walk the Way.”

Drawing from the work of writers like Bill McKibben and Joanna Macy and groups like New Monastic communities and nonviolent Anabaptists, Wynward offers concrete ideas—such as re-skilling, local food covenants, relational tithes, cohousing, transition towns, and watershed discipleship—for living faithfully in an era of climate change. If some of these words and concepts feel new, they are amply explained in the book.

How can we recover from our affluenza? How can we raise families and be radical disciples? How can we engage in society without being allegiant to it? Rewilding the Way shows how to break free from the empire of Christendom and “become the wild people God wants us to be” says Wynward.

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Todd Wynward is fanatic about reframing public education and re-envisioning the North American way of life, starting with his own. He has been engaged in experiential education and social change movements for 20 years. He is the founder of a wilderness-based public charter school, leads backpacking and river trips for adult seekers, and is an animating force behind TiLT, an intentional cohousing community in Taos, New Mexico. Author Richard Rohr calls his novel, The Secrets of Leaven, “a spiritual roller coaster that skewers everything we think we know about organized religion, social change, and human potential.”

Rewilding the Way: Break Free to Follow an Untamed God is available in paperback for $15.99 USD from MennoMedia at 800-245-7894 or www.MennoMedia.org, as well as at bookstores. To contact Wynward to schedule speaking events, wilderness treks, or weekend workshops, go to www.rewildingtheway.com, or the Facebook page for Rewilding the Way.

MennoMedia Staff

High resolution photos available.
for more information on press release:
Melodie Davis
News manager
MennoMedia
540-574-4874
MelodieD@mennomedia.org

Third Way Website Gets New Look and Fresh Support (By Steve Carpenter)

Perhaps you’ve already noticed that MennoMedia’s premier website ThirdWay.com has a new look – http://thirdway.com  The website has been around since the late 1990s under the name Third Way Café. Some thought the coffee motif was getting a bit stale.1999 HomePage

(Just for fun, here’s a screen grab of the old home page. To read the print go to the Way Back Machine web archives, a great place you can find and reference most old websites.)

Over the past year we worked to freshen up Third Way and improve it’s functionality on smart phones and tablets, renaming it simply Third Way. Earlier in June, a news release announced some of the new sections and features.

ScreenShotHomePageJune3LaunchThe site engages those looking for information online about Mennonites, and serves as a portal for those seeking to live out their Christian faith through Anabaptist values such as simple living, acts of service, and an emphasis on community, justice and peace. Those five values, plus the broad topics “Mennonites” and “Jesus” are reflected in the seven sub-sections of the website.

For the first time, Third Way is offering Mennonite agencies and businesses the opportunity to become sponsors. Sponsorship of this website supports efforts to provide Anabaptist Christian values and information to a worldwide audience, and will also increase an agency’s or business’s exposure. We are thrilled that seven organizations or agencies have stepped up so far to support Third Way by becoming sponsors. There are three levels available: Site Sponsors, Section Sponsors and one Home Page Sponsor.

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Everence and Mennonite Mission Network have become Site Sponsors

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For their gift we include their logo with a hyperlink back to their agency’s home page on every page of the Third Way site. Section Sponsors get their logo on the home page and on every page of the section they sponsor. Thus far Eastern Mennonite University,

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Mennonite Foundation Canada,

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Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary

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and Mennonite Health Services

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have all stepped up as Section Sponsors.

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In addition, Conrad Grebel University is a Home Page Sponsor.

However, there are three sections still waiting for a company to sign on! The sections still available are Community, Service and Justice. If you know of a business or organization which might be interested in becoming a section sponsor of one of these three areas, the cost is $1,000 U.S. per year or $1,200 CDN. Leave a comment below or send me an email with your ideas and I’ll follow up.

Thank you for your interest. Be sure to sign up for a daily scripture, weekly media review, monthly peace story or other free inspirational emails from MennoMedia via Third Way.com by going to subscriptions.

Blessings in your work, worship and witness,

Steve Carpenter Director of Development and Church Relations

Steve Carpenter
Director of Development and Church Relations

SteveC@MennoMedia.org