Conversation and information about music and liturgy from a confessional Lutheran perspective.

Friday, December 25, 2009


On the other side of the worship spectrum, a relative of mine reported on worship at her church this past Christmas Eve. The contrast between what was sung at our traditional, liturgical service and what was sung at hers was striking. Here's a taste of what is going on out there in the world of "contemporary" worship, just in case you were wondering about what a "praise band" does on Christmas Eve:

"Don't get so busy that you miss Giving just a little kiss To the ones you love.
Don't even wait a little while To give them just a little smile. A little is enough.
See how many people are crying. Some people are dying.

Chorus: So don't save it all for Christmas Day.
Find a way to give a little love every day.
Find a way 'cause holidays have come and gone
But loves lives on if you give on love."


So there you go. The theology of Celine Dion instead of the doctrines of Christ. No Gospel. Just an exhortation to be nice. All year. Not just on Christmas Day. Because it is up to us. "Love lives on IF. . . ". This is what more people hear in Church these days. Including many children. Lord, have mercy!

The performance of this music reinforced the man-centered lyrics. Here's the report:

"There's a girl in the band who usually sings backup, but they gave her this solo on Christmas Eve. The usual lead singer wasn't there, and so she was sort of getting her chance. Well, we all just couldn't believe how she nailed this long note toward the end of the song. It was just amazing. And as she held it we all just started to applaud. It was so awesome."

There are many who want to ignore the worship wars going on in Christendom today, and let everyone do what they think is right in their own eyes in the name of "freedom." Certainly our Lord gives us much freedom in how we are to worship Him, but I don't think this is what He has in mind for us.

I do know that not all churches dabbling in "contemporary worship" would have this song sung in the Divine Service. But this is the well they drink from, and I encounter things like this every time I go on the road and visit a church's "contemporary worship service."

C.S. Lewis used to say that "he who doesn't believe in God will believe in anything." I think it is fair to observe also that apparently he who doesn't sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs will sing anything.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009


So what's your choir singing for Christmas? We at Liturgy Solutions would love to hear from you. We hope your preparations have all gone well, and that you and your singers make the hearts of all in your sanctuaries glad.

Here at Bethany, we are looking forward to the following highlights:

5pm - Schola Canotrum (and flute trio)
*Quempas Carol
*Ding-Dong, Merrily, on High
*Verse for Christmas Eve (Hillert, from NPH series)
*Willcox descants on "Oh, Come, All Ye Faithful" and "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing"

7pm - Vocal Quartet (w/ Bethany Brass accompanying congregational song)
*Elise B. Calhoon sings "O Holy Night"
*Stanzas of various hymns sung in Liturgy Solutions' arrangements, including:
-Once in Royal David's City
-O Sing of Christ
-Of the Father's Love Begotten
-O Little Town of Bethlehem
*Dr. Jennifer Barnickel-Fitch sings "Gesu Bambino"

11pm - Proclaim
*What Sweeter Music (Rutter)
*Gradual for Christmas Day (Stephen R. Johnson, Liturgy Solutions)
*In the First Light (Glad studio chart)
*Some Children See Him (Burt)
*Willcox Descants (of course!)
*Elise B. Calhoon sings the Wexford Carol
*Choir sings stanza 1 of Stille Nacht (in German)

Christmas Morning - Elise graciously returns to sing Wexford again. (Thank you, Elise!) Many choir members were willing to sing Christmas AM as well, but I didn't plan voice parts accordingly and, with the divisi on the Rutter, Glad, and Burt, we decided not to have those for Christmas morning.

Which leads to my last question, besides what you are singing, WHEN are you singing? Does your choir do both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day? Do they do two services on Christmas Eve (like Bethany's Proclaim did last year)?

"Joy, O Joy, beyond all gladness,
Christ has done away with sadness!
Hence all sorrow and repining,
For the Sun of Grace is shining!" (LSB 897, refrain)

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

A Sinless Christianity

The hymnody of the Lutheran tradition serves a role of teaching or catechesis. For me, this was a very unfamiliar idea until a number of years ago when I listened to a lecture given by my now, very good friend, Leonard Payton. The idea was clear in his presentation, namely, that the Word of Christ dwelling in us richly is obtained through the appropriate teaching and admonishing of ourselves with Psalms, hymns and spiritual songs (Col. 3: 16). He used the Levitical practice of the Old Testament to illustrate this and pointed to a memorized tradition as being the norm for ancient Israel. When we realize that the Psalms and many portions of the prophets were sung for memory and internalized by the people, we can begin to get a glimpse of what it means for the Word of Christ to dwell richly in us.

Our hymnody teaches on every imaginable doctrinal subject. It is vast and didactic – just like the Psalms. How anyone can use the Psalms to justify simplicity in our worship music remains for me, puzzling.

I was struck by a little tidbit of information regarding a hymn in our Lutheran tradition, All Mankind Fell in Adam’s Fall. A line from this hymn by Lazaraus Spengler is actually quoted in the first article of the Formula of Concord (Epitome), which states:

We believe teach and confess that original sin is not a slight corruption of human nature, but that it is so deep a corruption that nothing sound or uncorrupted has survived in man’s body or soul, in his inward or outward powers. It is as the church sings, “Through Adam’s fall man’s nature and essence are all corrupt.”

It is telling, by the way, that in the Formula of Concord, one of the most important confessional writings of the Lutheran Church, the first article is entitled “Original Sin.” Without sin as the preexisting condition, proper contemplation of the Gospel will be impossible. It is upon this dark canvas of original sin that the Gospel may be painted in all its gloriousness.

I like to listen to a contemporary Christian radio station in my area. I do not listen for the reasons that most people do. I listen to remain aware of the latest in that genre. I like to keep up with the new songs, new artists and what is contained therein so that I am knowledgeable when I speak with friends and colleagues in other denominations. Well, I have been made painfully aware that the music of this genre does not discuss sin. It does not show the depth of the fall. It does not illustrate that “By one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin…”

No, the concept that this musical genre communicates is that I am troubled and need assistance. Maybe I am depressed. Maybe I am hurting. Maybe I have a bad habit, or see a therapist, or have baggage from my dysfunctional upbringing. Maybe I have a low self-image. At any rate, the purpose for following Christ is that he then gives me the pathway to live victoriously over all these things. Eventually, if I do everything right and follow the “principles” Christ has given me in his Word, I may even be able to stop seeing that therapist, stop smoking, drinking, chewing, or whatever my problem may be.

If this is the essence of sin, we do not need a Savior. There is no original sin in this picture, and, therefore, nothing from which we need forgiveness. The contemporary Christian music genre speaks very little about confession and forgiveness. Christ is not a Savior in these songs as much as a helper and a buddy who’s always there for me in the hard times. Jesus helps me get over my problems, he encourages me, tells me everything is going to be OK and even “holds me in his arms” as some songs say, –– but he does not forgive me! So I can quit smoking, say bye-bye to the therapist, become a better, more positive person, and help lots of other people do the same, yet still die in my sins. Our sinless Christianity cultivates Christians who trust Christ for for comfort, help, and encouragement, but not for forgiveness. Is this the Christ of Scripture, who dies on the cross? For what? To be our life coach or buddy?

The contemporary radio station reflects the thinking of a great many mainstream Christians. Theirs’ is a Christianity without original sin. It is a faith that thinks our problem is far less serious than it is. And hymns like “All Mankind Fell in Adam’s Fall” are not sung in most Christian churches and has even fallen out of use, regrettably, in the Lutheran tradition, from whence it came. When hymns like this are jettisoned, we fallen men and women have very little to remind us of our biggest problem. This leads to our justifying ourselves, rationalizing and thinking that we are not so bad. There really is no true Christianity without the doctrine of original sin. We, as people of the Reformation, need to be aware of this flawed view, so prevalent in our day. To embrace a sinless Christianity is to embrace an impotent cross and an ineffective Christ. Bypassing original sin in our doctrine bypasses the work of Jesus to forgive that sin and leads to a tepid faith that seeks personal achievement and success, dare I say works righteousness, rather than the peace and comfort of sins forgiven.

I am grateful that God, in his grace, uses hymns like All Mankind Fell in Adam’s Fall, to remind me of the depth of my sin, and of God's lavish forgiveness of that sin in Christ.

All Mankind Fell in Adam’s Fall
One common sin infects us all
From sire to son the bane descends
And overall the curse impends.

From hearts depraved and evil prone
Flow thoughts and deeds of sin alone
God’s image lost, the darkened soul
Seeks not nor finds it heavenly goal.

As by one man all mankind fell
And, born in sin, was doomed to hell
So by one man who took our place
We all received the gift of grace.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

A Baptismal Liturgy for Post-Modern Americans


P: We rejoice this day in the gift of new life which our heavenly Father bestows upon us in and through Baptism. We are pleased to share this celebration with many guests this day, and so begin by welcoming our visitors today.
C: We welcome you in the name of the Lord.
P: Yes, that's right, we are all glad you are here. And it is OK if you don't participate in the service. We know that the Lutheran service may be foreign to you. But don't worry:
C: We will sing the hymns for you.
P: And pray the prayers.
C: And confess the Christian faith.
P: You can just take it all in, and through the Word you will hear today, we trust that the Lord's will shall be done in your hearts.
C: That's how He works!
P: And if you feel so moved as to join us in worship, the bulletins you received on the way in have the order of service for this day.
C: And hymnals are in the pew racks in front of you.
P: Yes, this is a worship service.
C: We actually believe God will be present with today.
P: And so we consider this sanctuary to be "the Lord's house",
C: Not your house. Not our house. But God's house.
P: And so we do ask that you respect our customs, even though you may not understand or agree with them.
C: For this is where we worship our God. It is a holy place.
P: And so we ask that you not take flash pictures during the service.
C: Such distractions are offensive to us.
P: You may record the baptism with flash-free photography if you wish or wait until after the service, when I will be happy to re-enact any part of the Rite of Holy Baptism for your benefit. But during the service we want to keep the focus on what God is doing today through His Word.
C: For without God's Word, the water is plain water, and no baptism.
P: But with the Word of God, it is a baptism, that is a life-giving water, rich in grace,
C: And the washing of the new birth in the Holy Spirit.
P: So, please, let us turn off all cell phones and flash bulbs and put away everything that hinders us.
C: that we all may hear His Word, and gladly hear and learn it.

the service then continues according to the rite as it appears on page xxx in the hymnal...


