“We’ve come this far by faith, leaning on the Lord; trusting in his holy Word, he’s never failed me yet. Oh, can’t turn around, we’ve come this far by faith.’’
These words, describe the patient hope and prayerful expectation that have sustained the quest to turn the African American Lutheran hymnal project from a dream into a reality. This Far by Faith is the name of the new African American Lutheran worship resource slated for publication by Augsburg Fortress in April of 1999.
Originally conceived as a concept paper by the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod in 1990, the dream for the project took shape 1993 when a joint Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and LCMS exploratory group was formed to consider the possibility of a joint hymnal project.
In 1990, The ELCA Division for Congregational Ministries conducted an extensive survey of ELCA congregations with a significant African American membership to assess the need for an African American Lutheran worship supplement.
The results of the survey were clear, African American Lutherans in the ELCA expressed strong support for the development of an African American Lutheran worship resource. Having documented support from the community, The DCM and Commission for Multicultural Ministries enthusiastically embraced the concept and began serious planning for the joint project with the LCMS.
Funding for the project was provided by the ELCA’s DCM and CMM, the LCMS Commission for Black Ministries and by a grant from the Lutheran Brotherhood Foundation.
The ELCA members of the steering committee were: Mrs. Deborah Bagby, co-chair (First Trinity, Washington D.C.), Mr Mark Coats (Ascension, Los Angeles) The Rev. Frank Stoldt (Augsburg Fortress, worship)The Rev. Fred Rajan, CMM, and the Rev. Karen M. Ward, DCM (project manager).
The ELCA members of the music subcommittee members were: Dr. James Capers, (St. Paul, Decatur, GA), Ms. Romenita Henderson, (Truth Evangelical, Maryland ), Mr. Mark Coats (Ascension, Los Angeles) Mr. Scott Weidler, DCM, The Rev. Martin Seltz, (Augsburg Fortress) and Mrs. Deborah Bagby.
The ELCA members of the liturgy subcommittee members were: Dr. Emmanuel Grantson, (Truth Evangelical, Maryland), Dr. Maxine Washington (Associate to the Bishop, Metro Chicago Synod) The Rev. Joseph Donnella (Chaplain, Gettysburg College) The Rev. Frank Stoldt (Augsburg Fortress, worship) The Rev. Karen M. Ward (Division for Congregational Ministries, worship).
Why an African American Lutheran Hymnal?
Occasionally when talking about the project among groups throughout the church, I would be asked the question, “why is the Lutheran church developing “an ethnic hymnal?” The standard reply was “Because we do it so well!”
Our Lutheran tradition of worship and music has always been “ethnically sensitive” from the very beginning, in fact that is our greatest heritage. Martin Luther, did not fancy himself a liturgical designer or worship expert. His concern about worship and music was purely evangelical. Thus, the small but significant amount of “liturgical tinkering” done by Luther was done for the sake of the gospel and evangelization.
Luther and Liturgical Contextualization
Luther’s main concern in reforming worship and music was that the gospel be proclaimed and received by his own German people. In order to see that the gospel spoke to Germans via worship and music, Luther began to slightly adjust the catholic order of worship to address the culture of the German people.
Luther took the western catholic pattern of worship and put it in the “vernacular” or the language of the people. His most significant reform was changing the language of the worship services and the hymns from Latin to German, so it could be received and understood by the German people.
The clergy and academics of Luther’s time understood Latin, but the people did not. Latin was not their language, German was. Luther realized that church worship that was not in the language of the people was not adequate for people, as worship was to convey the gospel for all to receive. Luther wanted worship to be faithful to the tradition, but contextualized to speak to the German people. This same desire for the gospel to be communicated to the people motivated Luther to translate the Bible into German.
In order to communicate the gospel in liturgy, Luther put the liturgy and hymns into the German language. Eventually, Lutherans in Germany went on to regularize Luther’s reforms of the western rite into the German Kirchenordnung or “church orders” that gave German Lutherans a standardized set of liturgical texts and order of service.
Lutheran worship in North America, past, present and future
Over the course of time, Lutherans from Germany and Scandinavia immigrated to North America, bringing their Lutheranism with them. For over 150 years, North European forms of western catholic worship and music served the Lutheran churches in North America well. It relied heavily on mining the riches of German and Scandinavian hymnody, as it was tailored to do. But now in the late 20th century, the reform of worship into the vernacular must continue, this time taking into consideration the new cultural groups entering Lutheranism in North America.
By the year 2020 almost half of the population of North American will be of non-European descent. The numbers Latinos, African Americans and Asians will continue to increase. The task of gospel proclamation to all the peoples of North American calls us to reach out to all peoples. Outreach calls for contextualization of all forms of ministry, including worship and music.
