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Singing: A Mennonite Voice

J. Laurence Martin

The Conrad Grebel Review 20 no. 3 (Fall 2002)

Marlene Kropf and Kenneth Nafziger, Singing: A Mennonite Voice. Scottdale, PA and Waterloo, ON: Herald Press, 2001.

This is a book that music and worship planning committees in Mennonite
churches need to read, sing, and discuss. It stands alongside the Hymnal: A Worship Book, published in 1992 for Mennonite and Brethren Churches in
North America. As a result of their work in helping to produce this hymnal, the authors began a two-year research project in which they asked people in the church, “What happens when you sing?” This book reports these interviews. Singing: A Mennonite Voice effectively crafts anecdotal stories with insightful interpretation. That it is designed and illustrated by Gwen M. Stamm, who also designed Hymnal: A Worship Book, adds a significant artistic beauty and integrity to it.

Part One and Two report and organize interviews with people involved
in the worship life of Mennonite congregations in North America. Part Two,
“What Happens When We Sing?,” covers spiritual areas of our lives that are impacted by singing hymns: singing creates the body of Christ; unveils an inner landscape of the worshiper; reveals a path to God; becomes our best way to pray; and heals and transforms us in our time of need.

Part Three is the heart of the book. There the authors probe the
importance of hymn singing in a postmodern landscape that desires to integrate the heart and the mind, transcendence and immanence. It is claimed that the interviews in this project show that hymn singing is the one sure way such integration happens for Mennonites. If faith is to grow in our congregations, people need to sing (104). This growth of faith takes place in three ways: Our vision of God is formed; we are formed into Christian community; our life is formed as people of the Spirit. Part Three develops these in detail. This is very helpful for those planning worship services.

The Epilogue sums up six learnings that the authors gained from their
interviews and stories about hymn singing. The sixth one is likely the most
obvious, but it is increasingly hard to do: we need to care for how much time we spend singing together. Mary Oyer is quoted as saying, “Keep singing. Sing. Sing. Sing. Sing before church. Sing during church. Sing after church. Just do it” (161).

It is my impression that a majority of the interviews and stories come
from Mennonites in the Swiss Mennonite tradition. I suspect that stories from Church of the Brethren and Mennonites from the German and Russian
experience would convey similar themes and learnings, but it would interesting to test this assumption a little wider.

J. Laurence Martin, Minister of Pastoral Leadership Training, Mennonite
Church Eastern Canada