Yes, the paparrazi were at Bethany again today. Two baptisms in one service. All flash all the time. Our pastors don't want to say anything; our ushers aren't comfortable with addressing this either - even though they have directions about this in the usher manual and it has been brought up the last two usher meetings. And the Elders have put a statement in the bulletin, but the kind of folks who flash away in the Divine Service don't look at the bulletin. They are just here to observe (and record) the Baptism.

So what does one do? I realize my ersatz 'Creative Worship' - style liturgy is over the top. And I hope you got some chuckles out of it. I find the satire theraputic. But the problems remains, and we have no "solutions" for it here at LS. Anyone have any ideas?

I have a feeling we are going to have to endure more and more of this kind of a thing as our national culture become more post-Christian.

Thursday, November 26, 2009


We're updating the front page soon, but with Advent upon us I thought it best to go ahead and give everyone a few ideas about how Liturgy Solutions might be helpful to you this season:

For the Musician in Small ParishPerhaps you've got your small choir working on an Advent anthem and are busy preparing a couple of pieces for Christmas Eve. But you'd like to involve your choir in the liturgy when they are scheduled to sing, and perhaps use a soloist for one of the other Sundays in Advent. SO -

Consider Jonathan Kohrs' setting of the first stanza of “Lo, He Comes, with Clouds Descending” for unison/optional 2-part choir and organ as a great way to introduce or reintroduce this hymn to your congregation, using the LSB tune HELMSLEY. The subtle quote of SINE NOMINE (“For All the Saints”) while the choir sings “Thousand, thousand saints attending” is a lot of fun – and meaningful text-painting, even though it is subtle.

Also consider Jeffrey Blersch's psalm refrain for Psalm 25:1-10, appointed for First Sunday in Advent in the Three-Year series this year, but very appropriate for Advent Vespers in any parish. Consider having a flautist play the descant on the repetitions of the refrain. For a Gradual, try “Out of Zion, the Perfection of Beauty” (Psalm 50:2-3a,5), by Phillip Magness, for unison choir (or soloist) and organ. This text is for the One-Year series, but could be used at Matins or Vespers at any Advent series. All four of the Magness Graduals quote the Hymn of the Day, with this one drawing inspiration from “Hark! A Thrilling Voice Is Sounding”.

Three-Year Congregation? Try Dawn Sonntag's “Prepare the Way of the Lord”, the Verse of the Day for the Second Sunday in Advent, for Uni/2-part choir and keyboard. This works with piano as well as organ and is enjoyed by children's as well as adult choirs.

For the Musician in a Medium-Sized ParishYour children's choir will love the Sonntag setting of the Verse for Second Sunday in Advent mentioned above, but will also embrace her setting of “Creator of the Stars of Night”, especially with the descant provided for the final stanzas. A great choice for the Office Hymn at Advent Vespers.

Speaking of hymnody, Jonathan Kohrs' setting of stanza 3 of “On Jordan's Bank” (SAB, a cappella) will be very accessible for your adult choir, with the melody given to the men while the Sopranos & Altos sing a creative, text-painting accompaniment. Your adult choir should also consider Stephen Johnson's setting of Psalm 85, “Surely His Salvation Is Near”, appointed for the Third Sunday in Advent in the Three-Year Lectionary but also appropriate in place of an Advent Gradual in the One-Year series or as a psalm in any parish for Advent Matins or Vespers. For the Fourth Sunday in Advent, consider Dawn Sonntag's setting of the Verse of the Day: “Behold, A Virgin Shall Conceive”. This could be sung again as a Prelude or “Opening Sentences” to Vespers on Christmas Eve.

Speaking of Christmas Eve, did you know “Savior of the Nations, Come” was originally a Christmas hymn? Whether your sing it for Advent or Christmas, if you have a good balance of men in your choir, they will sparkle on Jonathan Kohrs' setting of the “Manger Stanza” (stanza 7), with the altos, tenors, and basses singing a haunting undulation underneath the intermittent superimposition of a the lyric melody in the soprano. This stanza provides a nice opportunity for a soloist as well as for your soprano section. Baritone soloist instead? Consider Dawn Sonntag's most excellent setting of the Verse for the First Sunday in Advent, “Lift Up Your Heads, O Gates” for baritone soloist, SAB choir, and organ.

For the Musician in a Large Parish - You've got a big program, and multiple services each week, and so you know that the recommendations for Small Parish provide possible “solutions” for your children's choir and soloists. And that setting of stanza 3 of “On Jordan's Bank” by Jonathan Kohrs is a perfect match for your junior high or high school choir. Your regular SATB choir is scheduled to sing several Advent works for Voluntaries, Preludes, and communion distribution this year – but you want to make time for them to contribute to the liturgy as well.

Consider Jeffrey Blersch's SATB refrain for psalm 66:1-12, “You Have Brought Us Out to A Place of Abundance”, for the Second Sunday in Advent or for Advent Vespers. The congregation could join in this refrain or the choir could sing it and then chant the verses of the psalm responsively with the assembly. For the Third Sunday in Advent, consider giving them the Verse of the Day, with Dawn Sonntag's “Behold, I Send a Messenger”. If they are up for a small challenge, give them her setting of stanza 3 of “Comfort, Comfort Ye, My People”, a free setting that cloaks the melody yet paints the text well.

For Graduals, consider Stephen Johnson's setting of the Gradual for the Second Sunday in Advent, “Out of Zion”, and Phillip Magness' short motet on Psalm 25:4, “Make Me to Know Your Ways, O Lord.” Finally, don't finish your planning until you've reviewed both options we have for stanza 3 of GABRIEL'S MESSAGE. For either the Fourth Sunday in Advent, Advent Matins or Vespers focusing on the Annunciation, or for Lessons & Carols, we've got two great picks here. The option by Jeffrey Blersch is more traditional, yet with fresh and compelling harmonies. Dawn Sonntag's setting includes a soprano solo and either a flute or violin obbligato.


Whether you are looking for a simple way to chant the Introits or for fresh settings of hymn stanzas that will motivate your choir and enrich your congregation's meditation, we humbly offer these many and various “solutions” for your choirs that they may magnify the Lord and rejoice in God our Savior by magnifying the Word His Spirit gives us to sing in Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Magness interviewed by Scripps-Howard

Our recent post about the use of the organ in Divine Worship shows how we at Liturgy Solutions view the use of instruments in the service of the Gospel. We have shown that we value traditional worship ideals as integral and seek to build upon them, but we also understand that worship can be fresh and unencumbered by tradition for tradition's sake. We believe in using the full palate of color and qualities that many instruments have to offer. We believe that any instrument can serve our hymn corpus and that congregations should be resourceful at all times, especially when challenged by the absence of regular organist serving their parishes. But we also are very concerned about trends that are taking place in our Synod where the Lutheran musical and worship heritage is being undermined or tossed out altogether. As I said before, our hymns and liturgy are our treasure, and to dismiss them is to dismiss one of the most valuable ways the gospel is communicated to the hearts of our parishioners.

Our own Phillip Magness, was interviewed by the Scripps-Howard News Service last week and really fleshed out what it means for churches to cultivate a confessional and liturgical identity in our worship what happens when that identity is compromised. The link to the interview is below. We welcome your comments.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Luxuriant Lutheranism - the organ on a pedestal

We Lutherans love our organ music, and rightly so. Hearing fine organ playing can be awe-inspiring. Parishes that have fine organs and organists to fully utilize them receive the great rewards that the instrument has to offer. The organ offers a panoply of colors, expressivity, and sensitivity in hymn accompanying, and of course, the great organ music of the Lutheran überkantor – J. S. Bach. Bach has always been my favorite composer, long predating my years as a Lutheran, extending all the way back to my childhood. The more Bach I hear, the better.

But recently we have encountered some problems in our American Lutheran Churches. There are many, probably even a majority who do not have the kind of organ or organist that would inspire such awe. Many a seminarian, after living in the beauty of the liturgical life at St. Louis or Fort Wayne, and hearing great organists like Henry Gerike, Richard Resch, Kevin Hildebrand and Paul Grime, have left that sublime atmosphere for a more mundane parish existence, where the organist struggles to keep an even tempo and who may have unpredictable, even contrary views on how things should be done. Other parishes, fewer, but still enough to rightly deserve our attention, do not have an organist at all. They have been looking for one, but cannot seem to find one. And the ones they do find are mediocre at best. What to do?

The organ is a great instrument, and it is always wonderful to have a good organist. But if we do not have either, we as Lutherans, may need to rethink our values. What makes Lutheran worship efficacious? Is it the organ, or is it the things that are played on the organ? Is it the chorale preludes of Bach? Or is it the chorales themselves, which place words and melodies on the lips and in the minds and hearts of parishioners for their spiritual nurturing? No chorale prelude can do that.