“Confessional amnesia” may be one reason people question whether this expansion of the worship tradition is true to Lutheran heritage. Lutherans always get into trouble when they forget their confessional stance.
Martin Luther’s reform of worship took the basic pattern of western catholic worship and freed it from Latinized cultural captivity, yet some within North American Lutheranism have assumed that Luther’s reforms of worship, geared for Germanic culture, are now the new standard. This accounts for the fact that many Lutherans continue to confuse North European Lutheran worship music and traditions with Lutheranism itself. This leads people to the erroneous conclusion that liturgical music, hymnody and worship “styles” that are not German or Scandinavian in origin, are somehow not Lutheran.
What This Far By Faith, the new African American Lutheran worship resource, seeks to do, is to simply carry on with the deeply Lutheran tradition of liturgical contextualization. It seeks to do this by contributing to the already rich ethnic traditions of Lutheran worship and music by incorporating the liturgical and musical gifts of African American people.
The Contents of This Far By Faith
This task of contextualizing worship into the African American idioms is not something invented by Lutherans, but is being undertaken by all the mainline churches with significant African American membership.
African American worship materials have already been produced by the Roman Catholic Church (Lead Me, Guide Me); the Episcopal Church (Lift Every Voice and Sing II); and the Methodist church (Songs of Zion).
What will set This Far By Faith apart from other existing African American hymnals used in mainline churches is its diverse and comprehensive musical mix and its significant liturgical content. This Far by Faith will be a 500 page resource with over 300 hymns and over 100 pages of culture-specific liturgical material.
The musical mix of This Far By Faith will include material from the entire “African Diaspora,” that is, it will include music from the various African peoples who live in the Americas and in Africa. The styles of music include traditional gospel, contemporary gospel, spirituals, jazz, blues, revivalist, African, Caribbean, liturgical folk and contemporary praise.
The Task of Ongoing Contextualization
All of the major hymnals produced by Lutherans in North American can be described as being “ethnic” hymnals. Most of the previous hymnals featured the hymnody of the North European Lutheran ethnic groups that developed them.
The Service Book and Hymnal featured the best in Scandinavian Lutheran church music, the 1941 Lutheran Hymnal of the Missouri Synod, was chock full of German Chorales. The 1978Lutheran Book of Worship featured a rich blend of both Scandinavian and German Lutheran hymnody.
As we enter the new millenium and the population of non European peoples in North America grows, the numbers of African Americans, Latinos and Asians in the Lutheran church should also grow.
It is clear that whenever folk come to church, they tend to bring their ethnic and musical traditions with them. This Far By Faith provides African American Lutherans with a resource that recognizes and values the particular musical and liturgical contributions of African American Lutherans, and allows these contributions to be offered to God and shared with the wider church to the benefit of all.
This task of continued contextualization is recognized, supported and guided by the Lutheran World Federation and its world-wide Study on Worship and Culture:
“Jesus whom we worship was born into a specific culture of the world. In the mystery of the incarnation are the model and the mandate for the contextualization of Worship. God can be and is encountered in the local cultures of our world. A given culture’s values and patterns, insofar as they are consistent with the values of the Gospel, can be used to express the meaning and purpose of Christian worship. Contextualization is a necessary task for the Church’s mission in the world, so that the Gospel can be ever more deeply rooted in diverse local cultures.” (From the The Nairobi Statement on Worship and Culture, section 3.1, Lutheran World Federation, 1996)
Along with Lutheran Book of Worship, With One Voice, and Libro de Liturgia y Cantico, This Far By Faith will take its place in the expanding series of “LBW family” worship resources being developed jointly by the DCM and Augsburg Fortress. The ongoing series of “LBW family” worship resources seeks to serve the needs of our diverse congregations to help carry Lutheran worship forward as we enter the 21st century.
This Far by Faith Proposed Contents
Table of Contents
Preface: The Gift of African American Worship and Song
Performance notes: Hymns, songs and service music
Orders for Worship
Holy Communion the shape of the liturgy
Orders for confession and forgiveness
Liturgy of Joy (James Capers) with new arrangements
A jazz liturgy (new by Tillis Butler)
“Chorale” mass (with music from various African diaspora styles)
Service of the Word (adapted historic Black church service format)
Occasional Rites and Prayers
Martin Luther King materials
African baptismal rituals
Materials for black history month
African marriage rituals
Way of the cross
Prayers/rituals for occasions (women’s day, elder recognition day…)
Prayers from the tradition (slave prayers, African prayers…)
Culture specific commemorations (Jehu Jones, Alpha Synod…)
Glorias, kyries, lamb of God, gospel style psalm settings, antiphons…
Hymns and Songs
300-350 hymns categorized according to the church year and themes in Christian life.
First lines and common titles
Composers, arrangers and sources for hymns and service music