When the new Mennonite worship and song resource Voices Together is released next fall, Eastern Mennonite University professor of music Benjamin Bergey ’11 has a hope: that this collection “draws people to worship, to learn more about God and themselves, and to be drawn into closer discipleship with Christ.”
The hymnal’s more than 1,000 pages containing 750 songs and 200-plus worship resources seeks to “represent the theological breadth of the church,” said Bergey, who chairs the project’s tune and accompaniment subcommittee and is editor and compiler for the accompaniment edition. With the new hymnal, Mennonites everywhere will be able to “take a risk and try something new.”
Over a decade ago, Mennonite Church Canada, Mennonite Church USA and MennoMedia’s predecessor Mennonite Publishing Network began surveying worship and music leaders about the need for a new hymnal. The hymnal supplements Sing the Journey and Sing the Story had been released in 2005 and 2007, but by the time MennoMedia publishes Voices Together next fall, the previous Hymnal: A Worship Book will have been in pews for 28 years – five years more than had passed between it and its preceding The Mennonite Hymnal.
No small task
The Voices Together committee of 13, led by general editor and project manager Bradley Kauffman, had no small task: “What are the songs that will sustain our faith in 2020, 2030 and 2040?” its website asks, under the question “Why Voices Together? Why now?” on the FAQ page. “What words and images connect us with each other and with God now and into the future?”
The committee has worked to balance myriad competing factors, opinions and preferences. “It is truly a humbling experience to seek to listen to as many voices across the United States and Canada, as well as around the world, to discern the current worshiping practices as well as allow the spirit to work through this new collection for the next generation,” Bergey said. “At the end of the day, we take very seriously the rich legacy of hymnody that has come before us, with the direction of the church and God’s work among us today.”
Bergey’s subcommittee was responsible for “everything from key, scoring, time signature, harmonization, what kind of accompaniment to use if any, and ultimately how to clarify the music on the page,” he said. Among the questions they considered: How can contemporary worship music be included in notated form? How can hymns be made more accessible for those unfamiliar with notation?
In addition to the hymnal, the release will feature an app, a projection edition, more chord symbols and additional resources. Contents will include 12 works of visual art, more global music, thoughts and poetry, old songs with updated text, “many familiar, beloved and even memorized things,” and “wonderful” new tunes and styles, he said.
Voices Together will have “more work by Mennonite writers, artists, composers, and songwriters than any previous collection,” Bergey said, selected from the 2,200 voluntary submissions from writers, artists and musicians.
‘Directly equipped’ at EMU
As a student at EMU, Bergey majored in vocal performance and church music. Those studies “directly equipped” him for not only his teaching and direction of the orchestra, University Choir and Chamber Singers, but also his role with the new hymnal, he said. His mentor was, after all, Ken Nafziger (now professor emeritus) who was an editor for Hymnal: A Worship Book (1992) and its two supplements, Sing the Journey (2005) and Sing the Story (2007).
“I have learned so much from him from hymnology, to leading congregational song, to theology,” Bergey said. “He has been an important figure in Mennonite church music, and it has been an honor to learn from him.”
Though Bergey did not study directly under her, he also said that Mary Oyer, one of Nafziger’s mentors, was “someone whose ethnomusicological study, consummate knowledge of church music and hymns, and legacy of congregational song leading has had a major impact on my life…. She was one of the earliest women in this type of role, and has shared so many wonderful stories of putting a hymnal together. She has been a role model to many in this type of work.”
It’s a work with far-reaching potential, he knows: “I hope that it will be met with curiosity and an open mind,” he said. “I hope everyone can find a home and heart song in Voices Together. I hope all find their voice within Voices Together.”