Poll: Which Is the Best Hymnal for Mennonites?

Someone gave our little Followers of Jesus Atlanta Church a generous gift for buying hymnals. We are very thankful! Now we have the delightful pleasure of selecting the best hymnal(s) to buy. And you can help us by voting.

So far, the following three-part approach seems wise, enabling us to move forward without forgetting our past:

  1. Choose one book that helps us connect with people in our neighborhood, which is about 95% African American.
  2. Choose another book that reflects our Anabaptist roots.
  3. Use CCLI (a church copyright license service) to legally copy additional songs.

Goal number three requires little discussion. And we have found a hymnal that achieves goal number one superbly: The African American Heritage Hymnal—which, incidentally, includes many classic hymns familiar to most American evangelicals. We are gradually collecting some very affordable used copies.

AAHH

But finding a solution for an Anabaptist hymnal is proving more tricky. Of the four or so hymn books that we and our teammates the Smuckers grew up using most, only one is something that any of us really likes. And it (Great Hymns of the Faith, compiled by John W. Peterson) is not even an Anabaptist hymnal!

(I’m trying to be kind and avoid getting too specific about which hymnals we are less satisfied with, though I can say a couple things. First, we’d rather not have an editor changing too many original lyrics. We’d rather learn classic hymns in their classic versions, leaving editorial discussions as needed for the time of singing, as teachable moments. And second, we find some hymnals have more compelling musical arrangements than others.)

We are not absolutely set on finding a hymnal that is specifically Anabaptist. But there would be some advantages to choosing a hymnal that, for example, teaches our children the best of the hymns that their parents grew up singing. And I would consider it a good thing if this hymnal would intentionally include some of the best of our (admittedly comparatively sparse) Anabaptist hymnody.

Perhaps there is an Anabaptist hymnal that we did not grow up with that would achieve this goal well? Or a non-Anabaptist hymnal that is so strong we should consider it?

Thus, this poll. What do you think is the best hymnal for Mennonites? (Or Anabaptists, if you prefer.) I’ll pre-load this poll widget with some options. Then you can help in four ways:

  1. Vote. (You can vote for more than one if you think two are tie.)
  2. Add more options to the poll.
  3. Defend your preferences in the comments below.
  4. Forward this post to your most musical and insightful friends.

Sorry, I won’t promise that we will go with the winner of this poll. And there are no prizes if we select your suggestion—besides getting to sing from your favorite hymnal when you come visit!

So come on, all ye Mennonites. This is no time to eschew voting. Ya’ll cast your ballots for best hymnal now!

Which Is the Best Hymnal for Mennonites?

 

Note: Since I can’t embed links in the poll widget, here are Amazon links for each of the hymnals I’ve pre-loaded:

The Mennonite Hymnal

Hymnal: A Worship Book

Church Hymnal

Hymns of the Church

Zion’s Praises

Christian Hymnal

The Christian Hymnary

Church and Sunday School Hymnal


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30 thoughts on “Poll: Which Is the Best Hymnal for Mennonites?”

  1. Since a hymnal may be presumed to be for congregational use, you are doing well to consider the wishes of your congregation, both present and future. The only one on your list that younger members of our congregation really want to keep is Mennonite Hymnal. Some of the others have gotten favorable reviews. Great Hymns of the Faith, in addition to being non-Mennonite, is out of date. Another title on your list, to the best of my knowledge, is also non-Mennonite (Zion’s Praises). In any case, I think a hymnal compiled by committee is to be preferred over single-compiler hymnals, which tend to reflect the interests of a very narrow constituency (Christian Hymnary, Zion’s Praises, Hymns of the Church).

    1. Thanks, David. That is helpful. I find it interesting that the younger generation in your church enjoys the Mennonite Hymnal, despite its age. I am not well acquainted with it, but sense it was put together well.

      A question: Which hymnal is it that has the long version of “Praise God from Whom All Blessings Flow” as # 600 or 601 or 666 or whatever it is? [Update: Dave tells me it is 606 in the Mennonite Hymnal.]

      Thanks for engaging.

