Tuesday, September 8, 2009

A home in Kenya

While I was at the seminary in Kenya I stayed at the home of the seminary president, Dr. Joseph Omolo Ochola. The Ochola family were gracious and generous hosts and are now good friends. Here are a few pictures of them and their house:

Dr. Ochola

Ruth, Sandra, Raija

the main room of the house

daughter Raija's and my bedroom

my bed with the mosquito net down

wash day - Raija was always quick to offer to wash my clothes

Friday, September 4, 2009

A hymnal provides ritual

One benefit of a hymnal is the unity that comes from ritual. The Divine Service is full of rituals, and in fact it’s not really possible to have communal worship without rituals. There are the fundamental and foundational rituals instituted by Christ - the preaching of the Word and administration of the Sacraments. The church is created for and built up by those rituals. And there are rituals men have devised over the centuries which, done properly, catechize us, aid in our worship, unite us, and deliver the Gospel to us.

The order we do things in within the service is ritualistic, as well as they way we do them, and these rituals accomplish vastly more than one thing. For instance: making the sign of the cross reminds us that we are saved by Christ’s crucifixion and that we are His. It reminds us of our baptism. It might also serve to refocus our attention. If my mind started wandering, the habit of raising my hand to make the sign of the cross reminds me to pay attention. Seeing others around me reminds me of my neighbor, to whom I’m united and for whom I pray. Young children participate by making the sign of the cross (or really young children by having mom take the hand and make the sign of the cross on them) before they can even understand that much of words.

A hymnal gives a church the blessing of shared rituals.

I am reading the Concordia Commentary on Leviticus by John Kleinig, and he used this great phrase to describe the complexity of purpose and meanings for ritual enactments. He called it a “surplus of significance”. I love it!

Monday, August 31, 2009

Choosing and translating hymns

Selecting the corpus of hymns is proving to be an interesting challenge. While Rev. Omolo was at the seminary, one of the jobs we accomplished was to look at each hymn in LSB and prioritize it for inclusion in the Kenyan hymn; one meant yes, this hymn should be in the Kenyan hymn, two maybe, and three no. One criterion that gave a hymn an automatic number one was if it was also in Mwimbieni Bwana, the Tanzanian hymnal, since that meant it was already in Swahili. There were 64 hymns that were in both hymnals.

There are, of course, other hymnbooks and songbooks in Swahili, and those are being researched for additional hymns. However, if the hymnal has perhaps 200 hymns in it, this still means at least 100 need to translated. One hundred is a big number!

The challenge is not so much in the literal translation because there are a number of excellent Kenyan pastors who are fluent in English and skilled at translating. The challenge is in writing poetically – following the rhythm and flow of a melody - making the stress of the beats and the stress of the syllables match – while keeping the text rich in meaning and clear in doctrine. What we need are a few theologically and musically trained poets who are fluent in English and Swahili. If you are such a person, or know someone who fits the description, please make yourself known!

Looking over the prioritized list, I see that some of the hymns which are in both English and Swahili are weak theologically. The fact that a hymn is already translated is not going to be able to automatically qualify it for inclusion, and we need to revisit this list. Hymnody is simply too important to the life and faith of the church.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Samples of the Kenyan liturgy

The traditional melodies used in the Kenyan settings of the liturgy are lovely. They have a churchly sound. They’re straightforward and easy to sing, but not frivolous or trivial. They’ve grown on me as I’ve listened to them and written them down, and there’s something about them that sounds liturgical.

As I mentioned, these tunes are oral tradition. However , the other day I was singing through a collection of African hymns (Tumshangilie Mungu) transcribed and compiled in the 1960’s and 70’s by Howard Olson, a Lutheran theologian, missionary, linguist, and musician. Much to my surprise and delight, I came across a piece that is nearly identical to the Agnus Dei in the Divine Service! It has some minor differences, as one would expect, but considering that this version was written some 40 years ago, in Tanzania, it’s remarkably similar.