Is it possible that, without an organ at our disposal, we may need to be resourceful in finding ways to guide the congregation’s song? Perhaps the use of a combination of instruments, or one or two good singers from the congregation can accomplish this goal. Will it be as grandiose, as majestic? Probably not, but will it fulfill the admonition of Colossians 3:16 to “let the Word of Christ dwell richly in us?” Absolutely!

We Lutherans may be growing fat from the luxuries we have been afforded in this great country where our churches are not persecuted. Our “fatness” manifests itself in that we think it a travesty when we do not to have an organ in our church buildings. So, we have elevated this instrument to "king of instrument” status, placing it on some high pedestal in our worship life. We think the organ to be absolutely essential to our worship – that we cannot possibly worship without it.

But, how important has this instrument been in the history of the Christian faith? St. Paul never even knew of one, let alone the ancient Jews who were given the Psalms and encouraged to sing them. The early church never had one. Yet they sang canticles and hymns just as do we. All through the Medieval period, I understand that organ playing was not in full grand use. The Renaissance composers focused on a pervasively vocal art. No great chorale preludes were being produced at that time. However much the organ was used then, it was not until the Baroque period that we get a truly instrumental art that elevated the organ, through Buxthehude and then Bach (and others, of course). If I am a little inaccurate in my timeline, I think you get my point. Christian worship (and I include the faithful ancient Jews in this, who were saved by Christ's atonement) is 8,000 plus years old. Yet, the organ has played a really significant role for only about the past 400 years, and that’s a charitable estimate.

CPH has come out with a product called The Concordia Organist (TCO). This product provides prerecorded hymn accompaniments on the organ for congregations who do not have a real live organist. You can have an organ playing in your parish even without a person to play it. I view this product as elevating the organ to a level it does not merit. What’s communicated is that, if we do not have an organ, we must use this, because we cannot possibly worship without an organ. It is a symptom of our luxuriant Lutheranism. Well, I have good news. You can live without it! And if you are in this position, it might be a healthy exercise for you to live without it. You have the opportunity to look for the benefits that living without an organ can give! You can start by singing the hymns unison a cappella. One or two singers or a small vocal ensemble can assist the congregation in doing so. As you go, you might add a flute, simple chords on a guitar or a combination of instruments, even a keyboard. You might also begin to sing in parts.

Rather than neglect whatever musical talent lies dormant in your congregations, use them. They are your parishioners too and they need catechesis and pastoral care. Teach them what worship means as they learn to guide the congregation in song. Do not neglect them by employing a “sanctified” manifestation of Karaoke in your parishes. CTO is not altogether different than the canned music that soloists in evangelical protestant churches use to sing contemporary songs so they can sound a little more like Nashville. Think about it:

“You too can sound like the Fort Wayne Chapel! Just buy TCO.”

Is there not just a tinge of theology of glory at work here? Perhaps living life under the cross means, for some, getting over personal aesthetic preferences and considering the notion that unison a cappella singing can serve just as efficaciously in rendering a great hymn or Divine Service setting. But even more, it serves to catechize your congregation just as well, if not better than fancy hymn accompaniments. You do not need to be beholden to some aesthetic ideal that you experienced at seminary or a worship conference, all the while forgetting that the true treasure is in our sung hymns themselves and building a faith community that sings that treasure with great authenticity. Our hymns are an immensely valuable, meaningful, and profound treasure, no matter whether we sing them with an organ or not.

You do not need TCO. Sing your hymns. They are the true treasure. Do it with or without an organ. Use your pianist, your guitarist, your high school flutist, whatever. And when you do not have them, sing a cappella! Putting the organ on a pedestal is nothing more than style over substance. The hymns are our substance and sustenance with or without an organ. They are our true treasure.

Could TCO be helpful to some congregations? Sure. Is it expedient? Sure. But living without an organist and TCO may afford our congregations many hidden benefits as they strive to cultivate their singing voices and utilize other musical resources that may be of great value to their worshiping communities.

Friday, October 30, 2009


OK, I'm out of my sick bed - and am now in Schuyler, Nebraska playing for a Doxology conference. Thanks, Iggy, for starting off Round II of our discussion of "LSB After Three Years" with your nominations. I'll keep things going down with mine:

1 - Personal Favorite - By far my favorite new text in the hymnal is "All Christians Who Have Been Baptized" (LSB #596). Thank you, Jon Vieker, for translating this Gerhardt gem into English for us. And I think the pairing of this text with NUN FREUT EUCH is perfect. Historically, we sing this tune to tell the story of Christ with "Dear Christians, One and All, Rejoice"; here, we sing the story of our baptismal life in Christ.

2 - Most Beneficial for Your Congregation's Piety - I would also say the above, but let me add another one here, which I think has been especially helpful for the Gospel at Bethany: "O Gracious Lord, with Love Draw Near" (LSB #599). Yes this is a new tune, and I was envisioning "best new texts to old tunes" with these nominations, but this hymn has filled a need at Bethany more than perhaps any other next text: for years I've been looking for just the right hymn to sing before the Rite of Confirmation, and now, thanks LSB, we've got it!

3 - Hymn that Most Effectively Catechizes - "The Gift Christ Freely Gives" (LSB #602) does a wonderul job of teaching the congregation about the means of grace, nurturing in them a Lutheran liturgical piety.

4 - Best Fit for an Old Tune - Another hymn that catechizes well is my pick in this category, as it sings like it was written for it's tune: "Jesus Comes Today with Healing". I've not historically been a huge fan of this tune, as I generally like a little more rhythmic variety in a tune, but the rhyme and rhythm of this David Rogner translation (of a Heinrich Puchta hymn) really make this tune come alive. A great marriage of tune and text.

5 - Text that Helped You Use an Older Tune - As I mentioned before, here I would agree with Christina Roberts and nominate "Christ Sits at God's Right Hand".

6 - Congregational Favorite - Have the people in your parish embraced a new text to the point where they associate an old tune now primarily with a new LSB text? It's hard to know what new LSB text has been a hit with the folks. There was a lot more talk about the new music in HS98 when it came out. Parishioners at both congregations where I introduced HS98 (Trinity-Peoria and Bethany-Naperville) loved "The Tree of Life", "What Is This Bread?", and "God's Own Child, I Gladly Say It", for example. They were all big hits. And there were others. So far with LSB I can only name one that is certainly on everyone's lips: "We Praise You and Acknowledge You". With LSB, we've mostly enjoyed having everything in one book in a most excellent layout. So I hope some Bethany members will help me out here and nominate their own favorites. For now, let me say that one possible candidate is "Alleluia! Jesus Is Risen" (LSB #474). Folks always liked the tune, EARTH AND ALL STARS, but many didn't care for the text. Regardless of one's thoughts on "Earth and All Stars", I think all would agree that here we have a more liturgically useful text - and with this text I no longer get complaints about singing this tune!

OK - I put myself out there. Those are my choices (for now). Anyone else want to play? :)

Thursday, October 22, 2009


As I mentioned in the last post, the need for LSB to unite LCMS congregations using different hymnals limited the number of new tunes in the book. Certainly as a musician I was more "jazzed" about Hymnal Supplement 98 (HS98) when it came out. So many new tunes! And the fact that the majority of those songs found acceptance into LSB demonstrates the high quality of music HS98 brought to the Missouri Synod.

And yet, as important as music is, I think LSB is making an even stronger contribution, because the LSB has brought so many good texts to our synod. And, of course, the texts ARE the hymns, and given that LSB is a generational hymnal, not a supplement, I think we should all celebrate the hymns that are serving the church so well in the LSB.

So, in the first post I focused on new hymns with new tunes. Now lets focus on the new hymns that are sung to familiar (or, at least, pre-existing tunes). What would you nominate in the following categories?

1 - Personal Favorite

2 - Most Beneficial for Your Congregation's Piety

3 - Hymn that Most Effectively Catechizes

4 - Best Fit for an Old Tune

5 - Text that Helped You Use an Older Tune - (here I would concure with Christina, and nominate "Christ Sits at God's Right Hand". Now we really sing YIGDAL at Bethany. "The God of Abraham Praise" is a FINE hymn, but is less useful liturgically.)

6 - Congregational Favorite - Have the people in your parish embraced a new text to the point where they associate an old tune now primarily with a new LSB text?

I'm at home sick today, so I'm going to ask our readers to kick off this discussion. (I promise I'll make my nominations as we go along...)

p.s. May all our friends have a wonderful Lutheran celebration this Reformation Sunday!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

After Three Years - What Do You Think?

Many of us have now been working with Lutheran Service Book (LSB) for a full three years. So there has now been some chatter on the net about the liturgies and how they are wearing. From the moderate sampling of opinion I've read and heard, it seems that initial excitement about the Service of Prayer and Preaching has waned, with many folks returning to Vespers for mid-week catechetical services (the service seems to be working better for school chapel services). On the other hand, many congregations that only used one setting of the Divine Service from a previous hymnal are now reporting that their folks are using two, three, or all five settings in LSB. Indeed, one comment consistently heard is a desire for a "sixth setting". So, Liturgy Solutions will soon be providing one option for those who would like another setting.

But what about the hymnody? With so much of the successful hymnody from Hymnal Supplement 98 (HS98) included in LSB, there were fewer genuinely hymns that were genuinely "new" to the LCMS provided in this book. Though certainly congregations that had been exclusively using The Lutheran Hymnal (TLH, 1941) have many new songs to sing, congregations that used Lutheran Worship (LW) or that were "LW/HS98" did not get the usual full plate of fresh hymnody one expects in a generational hymnal. To be sure, the need to bring "LW" and "TLH" congregations back together under one hymnal necessitated this, but it did make LSB less exciting for many churches.