  2. This is a lovely opportunity! Since you are already considering CCLI, don’t overlook OneLicense.net as a copyright licensing option. Both are good and have their place, but if I had to choose only one (budget limitations?), I’d easily choose OneLicense before CCLI. Of course, this choice reflects my bias toward their publishers and the music they publish. My initial thought re hymnals is that perhaps you don’t need two. As you mentioned, the AAHH contains many classic hymns, and you can supplement the core Anabaptist literature (with much in the public domain) in the same way that you supplement with CCLI and/or OneLicense: by using a projection system and/or compiling your own printed supplements. This could also be a short-term measure while you wait for the publication of several as-yet unfinished Anabaptist hymnals that are currently in progress.

    1. Wendell, thanks much for your response. I have not heard of OneLicense and definitely want to check them out.

      And can you tell us more about the Anabaptist hymnals that are currently in progress? I was unaware of this and would love to know more. Who is preparing them? What goals are guiding the compilers? When should we expect them to be published?

      1. There are at least three Menno-based hymnals in the works, in various stages of development and on quite a range on the Anabaptist spectrum. EPMC and, I believe, WFMC (?) are working on a replacement for the Church Hymnal. As far as I know, that’s the main goal. I expect this one to be quite conservative (possibly to the point of maintaining KJV pronouns, etc.). MennoMedia (including MC USA and Canada) has opened conversations around a replacement for the Worship Book. This one will represent the other side of the spectrum, I wager. 🙂 And Jerome Weaver has been working on a hymnal for quite some time; in addition to the classics both Anabaptist and otherwise, it includes an emphasis on recent compositions by composers Anabaptist and beyond, tapping into the modern global hymn explosion of the past several decades. While I would generally counsel toward committee-based works rather than single compiler works (as David mentioned above), Jerome’s work might be an exception, as–from what I can tell–he is doing a good job getting input from wider sources. Re timelines: not sure, but my guess is minimum 2 more years for EPMC and Jerome, and MennoMedia is targeting a 2020 release: http://mennoworld.org/2015/04/27/news/its-time-for-a-new-hymnal/.

        1. Thanks, Wendell. I would love to know more, but that’s enough to be very helpful. Thanks for expanding my awareness of options to consider. And when you head up a committee to compile a hymnal, let me know. 🙂

  3. Our congregation added Hymns of the Church to our song racks a little over a year ago and it has quickly become a favourite. We have discovered that even many of the less familiar Hymns are easy to learn and sing. I have been especially impressed with the wonderful message in many of those songs. There is still a good selection of old Hymns as well as a number of gospel songs for those that need them to complete a service. 🙂 If I had to choose just one from your list it would be the purple Martin book by a mile.

    In reading over the comments above regarding some preference for a committee based book I can see the value in it. Although from a personal perspective I would be more comfortable with a book published by one man I know well and have a fair amount of confidence in than from a book published by a committee that I do not know at all. Just my opinion.
    I really do believe that Hymns of the Church will be hard to improve on and will become the go to songbook for many of us over the next 30 years. The Church Hymnal and the Mennonite Hymnal were good in their day. That day has passed IMO. Oh and BTW 606 become 1000 in the Hymns of the Church. 🙂
    Also I like the fact that you are using a book that locals can relate to. Wendell’s suggestion may be a good one.

    1. Thanks, Steve. Opinions is what I am collecting, and yours is an opinion informed by experience. 🙂 And good to know about 606–which I see is actually 1006 in Hymns of the Church.

      Wendell sent me contact info for Jerome Weaver, so I might explore that option a bit more, too.

      One of the factors that informs people’s opinions and accounts for some of the difference of opinion is how our personal experiences have varied. Someone who has grown up on one old hymnal, however excellent, might be tired of it and desperate for something new, even if it has some weaknesses that they gradually discover. Another may be just now discovering that old hymnal and find it to be a new treasure. So it’s hard to get an objective evaluation of the true quality of hymnals, apart from careful side-by-side analysis based on pre-chosen objective standards.

      1. oops. you are correct 1006 it is. Yes I do recognize that we all have different make ups. Some thrive on change. Others really hate it and nothing will ever be as good as what they grew up with. I try to remember that the next generation does not have my memories and I like to at least try and look at things through their eyes as well.

