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

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.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Easter On the Road

No, this isn't a post about Emmaus, but many brothers and sisters do find themselves on the road over the Easter holiday, and so our friends over at Johnny Steadfast decided to run one of my travelogues from the BJS Quarterly's "Not Your Grandfathers' Church" series.

Here's an excerpt:

Most of us worship in our own congregations or in the congregations of family members who attend churches similar to ours. It is easy therefore to dismiss concerns about others’ worship practices as conservative over-reaction to a guitar or an unfamiliar setting of the liturgy. Certainly some confessional Lutherans are repristinators at heart, and so their complaints aren’t taken very seriously by average churchgoers who simply don’t share their passion for the culture of 1950’s Wisconsin or 1580’s Wittenberg. But these articles are written so that you may know indeed that today’s LCMS is not your grandfathers’ church, and that it is going to take the work of some truly courageous leaders to restore unity to our communion. Whether these things are going on in your church or not, you, the laymen of the evangelical Lutheran Church, can provide the leadership we need. “Ecclesiastical Supervision” is everyone’s responsibility! We need change from above and from below–and lay leadership is key.

Certainly nobody can put a stop to a congregation doing whatever it wants to do. But we can appeal to their consciences to return to the fold. And, if they refuse, we can and should stop them from hanging the LCMS sign outside their door. We did not create this conflict, but our decision as to whether we will confront it or avoid it will determine whether or not this synod prevails. Think about it: how long would Subway last if they allowed hundreds of their stores to stop selling sandwiches and offered only pastries instead?

The report was about I service I attended while on sabbatical last year doing research for the book I am working on. But it was a service like that attended by many of us who happened to be on the road visiting family this past weekend. It included a heterodox "affirmation of faith" in place of a historic Creed, open communion with "altar call style" invitation for non-members to join in at the Lord's Table, and a liturgical emphasis on sanctification apart from justification. Some of us even suffer through such things in our home congregations!

What do you encounter when you come across "blended" worship? Are some of these practices finding their way into your home congregation? What do you think about all this?

Friday, April 10, 2009


Liturgy Solutions wishes all of our friends a blessed Holy Week. As we are now into the "Great Three Days", we pray that all your work in service of the Lord's ministry will be blessed by the Spirit, and used by Him to enlighten the hearts of all who worship with you. May the blessings that flow from the cross be with you and all whom you serve.

Cantor Magness plans on resuming his series on the Bethany Three-Year Plan next week. We apologize that the blog has lapsed these past few months. Cantor's father became seriously ill in January, and then passed into eternity a few minutes before Ash Wednesday. His mother and mother-in-law have also been hospitalized over the past few weeks. Cantor's family lives in Texas, and so time has been spent travelling as well. By God's grace, both mothers are now at home and are improving in health. With Cantor getting caught up on his primary vocational duties at Bethany, Liturgy Solutions will more actively offer not only discussion via this blog, but also new resources on - and further improvements to - the website.

We are especially pleased to offer a wide variety of settings for the Verses for Eastertide, including a new set of pieces by Jeffrey Blersch, which you can purchase individually or as a collection. We invite you to check these out as we renew our baptismal journey with Jesus from death to life as we celebrate His death and resurrection.

He has done this all for us. And for this we say, "Good Friday."