Nonetheless, there are a good number of entirely new hymns added to the LCMS hymn corpus with LSB. While we are still a couple of years away from knowing what the real "hits" will be - such as "Thy Strong Word" and "Lift High the Cross" and "O God, O Lord of Heaven and Earth" proved to be for LW - I think we are at a point now where we can begin to evaluate what hymns are working for us, and what hymns haven't proven to be as useful as we initially thought.

We look forward to your thoughts. For now, let me be brave and get the ball rolling:

A Hymn that Is Proving to Be As Good As First Thought - LSB #941, "We Praise You and Acknowledge You" was a hymn I knew the people would love and Pastor Stephen Starke is to be commended for this excellent paraphrase of the Te Deum. I continue to get requests for it! The tune for this hymn, THAXTED, is from Gustav Holst's "The Planets". So while it is a new hymn-tune for the LCMS, it is not necessarily unfamiliar. So let me add a follow-up in this category, this one with an old text but a brand new tune: LSB #874, "O Splendor of God's Glory Bright". My Liturgy Solutions partner Stephen Johnson has given the Church a real gift with this new vestment for this morning hymn of St. Ambrose. I also highly commend an evening hymn, "Lord, Support Us All Day Long", LSB #884. We sing this hymn, based upon the concluding collects of Compline, at Doxology retreats and it has worked well in all sorts of different settings using a variety of instruments. A great hymn to add to the prayers for any evening worship service.

A Hymn that Hasn't Met Expectations - OK, I know I'm sticking my neck out here, so let me just say up front that I acknowledge quite freely that what doesn't work as well in one congregation may be a great fit for another situation. That said, I must confess some objective disappointment in LSB #654, "Your Kingdom, O God, Is My Glorious Treasure". I really loved that hymn when I first played it, and it was one of the first LSB songs I introduced to my congregation. I thought it would really provide a boost to a summer stewardship campaign built around the theme "Till the Soil". The campaign proved successful - but the people never really took ownership of the hymn. Lots of folks remember - and speak approvingly of - the hymn I chose for a subsequent campaign, LSB #782, "Gracious God, You Send Great Blessings". But this one just didn't go over. I'll use it again, but I doubt it will become the "hit" that I thought it would be.

A Hymn that Worked Surprisingly Well - We actually sang LSB #669, "Come, We that Love the Lord" last week. I noticed that hymn in there when the hymnal came out, but must confess I really didn't know what that old Lowry song was doing in a Lutheran hymnal. But the readings last week (3-year) made it an obvious pick. So I went for it! And I even surprised myself with how much I enjoyed this hymn. Would I want a steady diet of this musical style? No. But just as it's OK for us to break out the percussion for "Christ Has Arisen, Alleluia" or get meditative with a little Taizé music as the appointed Word suggests, so I think there is room for some old-fashioned Americana. One of my sopranos may have thought it was a little too much on the "Chitty-chitty Bang-bang" side of things, but the people really bought into once they realized we were serious. And with the texts from Psalm 95 and Hebrews 4 this past Sunday, I can't imagine more appropriate words for us to sing for an Entrance Hymn. Yes, I'll be bringing this one out again in three years - and a couple of times before then. ;)

A Hymn We Haven't Sung Yet, But Will - I really like LSB #339, "Lift Up Your Heads, You Everlasting Doors". It is not the most intuitive of melodies, so I've held off on using it - especially since the congregation I serve has so many Advent favorites. But this is the year we're going to do it. I'm confident it will be a "hit". Friends who have introduced it to their congregations give it a confident endorsement. Let's hope I'm not wrong about this one!

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Choir Director or Song Leader?

One of the many joys I have at Bethany is working with talented young musicians such as Susan Keller, our Associate Cantor, and Mike Vasilie, our day school music teacher and director of our parish brass. Mike is primarily a band director, and so he is grounded in instrumental conducting. Yet, as school music teacher, he now has two children's choirs and so is growing in choral conducting skills. A fundamental principle of choir directing we are working on is listening to the choir sing. This may seem like a "no-brainer", and is certainly "head knowledge" to most of us, but many church choir directors - especially children's choir directors - don't do as much listening to their choirs as they do singing with (and for?) them.

And yet if we really want our choristers to own their music, we can't be singing it for them. Sure, we do need to model phrases during rehearsal, especially to illustrate desired phrasing and articulation, and sometimes even the intonation of a tricky interval, but the choir that needs its leader to sing with them is at best "singing along" with their ears rather than singing with understanding from their hearts and minds.

Directors who listen to their choirs also do a better job as directors. They are free to encourage and evoke sound from the whole choir, instead of "leading" one part. And they are better able to fulfill their teaching role because they are able to give better feedback, evaluate challenges more accurately, and proceed with more productive rehearsals.

Musing about this made me think about our direction of the more important choir on Sunday morning: the congregation. Do we lead the congregation as choir directors or are we falling into the trap of being "song leaders"?

I posit that one doesn't necessarily have to be singing into a microphone to have the same suppressive effect on real singing by the congregation that sing-along choir directors have on their choristers. But certainly mics can hurt as much as they can help. And these two approaches can manifest themselves from the organ bench depending on how the organist makes the pipes "sing" for the congregation. Does the organist expect, encourage, and enable the people to find their voice? Or does the organist sing the hymns for the assembly, with the congregation along for the ride?

Certainly there is discretion here as we go about our craft. Sometimes the choir in the loft needs the director's voice on a key entrance or phrase - perhaps due to insufficient rehearsal time. And sometimes the choir in the nave, the congregation, needs an extra 2' or 4' stop and a simpler accompaniment to get that melody or a stronger, more detached pedal to get in sync with the pulse. But even as we allow ourselves the flexibility to do what is needed in every given situation, we must always remember that the musician leads best who listens most.

Are you listening to your choirs? Are you listening to your congregation? What you hear will tell you what you need to do!

p.s. PASTORS - are you listening to your congregations? Or do you speak their reponses for them? Do you turn your mic off for the Creed and the Lord's Prayer and say it WITH your people, or do you "lead" them through the liturgy like a praise team "leader"? You too should listen to your congregations. What you hear will tell you also what you need to teach your people.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Reasons to Sing!

This year I am blessed to work with a small choir of 18 junior high school students in our day school. They are a talented group of treble singers, who do a nice job of singing SSA repertoire - both accompanied and a cappella. They are the smaller of our two junior high choirs (the other has 22 voices singing 2-part mixed), yet forms the backbone of the group when we combine the two choirs to sing SAB/SAC repertoire. As an example of this group's talent, they are having little trouble taking on René Clausen's Psalm 100 - a piece usually sung by high school and college choirs.

The music is all fine and good, but I especially enjoy working with these kids because of their spiritual maturity. I've worked with hundreds of children their age over their years, but have yet to have a group that would come up with the following list for their "reasons to sing":

*To raise spirits.
*Sustain culture.
*Bring people together.
*Sustain them on their journey.
*Have an impact on their lives.

These are pretty good goals for any Lutheran church choir to have. The raising of spirits evokes the Sursum Corda of the liturgy: "Lift up your hearts!" As the choir assists the Office of the Holy Ministry, how wonderful it is for them to have the attitude of this holy exhortation.

Sustaining culture shows how much these kids love their church. They know that their church is something special, and that they have received an authentic tradition of worship in the music of our Lutheran family. Whether they are singing a chorale, Bach, Bouman, or a contemporary psalm setting from Liturgy Solutions, they are part of a living heritage - and love it.

"Bringing People Together" might be the goal of any choral organization, but in this context we are talking about something more than "building community". The Lutheran Church choir "builds communion" by magnifying God's Word. Through this Word we proclaim, the choir becomes a tool of the Holy Spirit, as He calls, gathers, and enlightens the Church, the "ecclesia", the "called out ones". This happened today as we sang "Listen! God is Calling", and proclaimed the Lord's forgiveness, comfort, and joy.

This Word we sing "sustains people on their journey" as the Word we sing stays with them throughout the week. The Psalm antiphons we sing often stay in people's minds and hearts, as often do words from hymn stanzas or motets or preludes we sing. Working with pastors who cherish the lectionary and coordinate themes with the cantor, the choir is often able to reinforce the preaching, that people may gladly hear and learn it.

And then there is the "impact" we have on people's lives. At first I chaffed at little at that one, because "impact" is a word often used by entertainment evangelists and can reflect a consumerist attitude on the part of the hearers. But we understand that we are delivering the real "impact" that God has for our lives: the forgiveness of sins in Christ Jesus. The Gospel makes all the difference in our lives, and so we rejoice that we can use the gift of music to proclaim that same Gospel, that those who hear our song may know the comfort, hope, and cheer Christ freely gives to us from the cross.

And so this is what happens when we sing of Jesus, the Christ, whose Word is our very song: the faithful are gathered, spirits are raised, our communion is nurtured, faith is increased, and lives are changed, all through the power of the Gospel.

No wonder we want to sing!

Saturday, September 12, 2009

ABLAZE (TM) is an Anomaly

I know what the ABLAZE (TM) movement is all about. I lived in the church growth movement for many years and am aware that ABLAZE (TM) is a pseudo-Lutheran manifestation of the very same synergistic impulses that the church growth movement bears. Essentially, the real definition is this: the Holy Spirit is hamstrung unless we do things right in our churches. If we’re not friendly enough to visitors, the Holy Spirit is hamstrung–– He can’t do His work. If our pastor is too theologically “deep” in his sermons, if he does not “meet people where they are,” the Holy Spirit is hamstrung. If the music is not relevant or entertaining enough even though the texts set forth the Word of the Gospel in clear and understandable language, the Holy Spirit is flummoxed. So, we are asked to be more relevant, interactive, casual, contemporary and all the rest. The poor Holy Spirit needs our help.