  4. I don’t have a recommendation. At our church in the last 40 years or so we have used The Christian Hymnary, Zion’s Praises, and recently have added Hymns of the Church. Those are the three on your list I am most familiar with and my favorite (by a wide margin) is Hymns of the Church. However, I will acknowledge that it is perhaps easy to like a “new” hymnbook just because it is fresh and has some new offerings that are different than the ones you’ve been singing for years.

    I also like the Mennonite Hymnal although having never used it in a church setting I am not as familiar with it. I do like “minors” and it is loaded with them. 🙂

  5. No one hymn book that I know of can fill all the necessary crannies. Which is why most churches now have two. I would recommend that one of the two has some heavier music, similar to the Church Hymnal. The other shouldn’t just have most of the same songs but in different spots. Our congregation uses the Church Hymnal and Life Songs No. 2, which isn’t a bad combination. I’d lean towards the “Purple Martin” Hymns of the Church to offset the one you’ve already chosen. It is important, especially if your context is African American, to choose at least one book that has songs that they love to sing. That will be different that a standard Mennonite diet, I suspect.

    1. Yes, Lester, as my post clarifies, we are most definitely including a hymnal that has songs loved by the cultures represented in our neighborhood. One hymn book, like one commentary, is never enough. 🙂

  6. In my opinion the Mennonite Hymnal is by far the best hymnal that the Mennonite Church has ever produced. It isn’t perfect and it has some glaring theological deficiencies or blank spots but it is well put together with a wide variety of both old classics and Anabaptist hymns such as some from the Ausbund. Some international flavor is present as well making it a nice well rounded hymnal. It also has other worship aids such as prayers and readings in the back. But it is getting a bit dated by now and it tends towards the more difficult end of the spectrum in terms of musical ability so it might not be the best for a start up church or church with primarily non-Anabaptist background people. My favorite new hymnal is Hymns of Grace which I provided a link to in the poll. It has the best of both old and new hymns and is decidedly theologically sensitive. It also has a significant number of scripture readings from the ESV.

    1. Thanks, Linford. Your insights into both hymnals are helpful. I’m observing there seems to be a lot of respect for the Mennonite Hymnal among those who have used it, despite its age. I’m guessing at least a few of those who didn’t vote for it are like me and have never used it enough to sense its value. Your comment makes me want to own both books you recommend.

  7. The Mennonite Hymnal is, in my humble opinion, one of the best put together hymnals in the Protestant world. It is a very classic hymnal with the best of the German hymn tradition, quality gospel songs (in a a separate section), classic English hymnody, and even a few international songs (from Japan for instance). Although a few hymns might be difficult- this is not daunting for the most part. I think you would be quite happy. I just recently started to go through it and list all the psalms included- it is quite heavy! From my viewpoint- this is a real plus as we use a Psalter here as well (we go between mostly the 1650 Scottish Psalter and Anglo-Genevan Psalter). Hymns of the Church is probably as close as any to coming to this kind of book in the ones mentioned by others. By the way, just for an idea, it could be fun to try different books. At at various times we use a Bruderhof book (Songs of Light), Zion’s Harp (Apostolic Christian), etc. You can often find used copies or even multiples cheaply (or donated even).

    1. Thanks, Michael. I value your insight since I sense you’ve truly used quite a number of hymnals.

      Do you know anything about Hymns: A Worship Book? I am surprised it is currently in second place in the voting when no one has written a word of endorsement for it yet. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen it.

      So glad you are enjoying such a variety of hymn books! I’m sure God enjoys the variety, too.

      1. A couple more comments….

        Yes, I am familiar with Hymnal: A Worship Book and have enjoyed using it some over the years. It is an excellent book. You might be interested in knowing that Mary Oyer was involved in both that book AND the Mennonite Hymnal. She truly is gifted and did an excellent job. However, the Hymnal: A Worship Book would be considered very “edgy” for conservative Anabaptist people- with inclusive language, and songs like “Mothering God you gave us birth”….and such like. This song might not technically be wrong….it is the nuance and the atmosphere it creates. It also has quite a few “modern” harmonies- very curious ones I might add. Interesting perhaps for the gifted. Anyway, I would actually not recommend it except as an occasional resource. For that it can actually be a fun book. It does have some really old-fashioned songs we have learned to absolutely LOVE….like the tune to “Lord teach us how to pray aright” and “All praise to our redeeming Lord”. In these songs they pulled very haunting old tunes from a rare Brethren book from the 1800s.

