This article is part of our series on Voices Together, the new worship and song collection from MennoMedia, in partnership with Mennonite Church USA and Mennonite Church Canada.
By Katie Graber and Sarah Kathleen Johnson
As Sarah Kathleen Johnson describes in her article “More Than Singing,” Voices Together (VT) is a book of history, scripture, theology, and more. This collection of songs and worship resources includes items from nearly every century since Jesus’ birth (and some from before). The timeline on page four of this Guide to Adopting Voices Together shows the historical breakdown of the texts and tunes included in the hymnal.
One subset of historical material in Voices Together comes from the beginning of the Anabaptist movement in 16th-century Europe. This time period remains a point of reference for Anabaptists around the world today (Mennonite World Conference Shared Convictions, VT #925).
Voices Together includes six songs with connections to 16th-century Anabaptism that also appeared in Hymnal: A Worship Book.
- Three remain the same in Voices Together:
- “The Word of God is Solid Ground” (Anon. Ausbund, 1583) VT #399
- “Who Now Would Follow Christ” (Anon. Ausbund, 1583) VT #576
- “I Sing with Exaltation” (Felix Manz, 1526) VT #444
- Three are changed slightly:
- “Rejoice, Rejoice Forevermore” (Balthasar Hubmaier, 1520) is set to a tune by Joseph Funk from the song book Harmonia Sacra. VT #402
- “We are People of God’s Peace” (based on Menno Simons’ writings, 1552) includes a new stanza based on the same Menno Simons source. VT #797
- “O Gott Vater (O God and Father)” (Leenaerdt Clock, Ausbund, 1583) includes the German text and a revised English translation. VT #45
In addition to retaining these songs, Voices Together adds seven new songs connected to 16th-century Anabaptism. The committee consulted with Anabaptist historians to identify options to consider with a focus on: (1) hymns from the 16th century that merit English translation, (2) important 16th-century Anabaptist sources to paraphrase for congregational singing, and (3) sources associated with 16th-century Anabaptist women.
- Two additional hymns from the Ausbund, the oldest hymnbook of the Swiss Brethren, are included in Voices Together:
- “O God, We Read The Holy Law” (Michael Schneider, included in a collection that was a precursor to the Ausbund, 1564) is paired with EIN FESTE BURG, usually associated with “A Mighty Fortress.” “O God, We Read The Holy Law” was written to be sung to EIN FESTE BURG, indicated as such in the Ausbund. VT #571
- “O Christ, Impart Your Teaching True” (Michael Sattler, 1527) is paired with a 19th-century tune. VT #583
- Voices Together includes important 16th-century sources set to contemporary tunes, including the writings of Pilgram Marpeck whose thought has been embraced by scholars in recent decades:
- “Jesus Christ is Love Divine” (based on Pilgram Marpeck’s writings) is a new paraphrase set to a folk style tune. VT #749
- “Spirit Do Your Work in Us” (inspired by Pilgram Marpeck’s writings) is a short song that can be sung repeatedly while communion is shared. VT #475
- “True Evangelical Faith” (adapted from Menno Simons’ writings, 1539) is a jazz-inspired setting of the beloved quote. VT #439
- It was a priority to include the words of 16th-century Anabaptist women, which are most often available today in the form of letters written to family members from prison or testimonies given at trial:
- “Everlasting God, on You I Call” (Annelien of Freiburg, Ausbund, 1583) is adapted from a 13-stanza song. VT #630
- “O God, Our Refuge” is based on testimony or writings of multiple Anabaptist women, and has perhaps the best (and longest!) ascription of the collection. VT #434:
- “… inspired by the writings and recorded testimonies of Anabaptist martyrs in the 16th c., particularly Anna Jansz of Rotterdam (present-day Netherlands), Martha Baert (present-day Belgium); both in Profiles of Anabaptist Women . . ., ed. C. Arnold Snyder (Canada) and Linda A. Huebert Hecht (Canada), 1996; and Lisjken Dircks (present-day Netherlands) and six unnamed women, in Elizabeth’s Manly Courage: Testimonials and Songs . . ., ed. and trans. Hermina Joldersma (Canada) and Louis Peter Grijp (Netherlands), 2001”
In these ways, Voices Together includes a broader diversity of 16th-century voices and a wider range of ways of singing these words in worship than previous hymnals.
Voices Together also includes worship resources with connections to early Anabaptist sources.
- Confessing Faith:
- “True evangelical faith” (Menno Simons, 1539) VT #921, Worship Leader Edition (WLE) #193
- “No one can truly know Christ” (Hans Denck, 16th c.) VT #928, WLE #197
- “Gardener God, you have planted” (Pilgram Marpeck, 16th c.) VT #1002, WLE #347
- “Loving God, you have baptized us” (Tijs Jeuriaenss, 1569) VT #1001, WLE #346
- “God dearly loves us” (Mayken Boosers, 1564) VT #1056, WLE #435
- “At the Impulse of God’s Love: A Re-envisioning of Dirk Willems Saving His Captor’s Life” (visual art by Michelle Hofer that draws inspiration from Thieleman’s J. van Braght’s Martyrs Mirror etching of Dirk Willems) VT #780, WLE #381
- Child blessing:
- “God, maker of galaxies who numbers the hairs” (Pilgram Marpeck, 1542) VT #971, WLE #281
- “Friends, as we gather to eat the bread” (Balthasar Hubmaier, 1527) VT #937, WLE #243
The “new” historical sources on this list offer a connection to a theological past and a tradition that is always evolving.
The Worship Leader Edition essay “Connecting with Past Christians in Worship” (WLE #202) begins:
Connecting with the past in worship today is a way to remember God’s faithfulness to all generations. It joins our local communities with a vibrant church that has followed Jesus in many cultures and circumstances. It helps us keep the struggles of the present in perspective.
There are many good reasons to learn from other cultures from around the world, including past Anabaptist cultures. We hope your community will use these historical resources (among many others) in ways that strengthen a sense of belonging to a larger community, locate the challenges of the present in a longer historical arc, and inspire hope for the future.
Katie Graber is an ethnomusicologist who studies race and ethnicity in a variety of contexts including Mennonite music, American music and European opera. She has taught classes on Western music history and world music, and she accompanies Suzuki recitals and school choirs. She leads singing at her church in Columbus, Ohio, and chairs the Intercultural Worship committee for the Voices Together project.
Sarah Kathleen Johnson is the worship resources editor for Voices Together and the editor of the Voices Together: Worship Leader Edition. Originally from Waterloo, Ontario and currently based in Toronto, she is completing a PhD in theology at the University of Notre Dame.
The views and opinions expressed in this blog belong to the author and are not intended to represent the views of the MC USA Executive Board or staff.