Clicking on the title of this post will take you to three brief recordings by Pr. Omolo and myself - the Kyrie Eleison and Agnus Dei from the Divine Service, and the Opening Versicles from Matins.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Working on the hymnal

During the month of July, Pr. Omolo and I were able to put together a draft of the Divine Service, Matins, and Vespers, in Swahili, with the music as it is sung in Kenya.We got all this work done because we had not only had three weeks together at the seminary in Fort Wayne for the sole purpose of working on the hymnal, but also could meet frequently with Dr. Quill and Dr. Grime as we were working. It used a chunk of money from the Hymnal Project account to bring Pr. Omolo over, but it was definitely money well spent.

The music for the liturgy is all oral tradition, so Pr. Omolo sang the parts one at a time for me and I notated them. Pr. Omolo spent hours each day on his own, translating Proper Prefaces and Collects and other parts of the liturgy. Dr. Grime and Dr. Quill carefully walked through the liturgies with us, making suggestions, explaining historical practices and traditions and theological considerations. In those conversations I was primarily an observer, gaining more appreciation and love for our liturgy as we poured over its details.

One of the amazing benefits of working on a project like this is that it means being immersed in the Word of God, with brothers in Christ. Thank you, Lord!

Friday, August 21, 2009

Why are hymns so important?

Strong hymns…

...preach and proclaim Christ,
...teach and catechize,
...strengthen and sustain faith,
...comfort and console,
...give a voice to faith,
...interpret Scriptures so that we see Christ and his cross always at the center,
...join music with the Word,
...carry the confession of the faithful,
...are a response of thanksgiving to God
...put the words and ways of God into our ears and onto our lips,
...help form and confess our unity as the body of Christ.

Colossians 3:16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.

Friday, August 14, 2009

The ELCK Hymnal Commission

This hymnal project started with Rev. Dr. Walter Obare, Bishop of the Lutheran Church in Kenya. Bishop Obare is a leader with vision, energy, and determination. He has an amazing ability to see what needs to be done, find people who have the skills to do it, and inspire them.

What Bishop Obare saw as he traveled around his country was a Lutheran Church that needed a hymnal. The majority of parishes are in rural areas, with extremely limited access to any resources. They don’t own cars or have bookstores or Internet. If someone in the parish owns a songbook and is able to read music, this songbook may very well be the source of hymnody for the parish. A Lutheran hymnal would be a huge blessing help and blessing to these congregations.

A hymnal can help unify a church body in its worship practice by providing a setting for the Divine Service and Daily Offices.

It can unify by providing a common lectionary.

It can unify by giving the church a clearer self-image.

It can unify by encouraging worship in the same language. Although Swahili is an official language and is taught in the schools, vernacular languages are far more commonly used.

It can help unify the Kenyan Lutheran Church with the Lutheran Church worldwide.

Because we in the LC-MS recently completed the monumental task of a new hymnal, this is an excellent time for us to help develop a hymnal.

Because many of the leaders in the development of the LSB are on the faculty at CTS-FW, the seminary is in a unique position to give assistance.

The ELCK Hymnal Commission was appointed and officially begun by Bishop Obare on 29 January 2009, with five members. Four are Kenyan, and include professors from the seminary in Kenya and church musicians: Rev. Tom Omolo, Mr. Philip Auma, Mr. John Obaga, and Mr. Philip Ptiso. I am the fifth member.

Advisors to the Commission include Bishop Walter Obare and professors from the seminary in Fort Wayne: Dr. Timothy Quill, Dr. Paul Grime, and Kantor Richard Resch.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

What is Kenya like?

Last January, I got to visit Kenya. Concordia Theological Seminary-Fort Wayne hosted a Pastors’ Conference at Matongo Theological College in Sondu, Kenya. I traveled with the two pastors and two professors who were leading the conference. My task was primarily to observe and participate in worship services. In order to help with this hymnal, I need to know something about their worship practice. I also taught a session on hymnody, and a session for deaconesses.