        Anyway, Mennonite Hymnal is much more classic and not as “faddish”.

  8. My opinion is hands down for the Hymns of the Church. Our congregation has been using it for nearly five years as almost our sole hymnal, and I have been very blessed by it. I initially felt that there was too much editing and changes in familiar hymns, but it is important to consider that what a person sings time after time becomes part of their thinking. I believe that is the reason behind John D. Martin’s editorial choices- reflecting Anabaptist understanding and theology rather than Protestant views. Hymns of the Church also has a nice number of hymns by Anabaptist composers, especially compared to Zion’s Praises and Christian Hymnal, which are the other two hymnals I have personally used in a church setting. Hymns of the Church is far and away a better choice than those two in my opinion. I really appreciate The Mennonite Hymnal as well, but have never used it regularly in a congregational setting, and expect it would be a bit more difficult to use, more of the songs being harder to sing for a less advanced congregation. Blessings as you choose!

  9. I agree with those who call the Mennonite Hymnal a classic. My church uses it along with the Church Hymnal, which results in some overlap. When Hymns of the Church came out I did an analysis of six hymnals and found that it came out on top in the percentage of total familiar songs across all the books, and (due to its size) the number of familiar songs unique to that book. I would recommend it as the most comprehensive collection, with the Mennonite Hymnal a runner-up due to its quality. Hymnal: A Worship Book makes a conscious attempt to be inclusive, both by incorporating songs from other cultures and by tweaking familiar language (Faith of Our Fathers becomes Faith of the Martyrs, for example); that may or may not 🙂 be what you’re looking for.

    1. Leon, I really appreciate your sharing of your research. That is exactly the kind of information I am looking for. Now if only we could combine the strengths of each of the volumes you have named!

  10. I think the Church Hymnal remains one of the finest worship hymnals made. It chock full of solid, beautiful hymns, rich imagery, deep language, and solid theology. I love it and highly recommend as an anchor of church music.
    Hymns Of the Purple Martin Church is another fine book – with lots of room to learn and grow in it.
    My caution with the thought that music needs to be familiar/comfortable to the participants it this: I don’t come to church to be made comfortable. I am far too comfortable in laziness, carnality, lust, envy, pride and greed. I want to feed, to be drawn higher, to be called to something more than myself and my comfort level. Above the trembling elements, above the restless sea, above the world around me, O Lift Me Up To Thee.

    I feel the concern others have expressed about a single-compiler book, but I think J D Martin did an fine job – even though i have only sung out it infrequently… (Some day, some day, when I am president…)
    I grew up with Church Hymnal and Christian Hymnal, and am in a church that uses Zions Praises and Christian Hymnal. ZP has its place (school, youth, occasions, etc.) As does Christian Hymnal (I’m not certain where…lol). I remain a Church Hymnal supporter.

  11. We use Christian Hymnal and Zions praises in our church, neither of which I would suggest😊 Christian hymnal was holdemann project ” church of God in Christ, Mennonite” to be precise and is heavily weighted to invitation hymns and that sort of thing. An astute song leader can use it well by using some sections more heavily than others but it doesn’t measure up. Zions praises was a one man compilation as far as I can tell and seems like an eccentric and very personal collection in many ways. Some songs are excellent and some should never have been published in any form, many are in between.

    Looks like you are being guided well comments wise, less certain about the poll results. I can’t comment on the hymnals I’m not familiar with of course. Hymns of the church is very good so far as I can tell.

    Meeting the challenge of incorporating new hymns into the mix is hard to do in the hymnal mode so using something like your onelicense is a good way to supplement that. A good hymnal helps to keep us established in works of “proven” value.

    1. Roger, good to hear from you. Interesting observations about the Christian Hymnal. I agree that Zion’s Praises is a mixed bag–some really nice additions, and some not so worthy as you say.

      For now we are so enjoying our African American Heritage Hymnal (which has a good mix of classic European hymns included) that we are holding off on purchasing anything else. I expect we will sooner or later, though, and the feedback here has been really insightful.

      Come help us sing sometime. 🙂

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