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Denominational consultants ponder timing of next hymnal project

   

October 10, 2008
- Joint Mennonite Publishing Network/Mennonite Church Canada release

NEWTON, Kansas — Results of an online survey completed by individuals representing Mennonite Church USA and Mennonite Church Canada congregations indicate that many congregations may be ready for a new printed hymnal in 10-15 years.

The survey, conducted in March 2008, included questions designed to provide insight into current congregational usage and needs regarding music and worship, and also predict future ones. (complete survey at www.mpn.net/hymnalnews.) Congregations were asked to submit one response representing their group. MPN received responses from 264 USA and 94 Canadian congregations.

The consultants studied both these responses and other research they had completed on topics related to worship and music practices, demographics, technology, and finance. They concluded that although technological advances and other changes in worship point to significant unknowns, in the future a good number of Mennonite congregations will still want a printed hymnal from which to sing together.

Survey comments showed strong support for current denominational music and worship resources, as well as eagerness for future resources. “Keep putting new things in front of us,” said one responder. “It helps make the old sounds fresh again.”

Some comments also underscored financial or other realities. “I’m not sure we would replace all 200 hymnals in our pews, given that we still haven’t sung probably half the songs that are in the one we have!”

Eleanor Snyder, director of Faith & Life Resources—the congregational division of MPN responsible for overseeing a future hymnal project—said the results revealed overall loyalty to Mennonite published music resources as well as a deep love for good hymnody. “Along with answering our questions, people offered helpful advice and encouragement, often making specific suggestions or expressing gratitude for past and current resources,” said Snyder. “They also communicated their need for training, and for more people skilled in leading music and worship.”

Snyder noted that the results of the survey provide only partial insight into denominational needs. “Mennonite Publishing Network is interpreting this information as a call to proceed with caution. Over the next few years, we will continue to listen, study, and plan carefully and prayerfully. A new hymnal project is a huge, complex undertaking. We appreciated the help of this ad hoc group of consultants, and of our congregations, as we took a first step in that direction.”

Mennonite Publishing Network initiated the survey in early 2008, on behalf of a committee of consultants called together at the request of the denominations and their publisher. The survey was intended to help them discern whether they believed a new hymnal project should be undertaken—and if so how soon. The current hymnal, Hymnal: A Worship Book, was published in 1992. Two supplements to Hymnal have also been published: Sing the Journey (2005) and Sing the Story (2007).

Marlene Kropf, David Bergen, and Eleanor Snyder—representing Mennonite Church USA, Mennonite Church Canada, and MPN—convened the consultants April 10-12 in Elkhart, Indiana. Attending were Irma Fast Dueck, Manitoba; Mark Diller Harder, Ontario; Duff Warkentin, Saskatchewan; Cynthia Neufeld Smith, Kansas; Kenneth Nafziger, Virginia; Michael Bishop, Pennsylvania; Randall Spaulding, Florida; and Cynthia Linscheid, MPN staff. Several others—George Makinto, California; Anita Amstutz, New Mexico, and Marilyn Houser Hamm, Manitoba—were unable to attend but provided preliminary research also reviewed at the consultation.


 
   

Hymnal Survey excerpts: (see graphic) MPN received responses from a total of 358 congregations – 264 from USA and 94 from Canada.

In our congregation, we sing from the following Mennonite hymnals and songbooks (check as many as apply):

Hymnal: A Worship Book
80%
Sing the Journey
55%
Sing the Story
29%
Mennonite Hymnal
39%
Sing and Rejoice
18%
Other Mennonite hymnals
11%

 

In our congregation, we sing from hymnals or bound songbooks from other than Mennonite publishers.

No
62%
Yes (over 35 non-Mennonite songbooks were listed)
38%

 

What is the life span of a denominational hymnal?

25 years
34%
20 years
14%
30 years
21%
Other:(Examples of comments added: 10 years; whenever the books wear out.)
31%

 

Our congregation sings a capella (unaccompanied) music:

Always
3%
Often
33%
Occasionally
38%
Never
24%

 

Our congregation uses these instruments to accompany singing (check all that apply):

Organ
36%
Piano

97%

Guitar
84%
Percussion
64%
Wind instruments
44%
Brass instruments
25%

 

Alongside a printed hymnal, we would want to have:

Electronic version for PowerPoint projection
49%
A companion resource with background information
52%
Accompaniment resources
82%
Music CDs
49%