Reviews

Three new Lutheran worship resources now available

ELCA, LCMS, WordAlone Network all have (or soon will have) new hymnals ready to go

Evangelical Lutheran Worship, Pew Edition, Augsburg Fortress. 1211 pages, 893 hymns, hardcover, 2006, $20. 612/330-3300.

Lutheran Service Book, Pew Edition, Concordia Publishing House. 1024 pages, 966 hymns, hardcover, 2006, $18.50 (introductory price). 1-800-325-3040.

Reclaim: Lutheran Hymnal for Church and Home, Introductory Edition, Bronze Bow Publishing, Minneapolis, MN. 124 pages, 47 hymns, paperback, 2006. $6. 1-800-590-6001.

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Lutherans in North America have generally tried to offer a new worship resource for congregations once every 30 years or so. Both ELCA and LCMS published new hymnals in the late 1970s.

Since then, of course, the big question has been, “Does anybody want a hardcover hymnal anymore?”

Since the last generation of worship books arrived, a lot has changed. Congrega-tions are supplementing hymnbook content with more contemporary fare, often published in paperback editions (witness the wild popularity of Augsburg Fortress’ With One Voice). The trend has accelerated toward publishing the entire service in the worship folder (eliminating the use of a bound book altogether). Some congregations have taken to using projection screens, casting hymn texts high above the worshippers’ heads. And some Lutherans have simply decided they don’t like “traditional hymns” anymore, believing if it’s stitched into an official worship book, it’s bound to be stodgy.
Then there’s the Internet and the ability to download worship material at will.

What’s a church publisher to do? Both ELCA and LCMS began coming to terms with these challenges at least a decade ago. Both entered into study processes, testing in congregations, and, finally, the development of proposals for their respective church bodies.

Both groups decided there was still a place for a hardcover pew edition of a hymnal in their congregations. But both also committed themselves to being Internet savvy. The two new books now available from ELCA and LCMS both assume the availability of additional resources online.

Neither ELCA nor LCMS is saying specifically how new hymnal sales are going. However, with books available for purchase this fall, both are reporting brisk sales. Since some of the data the publishers have is considered “proprietary” (not for the eyes of casual readers), we’re not going to find out any time soon whether sales are comparable to those enjoyed by both church bodies in the late 1970s. There are some clues, however.

Mark Stahura, who works with worship resources at Augsburg Fortress, told Metro Lutheran that sales of Evangelical Lutheran Worship “have been way over what we hoped.” Says Stahura, demand has been about three times what the publisher conservatively estimated they might be. “We’re in our fourth printing now and the challenge is keeping up with demand,” he says, adding, “We did not expect this huge, positive response.”

At Concordia Publishing House, Paul McCain says the new LCMS book, Lutheran Service Book, “is being well received across our church body and has attracted considerable interest from many other Lutherans across the USA and worldwide. Attendance at nationwide workshops for Lutheran Service Book is running in excess of 100% greater than originally planned.”

As was done 28 years ago with Lutheran Book of Worship, Augsburg Fortress offered a discounted price until early October. Sales no doubt slowed after that offer expired, but Stahura thinks the pace will continue steadily for a good while.

The LCMS book is also discounted, a price which will go up sometime in 2007.

As the ELCA was gearing up for its new hymnal push, a reform group within that denomination, largely consisting of supporters of the WordAlone movement, announced plans to offer an alternative worship book of its own.

An introductory edition of “Reclaim: Lutheran Hymnal for Church and Home” appeared in late summer. It’s a modest volume, but was intended to keep supporters of an alternative version satisfied (and not eager to purchase the new ELCA book) until a full-sized pew edition can be finished in 2007.

Gracia Grindal, editor in chief of Reclaim, wrote to friends of the project in September. She says she speaks for “many Lutherans who believe that today’s worship service is being seriously compromised in the pressure to be ecumenical.” Describing Reclaim as “a theologically sound hymnal,” she says it has the potential to help “reclaim the Reformation.”

Reclaim Resources can’t publish a hymnal without help. Unlike ELCA and LCMS, it needs money to finish this project. Supporters of Reclaim are being invited to help raise $92,000 to fully fund the project.