Tuesday, February 22, 2022

What's in Songs and Hymns of Zion?

Before I commit myself to another string of "Tacky Hymns" posts, I'd like to introduce a rare Lutheran hymnal that's been sitting on the corner of my piano for about four years now, waiting for me to get up the nerve to review it. Its title is Songs and Hymns of Zion (hereafter SHZ) and it's a publication of the Laestadian Lutheran Church, 2008, headquartered in Loretto, Minnesota.

I'd never heard of this group before I moved into the area where I presently live and found a congregation of it in the next town over. Apparently (I'm basing this on their website), they trace their lineage to a Swedish Lutheran pastor named Lars Levi Laestadius, who underwent a conversion experience and went on to start a revival movement that spread across Swedish Lappland. Finnish immigrants brought the movement to the U.S., with congregations starting in Cokato, Minn. and Calumet, Mich. in 1872-73. Subsequent controversies over justification, the church and the sacraments split the movement, leading in 1973 to the formation of the Association of American Laestadian Congregations (AALC), which in turn became the Laestadian Lutheran Church (LLC) in 1995. They have 30 member congregations and more than 100 ministers, mainly in Minnesota, Washington, Arizona, Michigan and Saskatechewan. They subscribe to the Lutheran Confessions and the authority of the Bible as "the highest guide and authority for Christian faith, doctrine and life."

When I found out about the group and the existence of their own hymnal, I got hold of a copy. My intention at the time was to incorporate it into my study of hymn tunes in the tradition of Lutheran hymnals within English-speaking Lutheranism. My plans hit a snag when I realized that, for the hymn tunes, the book provides bare melody and a credit line for its composer or source, but no tune title. I actually reached out to somebody who was involved in the church body's hymnal project and asked whether it would be possible to obtain a tune index with the titles of the tunes, but I wasn't even able to make myself understood. Apparently the convention of tune naming, prevalent among other anglophone Lutheran hymnals, has not yet cracked this small group; and I was daunted by the prospect of having to comb through all my other resources to make correct identification of all the tunes that SHZ has in common with them.

Now that I've done TLH, LSB, ELHy, ELW, CWH and even the Reclaim hymnal, however, I've run out of excuses and it's time at last for me to tackle this project. I'm going to take it slowly, and I'm not going to touch the hymns in this post; that'll be a job for Tacky Hymns 103. For now, let's look at what's in the book besides hymns.

My copy of SHZ is a compact hardcover with burgundy cloth on it. It opens with a preface from the LLC Board of Directors that admirably stresses how "the people of God have been, since the beginning of time, a singing throng." Besides thanks and praise, it says, these songs also express the faithful's thoughts and feelings and give them encouragement and comfort. The current SHZ is built on a previous edition published in 1980, it says.

The acknowledgements page acknowledges a debt to the Central Organization of Associations of Peace of Finland (SRK), among other entities. The Table of Contents lists the sections into which the hymns are organized, then includes "Sacred Acts" (Holy Communion, Holy Baptism), "Prayers" (Prayers for Daily Life, Sunday School Worship), a long list of indices and cross references, and a section of "General Worship" (the Apostles' Creed, Lord's Prayer and benediction at the end of the book). Next is a page explaining abbreviations used in the book.

The book's first 602 hymns are divided up thus: The Church Year (1-152), subdivided into Advent, Christmas, New Year, Epiphany, Candlemas(!), Mary's Day(!), Christ's Sufering and Death, Easter, Ascension, Pentecost, Holy Trinity, Michaelmas, All Saints' Day and End of the Church Year; Services (153-269), including Opening of Services, God's Word, God's Kingdom, Closing of Services, Holy Baptism, Holy Communion, Confirmation, Marriage, Funeral and Ordination; Life in Christ (269-419), sectioned into God's Grace in Christ, Repentance and Confession, Faith in Jesus, Thanksgiving and Praise, Tribulation and Comfort, God's Protection and Guidance, Call to God's Kingdom and Love of Neighbor; Daily Life (420-542), sectioned into Home and Family, Mealtime, Health and Illness, School and Study, Children, Youth, Work and Daily Calling, Elders, Morning and Evening, Creation and Seasons, Our Homeland, Journeying and Relocation and The Changing World; and Everlasting Life (543-602), sectioned into Journey in a Foreign Land, Yearning for the Homeland and Death and Everlasting Life.

