I was walking through my congregation's annual rummage sale about ten years ago when I glanced down at a pile of books and saw a brown cover that caught my eye. The title of that book was Hymnal Supplement 1991. I knew of Hymnal Supplement '98, but I had never heard of this 1991 version. I flipped open the cover and saw that it was published by GIA.
And then the light bulb clicked on in my head. For the first time it dawned on me that because there were other Lutheran synods in the United States, it was likely that there were other Lutheran hymnals as well. I already knew about the divergence between Lutheran Worship and Lutheran Book of Worship. Now I had discovered a difference between supplement volumes as well. Just how broad and deep would this rabbit hole go?
I spent the next seven years wildly collecting hymnals. I scoured eBay, Alibris, and Abebooks (the latter two being internet-based used book markets). I purchased regular hymnals, Sunday school hymnals, agendas, altar books, and just about anything with the word "Lutheran" in the title. I spent way more money than I ever intended, but ultimately assembled what I consider to be a very impressive collection of Lutheran hymnals printed in English, to which I am still adding to this day, but without the same unbridled fervor.
But then I started reading these books, especially the hymn texts. I analyzed them as I had never done so before. I used to just blindly sing hymns in church, getting to know familiar and popular texts without ever really stopping to consider what I was singing. But by really paying attention to the words my eyes were opened to a whole new level of understanding.
And then I started writing about what I was learning and discovering. I formerly had two different blogs, having maintained them between 2005 and the beginning of 2010, with the greater amount of that time (2006-2010) under the title, "Holy Holy Hymnody." The "mission statement," so to speak, for that blog was: "Music has always held a position of great importance within the Evangelical Lutheran Church. However, the future of historic hymnody is threatened, partly due to a severe lack of understanding of hymn texts and the role of hymns within the Divine Service. This blog exists to promote educating both clergy and laity in this rich treasury which belongs to all of God's people." Through writing I was able to engage others in discussion about these texts. I was able to glean greater insight into the theology of song. I was able to share this rich treasure with others. I shut that blog down in 2010, which wound up being a very strenuous year for my family.
Now that I am settled into parish and family life, it is time to take up that cause yet again. There is much to be said about hymnody, and there is a vast array of hymns to be discussed. What is good? What is bad? What is ugly? What has been forgotten over the course of time, just waiting to be rediscovered? It is my goal to answer those questions and more, with perhaps a few liturgical observations thrown in to boot.
Associate Editor's Note: With this posting, we introduce another writer to the category "Steadfast in Worship". Pastor Josh Osbun will be doing some looking into hymnals and liturgy for us here at BJS. We welcome him aboard and look forward to his future postings. Check out the rose chasuble!
Pastor Osbun is a 2010 graduate of Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne, Indiana. He was called to St. Paul Evangelical Lutheran Church of the Unaltered Augsburg Confession at Woodland, St. Joseph County, Indiana and subsequently ordained into the pastoral office in the spring of 2011. He and his wife Sarah were married just prior to his vicarage/her deaconess internship year in the summer of 2008. Their son Peter was stillborn in January of 2010. Their daughter Evelyn was born happy and healthy in March of 2011.