As repugnant as that is to me personally, I will say this. My church is actually an “ablaze” church! We hold the Divine Service every week. We baptized more than 6 young people last month. We are about to begin administering communion to kids that may be 7 or 8 years of age (or younger). The pastor offers private absolution. He provides catechesis for adults and children.

Additionally, we have picnics where the entire community is invited to attend. We’re holding an “Oktoberfest” next month. Local businesses are donating gift certificates for that event to benefit our parish. We have special Sundays with added music where the community is invited. The pastor is engaged with the town administration and other clergy. The parishioners serve the elderly in the apartment complex next door. We welcome visitors. We have a coffee hour where our visitors are welcome to attend. We participate in what is called an “Epiphany Walk” –– a community event where people stroll from one church to another over the course of an evening for little prayer services at each parish. When they come to ours, they hear Lutheran teaching and listen to Lutheran music. For all of these events, I would like to place an ABLAZE (TM) logo on the bulletin or announcement flyer, etc, and send it to my district office. What if I produced a Bach Cantata concert at my church? I could do that. Would this not be considered valid by the Synod as an ABLAZE (TM) initiative? Why should we not get funds to do that? After all, Bach sets forth the Gospel very clearly in all of his cantatas, right? And we would get attendance at such an event. I could slap an ABLAZE (TM) logo on the concert program and send that to the district office. And I could go on and on.

I have said all this and yet, my parish practices closed communion. We sing Divine Service 3 every week. We use LSB and sing substantive hymns from our Lutheran heritage. My pastor wears a chasuble every week. He chants the liturgy everywhere the rubrics suggest. He genuflects at the altar. He elevates the host and chalice. We’re also a small parish. We’re in New York State, where most people would have to look up the word Lutheran in the dictionary to find out what it means–– and they still would not really know.

Is there any valid reason why the LC–MS would consider us anything less than “ablaze” for the Gospel? Since when are all the things I listed not concerned with Gospel proclamation? Do they not serve our neighbor and ingratiate our community? Do we not welcome our visitors? Are we not ministering to our people and our little township? Of course we are! Are not your churches similar to mine? I know what ABLAZE (TM) is really about in the minds of the Synodical bureaucrats. I get that they have drunk the cool aid of the church growth movement. But honestly, if they were honest, our church (and probably yours also) is just as "ablaze" for the gospel as any one of their model churches–– I would argue, even more!

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

"Life * and then you die.......?"

A pastor I once worked for used the following statement to sum up (in his opinion) the nature of Paul Gerhardt’s hymn, “Why Should Cross and Trial Grieve Me?" His assessment was as follows: “This hymn basically says, 'life sucks*, then you die, but you get to go to heaven so it’s all OK.'” After my complete shock and utter disappointment that a Lutheran pastor could speak so superficially about this great hymn, I really got to thinking even more deeply about what this hymn means.

We’re studying the book of Job in Bible class at my parish. There’s a great deal of richness in that book, but I want to focus on one thing: God sends suffering. God uses suffering. The problem is that we want to know how and why he does it. Therefore, we offer excuses for God, telling the sufferer that everything will work out just fine and that God works all for good. In reality, though, we do not know how God will use that suffering, do we? The only thing we know is that he sends our trials, pain, and crosses. He does so for his own reasons to help up grow and trust in him. I think this to be a very valuable thing for all people to know. Hymns like, “Why Should Cross and Trial Grieve Me?” express this very notion. There’s a lot of richness in the hymn but spend a little time contemplating the second and third stanzas:

1. Why should cross and trial grieve me?
Christ is near
With his cheer;
They will not defeat me.
Who can rob me of the heaven
That God’s Son
For me won
When his life was given?

2. When life’s troubles rise to meet me,
Though their weight
May be great
They will not defeat me.
God, my loving shepherd sends them;
He who knows
All my woes
Knows how best to end them.

3. God gives me my days of gladness,
And I will
Trust Him still
When He sends me sadness.
God is good; His love attends me
Day by day,
Come what may,
Guides me and defends me.

4. From God’s joy can nothing sever,
For I am
His dear lamb,
He, my Shepherd ever.
I am his because He gave me
His own blood
For my good
By His death to save me.

5. Now in Christ, death cannot slay me,
Though it might,
Day and night,
Trouble and dismay me.
Christ has made my death a portal
From the strife
Of this life
To His joy immortal!

The pastor I mentioned earlier, at core, really has contempt for the theology of the cross and for his peoples’ need to understand it. This hymn would be forever banned from use at that parish because of its serious text (however comforting it may be) and because of its musical “remoteness,” even though it is no more remote that any other hymn in the hymnal.

I contend that our people need to sing hymns like this one. If they do not know any really strong theology of the cross hymns, this should be first on the list. How it will aid them in their lives, only God will know. But we are told to consider it joy when we encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of our faith produces endurance. Knowing this hymn will go a long way to helping us find that joy.

*Putting the best construction on things, we are confident that the pastor used this colloquialism in the athletic sense of "suck wind" (as in "easily winded/out of shape"), rather than something else.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Lutheran Identity in Worship

We hear a lot of criticism in our confessional Lutheran corners about contemporary worship trends–– and there is a lot to criticize! But I’d like to spend a moment talking about good old traditional Lutheran Worship practices and why, I, as a former evangelical protestant (essentially Baptist), ran away from those worship practices.
  • The Liturgy – The Liturgy speaks of Christ and gives us God’s own words that we might speak them back to Him. We learn the parlance of faith and the rhythm of our spiritual lives from the liturgy, i.e., remember our baptism, confess our sins, receive the gracious gifts of God in His absolution, His word and His holy supper. We repeat the words of the liturgy, without modifying them or making them more “relevant.” This is so that throughout our lives and the end of our days we will not forget them. We use ceremony, ritual and reverence in the Liturgy because our Lord comes to us in his veritable body and blood. This is not a figurative visitation. It’s not wishful thinking. It is real, bodily and spiritual at the same time. I wonder how many Christians, if they really understood this would find it necessary to alter their casual, cool, and cutting edge worship. Somehow reverence seems to be the natural response to “God with us.”
  • Hymns and music – Our hymns too, give us Christ and teach us about sin, grace, and the baptismal life. In Confessional Lutheranism, there are certain important doctrines that are not as readily focused upon in other denominations: the theology of the cross (as opposed to a theology of glory), original sin, a particularly Lutheran breed of Christology and a distinctively Lutheran sacramentology. We also have a very well honed understanding of justification and the role of works in the life of faith. These are doctrines that are found in every denomination but Lutherans have always understood them in very specific ways. Our hymns tend to reflect very well the historic, classical teaching of the faith. This is what Luther intended and it is what makes the Lutheran heritage unique amongst Christian expressions.
When I finally came to Lutheranism, I learned quickly that Lutherans read scripture differently than evangelical protestants. It took a little more time to understand the nuances of that and I am still learning. But I do know this: Our hymns express our heritage and reflect what the confessions teach. Using hymnody from other protestant sources, e.g. Watts, Wesley. etc. is fine, but we must recognize that these poets did not write with the same sacramental and Christological orientation of Luther, Gerhardt, Starke and a host of other Lutheran poets. Some of our Lutherans are interested in singing favorite old standards that come squarely from the protestant hymn repertoire. Fine, but if that diet is too heavy, we will miss the distinctively Lutheran sacramental, confessional, and Christological identity so richly present throughout the Lutheran hymn corpus.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Worship the "Waffle House Way"

This morning I had breakfast at Waffle House. I hadn't been there in a few years, due to a couple of bad experiences, but one of their restaurants was right across the street from our hotel, and the parking lot was full of local plates, so my son & I took a chance and went in. We had a great breakfast, in a clean restaurant full of friendly workers. It brought back fond memories of my youth, when I used to cook at a Waffle House and learned the importance of doing things "The Waffle House Way".

Those who currently run the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod could benefit from considering the benefits of "The Waffle House Way". They should be open to this, acutally, because they are much enamored of the "church growth movement" and tend to appreciate corporate lingo. They may not be so crass as to speak of "market share", but the overall emphasis on "growing the church" using marketing, mission, and "outreach" techniques means synod & district officials and reports usually have much more talk about marketing strategies than, say, justification or the sacraments.

So let's take a look at what the brand "LCMS" means to folks as if LCMS were in the restaurant business. Working with the "church growth" analogies like this can actually be quite instructive.

First, what LCMS is doing now obscures what the "brand" LCMS means. The Ablaze! initiative, with its focus on adding new "products" such as new worship formats, new worship soundtracks, house churches/small groups, thrift shops, day care centers, and "intentional conversation teams", has resulted in a church body that trumpets not what it is supposedly about - Christ crucified for the forgiveness of sins - but rather extols new "add-ons". This would be fine up to a point if there were consistency and if everything flowed from the Divine Serivce (for example, for decades we were known for having an excellent parochial school system, centered on the teaching of Christian doctrine). But the emphasis on various local congregational "ministries" rather than the Lord's Ministry makes it hard for the LCMS to maintain a cohesive identity. And, few people go to a restaurant for the side dishes on any regular basis. (I'm reminded of the old Wendy's ads from the 80's, which asked, "Where's the beef?")