Traveling to Kenya gave me a whole new meaning to the word “foreign”. Okay – it’s true that I’ve lived my entire life in Midwest America – ten years in Nebraska; all the rest in Indiana. But I have traveled a fair amount around the United States – including Hawaii. And outside this country, I’ve been to Germany twice and the island of Aruba once.

That being said, it’s hard to know where to begin to even describe the foreignness of this African country. There is great beauty there:

There is great poverty:

There is great adventure:

There is the Lutheran Church – in many ways familiar; but also reflective of the culture.

One of my travel companions was Rev. James Douthwaite, from St. Athanasius Lutheran Church in Vienna, VA. Pr. Douthwaite posted many pictures and descriptions of our trip. If you’d like to read and see more, you might check his blog, The Sober Peasant in Kenya.

We were warmly received by the Lutherans. They were generous with their meager possessions and eager to extend the hand of fellowship. Their hospitality was humbling as we observed the stark contrast between Kenya and “land of plenty” America.

The need for a hymnal

The Kenyan Lutheran Church has approximately 100,000 members and only 150 pastors. One pastor may serve four or five or even eight parishes, so parishes often wait several weeks for a service led by their pastor. Imagine what a difference a hymnal would make!

It is true that some parishes already have hymnals. The most common hymnal currently used is a Lutheran hymnal from Tanzania, and this is much appreciated, but it has drawbacks. For one thing, it is quite expensive, so even parishes that own it typically do not sufficient copies. For another, there is no music in this hymnal – only words. Unless someone in the congregation already knows some melodies, the hymns can’t be sung. This hymnal, while Lutheran, is not Kenyan. Having their own hymnal would help unite the church and give them a clearer self-identity.

The rural congregations often use whatever songbook is available, whether it be Anglican, Pentecostal, or another African denomination. As a result, they are catechized away from the Lutheran faith.

Lutheran hymns teach and preach Christ. They comfort and encourage. They strengthen and sustain faith. Helping the Kenyan Lutheran Church develop a hymnal is a profound act of mercy.

We need your help. Please pray that God guide the work being done to provide a hymnal for the Kenyan Lutheran Church.

This project needs financial support. So far, the hymnal project is being run entirely by donations. We’re doing our best to stretch every dollar, but the fact of the matter is that there are costs involved. Please consider a donation.

Concordia Seminary in Fort Wayne is holding the money for the Kenyan Hymnal Project, so donations are to be sent to:

Kenyan Hymnal Project
Concordia Theological Seminary
6600 N Clinton Street
Fort Wayne IN 46825

Checks are to be made out to the seminary. Write “Kenyan Hymnal Project” in the memo line, and include a brief note stating again that your donation is for the Kenyan Hymnal Project.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Welcome to the Kenyan Lutheran Hymnal Blog!

The purpose of this blog is to spread the news about the Kenyan Lutheran Hymnal Project - the development of a first official hymnal for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Kenya (ELCK).

The Lutheran Church in Kenya is an active, growing church. Since its beginning in 1948, it has established a theological college for training pastors and deaconesses, a teacher training college, and sponsors over 140 primary and 21 secondary schools.

The current Bishop of the ELCK, Rev. Dr. Walter Obare, is known world wide for his strong leadership and faithful biblical stance. He serves the church tirelessly, and inspires many with his passion for Christ. As Bishop, his greatest concern is for the people of Christ who live in Kenya.

Bishop Obare has identified the need for a hymnal as crucial for the Kenyan Lutheran Church. Although his church body is strong, it faces many struggles, one of which is the lack of its own hymnal. He has asked the LC-MS for assistance with this particular need, and so we are responding.

We are given to serve one another in Christ, and helping to provide a hymnal for a church body is a tangible way to serve. A hymnal could make a huge difference in the lives of many people.

I am a church musician and deaconess student at CTS-FW. As a deaconess intern, I am assisting with this project.

In upcoming posts I will talk about the importance of a hymnal for a church, relating it to the situation in the Kenyan Lutheran Church, and will also share some pictures from Kenya.

You can read more about the ELCK at their website.

In Christ,
Sandra Rhein