The Lutheran Hymnal

A gold and silver book
There's a little round we like to sing occasionally and the words go like this: Make new friends, but keep the old; one is silver and the other gold. That's mighty good advice, for worshipers and hymnal makers too.

Hymns are really a lot like people. They are of different types and have different personalities. Some are young and some are very old. Some are friendly and approachable and we are attracted to them immediately. Others are a little hard to get to know and friendship grows only slowly. And some hymns, it is only fair to add, are not all that worth getting to know. However, the best of new hymns, the silver ones, generally turn by the alchemy of time and repeated use into gold and become real treasures.

A good number of the hymns in The Lutheran Hymnal that were new to us in 1941, hymns like "Oh, Come, Oh, Come, Emmanuel," "Jesus Christ Is Risen Today," "For All the Saints," and "God's Word Is Our Great Heritage," have over the years become old and golden friends. And it is safe to predict that when still another new hymnal comes along, about the year 2040 or so, many of the new hymns in our coming hymnal will also have become old favorites. At any rate, we want our new/revised hymnal to be a gold and silver book, full of golden old and the silver new.

A long hymn heritage

Make new friends, but keep the old! Most new Lutheran hymnals, like those of other church bodies, which have a long hymn heritage and respect it, are strongly based on older hymnals. For us that means particularly The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) and the Book of Hymns (1916). Which of the "old" hymns of TLH will be included in our new book? Surely a large majority. If all the members of our synod submitted a list of their twenty favorite hymns from TLH, the top twenty vote getters certainly would all be included. In fact, if members listed their 100 or even 200 favorites, most of us would find virtually all of our choices in the new book.

Hymn selection for a new hymnal, however, is not as easy as simply running a popularity poll to find out the favorite hymns. Popularity can be a whimsical thing. Most of us have at least a few personal hymn favorites, which are not all that noteworthy in terms of intrinsic worth. Hymns become favorites for all kinds of reasons. Often hymns are treasured because of personal and emotional associations--a confirmation hymn, a hymn sung at our wedding or a loved one's funeral, a hymn learned in early childhood or sung often at school, a hymn in a particularly beautiful arrangement we sang in our choir.