And the problem is even worse than that. For the situation today is not that everyone is selling, say, waffles, but then adding additional but varying "sides" to their menus - which does make sense when the "sides" vary according to regional taste. No, what we have are some churches serving chicken while others serve fish and others serve beef. Our congregations have become like chocolates in Forrest Gump's box: "You never know which one you are going to get!"

Now I can hear the mission execs saying: "But, Cantor, these things are all adiaphora! What's important is the Gospel, and all this is about the Gospel!" Well, leaving aside for a moment the argument that much of what is being promoted is not about the Gospel, let's just assume that it is and again look at this from Waffle House's perspective. If a bunch of WH's were selling fish and another bunch were selling chickens it wouldn't matter if some were still selling waffles. There is absolutely NO WAY the company would say "But, people, these things don't matter. What's important is the protein. All of our restaurants are in the nutrition business and they all sell protein - just different kinds."

Some of the adiaphora that divides us is indeed adiaphora, and so cannot really be condemned. But are we really about promoting our church when we allow such diversity? Wouldn't it be better for people to know what to expect when they see the letters LCMS on a church sign? Certainly the Lutheran fathers and the founders of the LCMS thought so. Luther argued for regional uniformity (so presumably different 'side dishes' in one region verses another were fine); the LCMS constitution prescribes that all congregations adopt "exclusive use" of orthodox liturgies, hymnals, and agendae. Walther wrote about how the hymnal was "a flag by which an orthodox congregation is recognized."

Those who attended our grandfathers' church didn't have Waffle Houses to go to after the Divine Service. But they had the common horse sense to know the importance of a Waffle House doing things "The Waffle House Way". May we again have bishops and overseers in the church who appreciate who we really are and who we are supposed to be. And may we return promoting our congregations accordingly.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

We've Got Issues!

We just wanted to let you know that Cantor Magness is on Issues, Etc. this week. Todd Wilken will be interviewing Phillip on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday at 3:30pm to continue their conversation about worship. Not a good time for you? No problem: just go to the site and download the podcasts.

Cantor Magness promises that he will not be referring to himself in the third person on the program.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Sing the Faith Indeed!

Last year, CPH published a set of songs I composed for singing Luther's small catechism. The collection is titled, appropriately, Sing the Faith, and it is available as a songbook and also as a CD. The reason I like the title of this collection of songs so much is because it points to how the songs sing about the objective faith by which we are saved, known by theologians as the "fides quae", as opposed to the experiential songs that subjectively express personal experiences of saving faith, otherwise known as the "fides qua". For further edification on this difference, Pastor Klemet Preus recently wrote an excellent article over at the "Johnny Steadfast" website (Brothers of John the Steadfast) discussing the distinction between fides quae and fides qua.

These terms have many implications beyond worship. But like most everything doctrinal, the distinctives of 'fides quae' and 'fides qua' have enormous implications on the Divine Service. I believe these distinctions take us to the heart of the "worship wars" in our churches.

Over the years, as I have worked with amateur musicians who want to "do" contemporary worship and talked with parishioners who thirst for "real contemporary worship" (as opposed to a modern-sounding Divine Service with orthodox hymnody, led by piano, keyboards, guitars, & woodwinds), I have noted consistently that they are all about expressing the fides qua and think music is basically for that purpose alone. I've concluded that at its core, expressing one's "fides qua" is what the 'praise movement' is all about. This is why the texts of almost all the songs in the 'contemporary worship' repertoire lean in direction of expressing one's faith experience and/or the individual's personal devotion to God. By contrast, the great chorales and most of the appointed liturgical texts from Scripture sing the fides quae.

In plainer English, pop praise sings about saving faith, while traditional Lutheran music sings of the faith by which we are saved. This is why there is conflict even when traditioanl music is done creatively and well with the most modern instrumentations, rhythms, and harmonies. You see, the sturdy, objective character of our music just doesn't "move" those who just want to sing about "the faith within their heart". They want to sing about the faith they have (fides qua), not the faith by which we are saved (fides quae). And those musics have differing characteristsics no matter what genre in which they are composed.

Now certainly there is room for fides qua expressions in hymnody. I happen to think that a certain amount of it is essential. Great hymn writers like Gerhardt do a great job of incorporating the subjective experience alongside the objective truth extolled and confessed in our hymnody. Faith moves us to sing and it is salutary to extol one's heartfelt adoration of our Lord. But the music of fides qua alone can't sing faith into other people's hearts, because it doesn't "sing the story of God's love and proclaim His faithfulness." (Ps. 89:1) So its use for corporate worship is especially limited because it doesn't allow us to "address one another" and build each other up as Eph 5:19 and Col 3:16 instruct us to do with our music.

I have found it helpful in the Lord's ministry to encourage people to use THE as much as possible instead of MY when they talk about expressing faith. Sure, it's not wrong to sing a simple song of praise. There's certainly room for Psalm 150 expressions in the church. But we have a whole psalter of faith to sing about, and the riches of God's grace far surpass our own personal experiences of it, however inspiring they may be at times.

Ironically, those who promote the fides qua repertoire of contemporary worship often claim that such music is necessary in the Divine Service for the sake of "outreach". Yet there is often very little that is overtly Christian in these subjective songs of praise. So how can it truly be evangelical? Listening to someone sing about their great love for God can certainly make an impression, but, at the end of the day, the impression is going to be about the singer. The truly evangelical music is the song that sings not of the singer's faith, but rather the music that sings THE faith. Only through fides quae proclamation can music magnify the Word and thereby sing faith into people's hearts.

So how much fides quae is in your congregation's song? Let us all - pastors and laymen; teachers, musicians, and poets; members of Voters' Assemblies, worship committees, and Ministry Councils - do what we can to encourage one another to sing THE faith.

Monday, July 13, 2009


Yesterday a middle-aged couple came up to me after the Divine Service to compliment me on the music at Bethany. One of our choir members, Elise B. Calhoon, had sung parts of the liturgy and provided some of the attendant music, and so I was expecting to discuss her beautiful singing. However, the wife instead focused on the hymnody. They reported that they were not Lutheran, and had come for the baptism held at the service. They had visited several other Lutheran churches with their relatives in the past but had never liked the music. But she thought the hymns we sang were great!

What did we sing? "O Holy Spirit, Enter In" (Entrance Hymn), "If Christ Himself Be For Me" (all 10 stanzas, Hymn of the Day); "Have No Fear, Little Flock" (Hymn before the Rite of Holy Baptism); "I Know My Faith Is Founded" (Offertory Hymn); "Saints, See the Cloud of Witnesses" (just the last two stanzas as a closing hymn).

Let's see: 3 chorales, and 2 modern hymns that are probably unique to Lutheran hymnals. Folks, our hymnody isn't a problem. It's a blessisng! People can sing our hymnody - provided, like any hymnody, that it be ably led. And there are no better texts to be found!

Saturday, July 11, 2009

What to Expect from Liturgy Solutions

Phillip Magness and I are working hard on the Liturgy Solutions web site, which has been restored after a disastrous loss of data from our former host company's server. We are open for business, but realize that several user friendly features are not yet available. They will be soon.

So the first thing you can expect, likely by the end of this month, is a new feature that enables you to view the first pages of our musical products. You will be able to go to any product page where it says: "product details." On those pages you will be able to click the musical image after which a PDF file of the first page of the piece will emerge on your computer. This will allow you to see the beginning of any piece you may be considering for purchase. We are working on the nuts and bolts of that feature this month and hope to have it operating before the end of July.

The other thing you can expect throughout the summer are more products in the catalog and more musical resources such as concertatos, instrumental accompaniments, anthems, motets, service music, psalm anthems and other similar works. I believe that Phillip will make available his setting of the liturgy as well. We hope that these additions will make Liturgy Solutions a place you will visit often to seek music that enhances the Lord's song in your parishes.

Please keep us in mind, visit us often, and let us know how we can better assist you as you guide the worship of your parishes through music.

Sunday, June 14, 2009


This past Friday my wife and I had the pleasure of attending the wedding of Erica Grass and Rev. Stephen Rosebrock at St. John's Lutheran Church in Wheaton, IL. It was a beautiful wedding, and a fine example of how a wedding can truly be a Christ-centered, cross-focused service of worship. Of course, given who got married and where, I'm sure none of our regular readers are surprised to read this!

But in the performance of the liturgy itself there was a fine example of liturgy-as-pastoral-care I would like to share. We were blessed with the Lord's Supper at this particular wedding, and so I had a chance to experience how one of the the local pastors, Rev. Joshua Genig, presides over the Eucharist. His pacing was exquisite: unhurried but never stodgy, with clear diction and reverent tone. It was literally a musical experience to hear him offer the Eucharistic Prayer (a.k.a. "Prayer of Thanksgiving"). Then, after the Lord's Prayer, he chanted the Words of Institution beautifully, pausing to reverence each kind and then holding up the host and the chalice to present our Lord's body and blood to the congregation as he shared the Peace.

In so many Lutheran parishes - even confessional ones! - pastors hurry through the communion liturgy. Perhaps they are worried about time. Perhaps the familiarity of it makes them less careful. Or perhaps they just think it is long. And yet what message do pastors send when they preside in a hurried way? Is it really worth the extra 30-40 seconds they might pick up by taking a faster 'clip' through this part of the service? I think not.

And, ironically, people are more likely to feel like things are going long when the pastor speeds up - whether in the Prayer of the Church or in the communion liturgy. When pastors act like they are running out of time, the assembly gets the message and grows impatient. Far better to keep cool, and keep focused on what is really going on.

