By Rev. Ron Unger
“I didn’t know that was in the new hymnal,” one of our choir members recently said, even though the ELW is no longer all that new and copies of it are in the pews. But in our congregation we write the whole service out, complete with hymns, in the worship bulletin. As a consequence, most of our worshippers never open a hymnal and don’t realize what a rich resource it is.
Let’s face it, by printing the entire service in a bulletin or projecting it on an overhead screen, we give our people little incentive to thumb through the cranberry colored book. As a result, they may be familiar with only the hymns our worship leaders have selected for us to sing, or with the liturgy(ies) we’ve introduced, or the options we’ve chosen to use.
Having regular access to the hymnal can protect worshippers from the tyranny of pastoral preferences. The laity can look through the list of hymns to discover which ones aren’t being sung and to find liturgical options and alternatives which are being ignored.
“Hey, pastor, when are we going to sing such-and-such a hymn?” “When can we try Setting No. ___?”
When people are familiar with the wide range of possibilities in this (or any) hymnal, the worship life of the parish is enhanced.
And the best way to foster fuller familiarity with the hymnal, is to encourage personal ownership. I just discovered that several of our choir members don’t own copies. So we’ll now offer purchases in bulk from time to time.
Once in our homes (on the piano or on the coffee table) we can conveniently thumb through it, saying, “look at all those wonderful prayers,” “here’s a favorite hymn of mine,” “I didn’t know there were so many possible Settings,” “that’s the kind of funeral service I want,” “here’s a good Bible reading schedule,” or (my favorite), “what happened to the Athanasian Creed?”