By Sarah Kathleen Johnson, TMTC Visiting Fellow and Doctoral Candidate at the University of Notre Dame
Five years ago, when the groundwork for a new hymnal and worship book was laid, no one expected that the book would be released during a global pandemic when it is difficult and dangerous to sing together. The temporary loss of congregational song is something to grieve. But exploring Voices Together without a focus on singing is also an important opportunity.
Voices Together in much more than a book of songs intended to be sung in corporate worship.
It is a book of history with more than 65 texts from the late antique and medieval periods, and more than double the number of songs from sixteenth-century Anabaptists than Hymnal: A Worship Book.
It is a book of scripture, with songs indexed for each book of the Bible and almost all the gospel readings found in the Revised Common Lectionary (the beheading of John the Baptist was a barrier to achieving this goal!). There is also a focus on singing the Psalms in their breadth and complexity.
It is a book of theology, including a text based on the writings of Karl Barth; a hymn commissioned for the Service of Lament, Confession, and Commitment regarding John Howard Yoder held at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary; and four resources by Doctor of the Church, Hildegard of Bingen.
It is a book of pastoral care with songs and resources that speak into the challenges of chronic pain, dementia, reproductive loss, and disability. These are words and songs to carry with us at critical moments of life and death. There are resources for schools, camps, and homes, and songs we hope connect with everyday life.
It is a book of many cultures, and many languages. It includes resources from a diversity of Mennonites in North America and from the worldwide Anabaptist church. Material connected to Indigenous communities has been treated with particular care, including a land acknowledgement. There are four resources in American Sign Language.
It is a book of ethics, of explicit and implicit calls for social justice, that aspires to cast a vision of who we are called to be as peacemakers, and to shape our worldviews in ways often beyond our awareness. It tackles complex questions of gender, race, and ability. It addresses economic inequality and climate justice.
It is a book of literature – stunning poetry that spans genres, languages, and cultures.
Beyond songs, it includes words for worship, prayers, poems, readings, portions of scripture, and instructions for movement and action. Twelve works of visual art grace these pages, each a call to worship and an invitation into stories of faith and life.
Receiving Voices Together when it is unsafe to gather and sing is an opportunity for leadership for those who are not musicians. Theologians, historians, pastors, ethicists, scholars of disability, gender, and culture, and more can invite communities into other aspects of this worship and song collection. Those of you who are connected to TMTC can be key leaders as we explore how this book brings voices together without singing a single note.