Behind the scenes of making a hymnal

Sep 18, 2018 by

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What is your all-time favorite hymn or spiritual/religious piece of music? If you go to church and participate in regular worship services, you also likely enjoy the songs and hymns most churches count as a very important part of their worship of God. It is the music portion of a service that most often moves me emotionally, even to tears, and I’m not alone in that. You probably have a number of favorites, depending on the mood and circumstances.

Of the many privileges I have had working as a writer for the Mennonite churches these past 42 years, getting to help — in however small of capacity — on a new worship and song collection for the church is stirring and rewarding. We are currently about half way through that process at the agency we call MennoMedia, and while I plan to retire from my job before it is finished and published, I have learned a little of the tremendous planning, thought, sleepless nights and even tears (usually the emotional, joyful kind) go into producing and publishing a hymnal.

It is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for me, even though there are musicians and leaders in the church who have worked on two or more such productions. Denominational hymnals are not usually created more than once a generation and may even span 30-50 years between new hymnals. Let me also hasten to say there are many of us assisting with the process who are not musicians and barely know a treble clef from a bass. While I sing heartily with a congregation, you wouldn’t want me to sing a solo anywhere other than the shower.

But I have been privileged to work behind the scenes writing or editing things like news releases, and helping on fundraising and marketing tasks. As part of the editorial team at MennoMedia and Herald Press, this has also included sneak peaks at various cover designs and colors, and voicing opinions on options for title and cover. It is such a collaborative process, that other than the project director, in this case a splendid musician and teacher, Bradley Kauffman, no one person can be named as author or creator or organizer. From the staff end, Amy Gingerich as executive director has been supervisor and cheerleader to the process. What a group effort — especially for the actual committee, mostly volunteers, numbering around a dozen.

All along, those who have envisioned, planned and sought input for this new collection have pitched in with their hearts and souls. A few months ago, before the title and cover had been revealed, staffers were a little giddy to know what it was going to look like before it was shown to the general public. The name and cover for it are now out there: Voices Together.

Raising the funds to develop a long-term project like this has been spurred by a huge and generous $100,000 matching grant from two Mennonite-related agencies, Everence and Mennonite Central Committee. They made the grant because they see church music as so important to the future of the church: bringing new generations to love singing and worshipping God through music.

This collection will be published not only as a traditional book for church pews, but a projected edition and a digital app. It will also have artwork in it — expecting 12 pieces to lead and inspire congregations in worship. I’m told that artists are super pleased about this aspect. In addition, the music will represent a wide variety of cultures, countries and Christian theology: truly a book which voices can enjoy, together worshipping the God who made us all.

Melodie Davis is a Mennonite/Presbyterian author, Third Way Cafe editor, columnist and blogger at FindingHarmonyBlog, where this post from her syndicated column, Another Way, appeared.


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