May all pastors savor the moment and allow the church's liturgy to serve the people well. And thank you, Pastor Genig, for letting the living voice of the Gospel in the liturgy have its way with us.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Isn't It Great When They Sing?

A different "they" this time. This time I'm thinking about the people in our parishes who don't get very involved and may not even come every Sunday. If we the British Parliament, we'd call them "the back benchers". Generally they don't sing much.

But I must say one of the things that give me the greatest satisfaction as a Cantor is when I see and hear these folks singing the liturgy and the hymns. I just love it! Every parish has her singers, but a parish that has lots of 'ordinary folk' singing the Lord's song is one that cherishes music as integral to our life together in the Gospel. Sure, a percentage of stereotypical 'back benchers' would do so without a cantor's service in the Lord's ministry, but the percentage has gotten higher at Bethany and, observing many of these same folks over the years, I can see how the Lord has used the cantoral office to help the Word dwell richly in many people who'd never even think of joining a choir.

Do you know what I'm talking about? Here are a few examples:

1 - The 8th grade boy who'd been coming more often to church with his family because he was headed to confirmation. Hymnal was open for every hymn, including the communion hymns. He was sitting up straight and singing right along on all the stanzas.

2 - Pastor noting several times this year how much he enjoys the acolyte's singing. That's right: most of our acolytes sing out, even though they are not seated next to parishioners who might give them "the security of numbers". Last Sunday he mentioned how much he enjoyed a couple of them singing harmony with him.

3 - Visiting Pacific Hills in Omaha many years ago (1994) and hearing a visibly blue collar mother & two teenage daughters sing the liturgy robustly behind me with untrained, yet sincere voices. They clearly had a Lutheran piety. My chat with them afterwards confirmed that they considered themselves in no way to be candidates for any involvement in church choir or anything. They just sing the Lord's song because of the faith the Lord has given them. (Ably nurtured in this by the organist there at the time, Charles Ore).

Yes, faith sings. Isn't it great to hear it?!

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

The Bulletins They Drop Off

For our friends who are cantors and pastors, I'm sure you find in your office mailbox periodically a 'gift' that I receive every few weeks myself: the bulletin from another church. Now, sometimes it is dropped off by people who know your intellectual interest in worship planning. And, as Bethany has become more confessional that is pretty much what I get these days. But often in my first years here and during my years in Peoria, you'd get the "bulletin with an agenda": the bulletin intended to show you about that 'perfectly good LCMS church' that does things in a way that is "so much more" (insert word of choice here). And, cantor, you are such a fine musician so can't you see how we could be doing these (insert word) things here at our church if we didn't insist on doing the same things week after week?!

I won't go into the details on the latest one, from a large LCMS church in the Minneapolis area. Suffice to say it is the same old thing the Ablaze! synod-within-synod gets week after week: confessions of sin that focus on one little sin that may or may not apply to everyone; absolutions that include penance (now go and do...); lay readers reading the Gospel; one or two readings; 75% CCLI music; Choir singing Gaither music; "Children's Ministry Video Montage", little communion liturgy; a 'worshippers exchange greetings' rather than the sharing of the Peace.
And no such homespun liturgy would be complete without a clunky innovation meant to show how 'relevant' they are in their creativity: the second Gospel acclamation was changed to "Praise to You, O resurrected Christ!" (Just to make sure people are paying attention, I guess. Had to make sure they knew it was still Eastertide. How special!)

At least this service preserved the four-fold shape of Preperation, Word, Sacrament, Blessing. And they actually said the Apostles' Creed (no time for the Nicene, evidently) instead of some newfangled "Affirmation of Faith". And the service conluded with an Aaronic Benediction. So, in the world of LCMS Ablaze!, these are the liturgical conservatives.

The LCMS is in desperate need of ecclesiastical supervision.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

A Birthday Ambush

Hello, Fine Tuning readers! This post comes to you not from Phillip or Stephen, but from Phillip's wife Cheryl. I am boldly co-opting my husband's blog in order to wish him a very happy birthday! I invite you to offer him your best birthday wishes as well, either here or at my blog, where if you do visit you will be rewarded with a pictorial look at Phillip through the ages.

To my dear husband: SURPRISE! And happy birthday! (I love you.)

Saturday, May 30, 2009

More About Youth

I have had the pleasure of engaging children in music making many times over my years as a church musician (and I still do as a music teacher). When there is time and ability to teach them, they can learn just about anything and sing it with a good deal of success. Kids do not identify music as "difficult" unless you or their parents tell them it is. Despite the many success stories about the high level singing of children, parents still have a hankering to hear their kids sing their favorite praise and worship choruses or songs that are known as "typical" kids songs. I won't start to name titles, but there's a lot of nauseating music out there written "just for children."

A pastor friend lamented the fact that, after successful efforts to engage his youth in learning the hymn, "All Mankind Fell in Adam's Fall," a parent came out with this line: "They're only children. Can't they just sing 'Jesus Loves Me?'" I have observed that often the thing that comes between children getting good exposure to the catechetical hymnody of our Lutheran heritage are their parents and Sunday school teachers. It does not matter that the kids were having no trouble with "All Mankind Fell...". It does not matter that the pastor has proven the kids to have been be successful singing substantive music on several occasions previously. The parents cannot seem to wrap their mind around the salutary effects of this.

Folks, this is just wrong. Kids have NO TROUBLE learning music that adults may find daunting. The scholarly evidence is abundant and well documented, as is the anecdotal evidence. The resultant success of teaching young children substantive hymns is everywhere if one bothers to look. I can tell you stories as can many pastors and church musicians. Many have written eloquently on the subject. You find this phenomenon occurs across denominational barriers. You find it as a foregone conclusion in secular music education as well. Yet, despite the overwhelming testimony and even when successes occur in the parish, parents and teachers often resist this activity. There are many reasons for this and they are not pretty. One may be that the Sunday school teacher or the parent is not familiar with the music the pastor wants the kids to learn, so they are intimidated to teach it. Another may be that they do not like the song, so their personal preference stands in the way of the kids’ catechesis. Or, they are far more interested in seeing little Barbie or Billy up there in front of the congregation, so entertainment becomes the objective. Or they just want to "celebrate," or "recognize" the children in the service. There is much more to say, but, maybe another time.

Parents and Sunday school teachers need to quit imposing their pet tastes on the children entrusted to them. Let pastors and church musicians catechize these young people using, among other things, the music and texts of our rich Lutheran hymn heritage as it was always intended. Our young people these days are going to have many distractions that would threaten to get in the way of their catechesis. Parents, teachers, don't you be one of them!

Saturday, May 16, 2009

The Liturgy Solutions Setback

As many of you already know, Liturgy Solutions has suffered a setback that was totally unpredictable. There has been a message on our home page in an attempt to bring our clients up to speed about what our future plans are. Our database on the server that was our host was lost by the host company. There have been no back up files made available to us. We are now on a new host company, our site having been transferred there by our web master. We are poised to load up all our product files on the new database. We were happy to discover that the product files themselves were not lost, but rather the database that organized them. This will save us some time as we get our site up and running again. Without explaining every detail, it would have been worse if we had to rebuild the site from files in our respective computers. The fact that they could be transferred to a new server assists us, perhaps only a little, but we'll take what we can get.

Now it is up to Phillip and me to get things going again. We may get this done quickly, but with our respective schedules it may take us a little time. Either way, we hope all our clients will be patient with us and be assured of our commitment to providing you with all the fine music we have brought you these past few years and much new in the years to come! Thank you all for your support of Liturgy Solutions!

Monday, May 11, 2009

Speaking of Youth

By the way, that last Sunday I blogged about (with much music provided for the congregation by our youth ensemble) resulted in an interesting report from a parent.

It seems her 8th-grade boy came into church and noticed the three microphones, the guitar, the monitor, and the small amp for the bass guitar, and got his mother's attention. Now before I tell you what he said, let me share with you that this young man is one whom our ecclesiastical advisers at the synod and district offices would tell us to LISTEN TO: he's public school, Hispanic, dresses in a hip but not outlandish way, is not super-involved in the youth group, and carries himself in a cool, detached way.

But his response was not what the Baby Boomers who run Ablaze! (the LCMS church growth initiative) expect. He looked at the guitars, the kids, and the mics, turned to his mother and said: "We're not going to become like Uncle Ben's church, are we?!"

Frankly, I'm not surprised. The research on youth & worship music confirms this: young people understand the difference between what is appropriate for different occasions, and don't expect every part of their life to have the same soundtrack. Just like the rest of us wear different clothing and eat different foods at different occasions, so do young people understand that the Divine Service is not a place for entertainment, but a place for reverence.

Once we had the service, mom reported that her son was no longer concerned. Church was still church. Our piety didn't change. As I wrote in my last post, Bethany doesn't become a different congregation just becasue our youth sing or because a guitar gets plugged in.

And yet the LCMS as an institution doesn't understand this. They think that somehow we have to change our piety if we're going to 'reach people for Christ'. Why don't they understnad that there is nothing in our piety that works against evangelism or missions or nurturing the faith in the next generation?

Frankly, I think the real obstacle here are pastors, parents, and teachers who don't embrace who we are. Anyone who works with kids knows that if you are positive and sincere in your joy about something, the students will buy into it.

No, the problem isn't the kids. The problem is church leaders. They either are deceived into thinking that somehow Lutheranism is incompatible with youth - or maybe some of them just don't believe in it themselves.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009


Many parishes periodically have something called a "youth service." In my last parish, in the 90s, one of my staff responsibilities was to work with the DCE (Director of Christian Education) to prepare a "youth service" once a quarter. This meant that praise songs and other 'contemporary' music was expected to be sung, that youth would read the lessons and take other, 'creative' roles in the liturgy, and, above all, that the sermon would be replaced by a dramatic presentation from the youth. Over time, I was able to make the "youth service" more like our normal Divine Services, and we did do them less often before I left, but, in the end, the congregation's idea that there needed to be a "youth service" remained - as well as the idea that the youth needed to do "youth things" at such services.