Turning to the end of the book, the Sacred Acts part of the book begins with Holy Communion on p. 836. It starts as a very spare outline of the service, including Hymn, Prayer, Sermon, Hymn, Salutation. You actually get text to follow for Confession of Sins and Absolution, which are beautifully written although unusual in form. For example, the Confession conjures several biblical examples (the sinful woman, the thief on the cross, etc.), and the Absolution comprises two scripture quotes (1 John 1:7,9 and John 20:22,23) followed by "Beloved communion guest: Be encouraged to hold to these promises of God and believe all your sins forgiven in Jesus' name and blood and be of good cheer!" After the Thanksgiving (another mere bullet point), Words of Institution (concluding with the Lord's Prayer) and the Peace of God, two musical settings of the Agnus Dei are inserted, numbered as hymns 603 and 604. The service continues with the Invitation ("The Lord Jesus says, Come, for all is now ready!"), the Distribution and dismissal, some more spare outline points for the Prayer and Thanksgiving for (after) the Communion, Benediction and another Hymn. Excuse my capitalization; I'm using the book's exact terminology.

It's amazing how much liturgy isn't in here. No Kyrie, Gloria, Sanctus or Nunc dimittis. There isn't even a Creed. The Nicene Creed doesn't even make it into the book. The service outline doesn't even specifically call for scripture readings, let alone fancy stuff like Introits and Graduals. Maybe it's assumed the minister will include those under the rubric of "Sermon."

The service of Baptism again follows an outline format, which keeps it all on one page, with only the Words of Institution (Mathew 28:18-20), a rubric for the officiant putting his hand on the baptismal candidate when praying the Lord's Prayer, and the formula of Baptism (including a blessing afterward) spelled out. Other agenda items include Hymn, Salutation, Speech, Scripture Reading, Apostle's Creed, Prayer, Words of Exhortation, Benediction and another Hymn.

Prayers for Daily Life include "Now I lay me down to sleep," a three-stanza hymn "Lord, as I close my eyes to rest," and Luther's morning, evening and mealtime prayers. Sunday School Worship includes a three-paragraph opening prayer and a four-paragraph closing prayer. The last thing before the indices is the page with the Apostles' Creed, Lord's Prayer and Benediction on it.

You can learn a lot about the priorities of the people who put together a hymnal from the way they designed the indices, and what they do. I've already noted that this hymnal is no help for people who (like me) are interested in the cultural and artistic history of Lutheran hymn tunes. The editors' first priority, in this book, is evidenced by an index converting the hymn numbers in SHZ 2008 to the numbers for the same hymns in SHZ 1980. Then there's a similar index tracing the descent of SHZ's hymns (by hymn number only) to the Ev. Luth. Church of Finland's 2000 hymnal and 2004 worship supplement and the SRK's 1976 hymnal and 2006 supplement. Then there is a series of indices going the other way, correlating the SRK's books, and then the ELCF's, to SHZ. Then an index of the authors, text sources and translators of hymn lyrics; then of hymn tune composers and melody sources; then a "scripture to hymn" Bible reference index; then a "hymn to scripture" one; then an alphabetical index of hymns; and then the Apostles' Creed, Lord's Prayer and Benediction again, on the final printed page (896).

My interest is piqued. All that I've looked at so far hints at a unique experience among anglophone Lutheran hymnals – a great big, unashamed throwback to the Old Country, and it not a country whose hymnody I've ever explored in any depth. It's clearly idiosyncratic among the type of books I've been exploring, deeply marked by an apparent disregard for formal liturgy and an unusual method of organizing its hymns. It shows signs of being put together with an abundance of care to maintain every possible connection to the Lutheran culture of Finland without being concerned at all about what other American Lutherans are doing. I'm not saying it's going to be nothing but news to me, but it really is going to be a different perspective, and no mistake.

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