On Easter 3 this year, some might say we had a "youth service" at Bethany, because of all the teenagers who were involved. But it wasn't anything like the youth services promoted by Synod, Inc. Instead, it just happened to be a service where the musicians of the day were a youth ensemble, and a couple of the ushers on the assigned usher team were high school students as well (not to mention our acolytes). There was no need for a cutesy morality play or entertaining skit, nor was there some sort of ersatz confession & "forgiveness" led by the kids before worship. The pastors played their roles like they always do, and they just happened to be assisted in the Lord's ministry by a whole bunch of young people doing the things that lay volunteers do in the service.

And the musicians in this group were not "the youth group", but were simply a group of youth who already participate in the music program at Bethany, and are drawn together every other month or so to make music by themselves - just as I draw other groups of musicians out of the regular groups to form special ensembles. Of the 8 kids who sing in the group, 6 sing in one of our choirs; of the 5 instrumentalists, 3 play with another liturgical ensemble and 3 ring in the handbell choir. And so we had 9 youth sing and play in various combinations, accompanied at different times by various instruments: clarinet, flute, bass, guitar, piano, synth, and organ.*

But our congregation's piety and customs did not change due to their involvement. So it wasn't a "youth service", just lots of youth serving. And this is how it should be. We don't need to change the church in order to involve young people, we just need to make room for them and make use of their talents just like we do with the talents of our adults. This approach may be less "fun and exciting" as doing something "special with the kids" might seem. But the youth enjoy this more, because this approach treats them as the mature adults they aspire to be.

The more we give both children and youth things they can grow into, rather than grow out of, the more connected they will remain to the Church. And the experiences they have as students will shape their piety for the rest of their lives. Why not make them liturgically Lutheran?

*My custom with these groups is to keep about 1/2 to 2/3rds of the music played by the organist of the day. This particular Sunday the youth ensemble played the Canticle of Praise, sang the psalm antiphon and led the chanting of the Psalm of the Day, sang the Verse of the Day, presented an anthem as the offerings were received, played one of the communion hymns, and led the singing of another Canticle at the end of the Lord's Supper. For those interested, here's the breakdown:

Canticle of Praise: "Now the Feast and Celebration", Marty Haugen; congregation sang refrain, three singers sang the verses and sang a descant on the refrian. Accompaniment was guitar, bass, flute, clarinet, synth, and piano.

Psalm: Psalm 4 from Liturgy Solutions. SATB a capella antiphon used as a refrain. Kids sang the antiphon first, but then the congregation sang it between certain verses.

Verse: Verse for Easter 3 C from Litury solutions. Accompanied by organ. Congregation has the alleluias (VICTORY), and the Verse for the Sundays of Eastertide (Romans 6:9); choir then sang the proper Verse for Easter 3.

Voluntary: I arranged Stuart Townsend's "How Deep the Father's Love for Us" for 3 voices, flute, clarinet, bass, synth, and guitar.

Communion Hymn: The congregation sang "Stay with Us" accompanied by the ensemble playing out of the LSB Guitar edition, with clarinet & flute playing melody at first, and then descants I composed for the occasion.

Closing Canticle: Instead of "Thank the Lord" at the end of the Lord's Supper, the youth ensemble led the congregation in singing David Haas' "We Have Been Told".

So how do you involve the youth of your parish in leading the Lord's song? Feel free to share your comments

Saturday, April 25, 2009


The Hymn of the Day this weekend is not one that necessarily jumps off parishioners' lips when asked about their favorite Eastertide hymnody, yet it is one through which I can illustrate how well good hymns serve the Church. Though the rhythm can be a bit tricky for singers new to the tune, and though this is a hymn many congregations only sing once a year (like "On Jordan's Bank"), this song has endeared itself to many. Let me share two examples of this:

When I was a young Cantor at Trinity-Peoria, my children's choir was scheduled to sing the Third Sunday of Easter, so I proceeded to teach them the Hymn of the Day, so that they would prepare their own stanza for the Divine Service. Not "knowing" what the typical self-appointed expert "knows" about children & song (i.e. the non-singing parents and FedEd-influenced teachers who think that kids just need camp songs and pop ditties so that they can 'have fun' and 'build community'), I had the choristers singing this hymn quite boisterously in short order, and soon their beautiful headtone was projecting nicely across the sanctuary. When Sunday came, I remember a young boy named Jonathan who was so excited about this hymn that he literally was bouncing around when he sang the third line of the second stanza: "'And yours shall be like victory O'er death and grave,' said He, who gave His life for us, life renewing."

Later in the Lord's ministry at that parish, I wrote a trumpet & trombone duet on the tune (MIT FREUDEN ZART) for a couple of high school kids who then were after me the next three years asking if we could sing the hymn more often so they could play it again. The point: kids like what they know, and if they are taught good stuff, they will like good stuff. Of course, to successfully teach them good stuff the teacher also has to know and like good stuff, but that is a topic for another day. But kids do not come into the choir loft or the classroom with a repertoire of schlock. They are blank slates. It is up to us to instill in them a love for the best the church has to offer.

My other story regards a gentleman who travelled on business to Germany and attended a congregation of our sister synod there, the SELK. He doesn't speak much German, but reported that he really enjoyed going to church over there because he could follow the liturgy. That point has been made many times: that a common liturgy unites Christians and allows them to worship together despite Babel. But an additional layer of Lutheran catholicity was enjoyed by my friend because he just happened to be in Germany for the Third Sunday of Easter and the parish he attended that Sunday sang Mit Freuden Zart! So he was able not only to say the Creed and the Lord's Prayer in English while the congregants spoke in German, and understand the sung parts of the liturgy such as the Gloria, Sanctus, and Agnus Dei, he was also able to sing "With High Delight" along with the congregation. (Granted, he admitted that he didn't know all the words of this hymn, but he knew a few and could hum the tune and keep in his mind the meaning of the words being sung.) And so my friend Ken was connected more deeply with his fellow Lutheran Christians in a far away land by virtue not only of our common liturgy, but also of our common hymnody.

Joy in the hearts of children and youth. A common bond between Lutherans who speak different languages. A song that passes from generation to generation and spans across the seas, manifesting the unity we have in the Lord, and sharing the joy of His resurrection. I hope you enjoy this wonderful hymn this Lord's Day. Let us be glad that we have songs like this to teach our children, and to share with the holy Church throughout all the world.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009


With apologies to my Wisconsin Synod friends who are expecting me to resume my series on the Three-Year Worship Plan this week, I'm going to hold off a couple more days on my next installment in order to bring to the readers' attention some important information for all members of LCMS congregations. We at Liturgy Solutions do intend on keeping this a site for discussing church music, but trust our readers will appreciate the import of the following news.

Are you all aware of something called the Blue Ribbon Task Force in the LCMS? I wasn't - until recently. I admit I have a lot more to learn about this, but let me suggest that you do too if you are a member of a congregation of the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod. Otherwise, you may be surprised next year when the name of our church body gets changed or your congregation starts getting less representation than the megachurch across town.

Basically, the task force is something put together by the Kieschnick administration in order to reform our synod's governing structure. There are pros and cons to this approach to reform. On the one hand, I can certainly see where some reforms might be needed, and the use of commission or task force recommendations is a common political tool for getting difficult things done. Indeed, I remember the US Congress using this approach to close obsolete military bases in this country. They couldn't shut them down one-at-a-time because of the power of local congressmen. But, realizing they all needed to bite the bullet, they set up a commission and then had an up-or-down vote on the commission's recommendations, so that each congressman had some "cover" when they voted to shut the bases down.

However, the same approach also leads to things like earmarks, "poison pills", and other problems. Sometimes I think most of the bad that comes out of Washington comes to us via things tucked into those omnibus bills they give names to like "The Love Your Mother, Fight the Terrorists, Feed the Hungry, and Protect the Puppies Act of 2007". So, while I appreciate that things like special commissions for omnibus bills or task force recommendations can be good and useful, I also see that these tools can be used to bring about things those in government want that the people don't want.

So these task forces or commissions can be good or bad. The real question, then, is what are they proposing? So we can all see for ourselves what this Blue Ribbon Task Force is proposing to our district conventions, and have an opportunity to let our own voices be heard, our own Stephen Johnson has joined with some fellow laymen to make the Task Force's survey available to the church-at-large. They will forward the results to the Blue Ribbon Task Force on Synod Structure and Governance, who to their credit have been promoting "broad-based input" in an effort to reach "consensus". I suspect they will be thankful to our friends for helping them do their job, as it seems to me that they should have been doing polling like this months ago on this if they really want people to accept sweeping changes in our church body in little over a year.

So I encourage all members of LCMS congregations to click here and take the survey. It is presented in the same form as given to the delegates at our district conventions, with all of the Task Force's reasons and rationales for their proposals. For balance, additional commentary gleaned from various pastoral sources on the internet is also provided. It is clearly printed in blue type so as not to be confused with the Task Force text.

Personally, I think some of the proposals are good, some not so good, and some pretty bad. So I hope they get voted on separately, and that only those that earn solid majorities are enacted. There is enough division in our church over serious issues ("wine, women, and song"). The last thing we need to do is throw fuel to the fire and add ecclesiastical changes that would be unnecessarily divisive.