Hymnology of the North American Mennonites

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Mennonite Church (MC), including the Amish

German Hymnals

The early Swiss and Palatine Mennonite immigrants to Pennsylvania brought with them the ancient Swiss Mennonite hymnal, the Ausbund, first published in 1564 in Switzerland. This book was in common use in the early days. An American edition of the book was soon needed, and was the first Mennonite book published in America for Mennonite use. It was published by Saur at Germantown in 1742, and again in 1751, 1767, and 1785. At Lancaster, Pennsylvania, it was first published in 1815, reappearing there a total of eight times, last in 1912. Further editions were published by the Old Order Amish congregations of Lancaster County with the place given as "Lancaster County" in 1935, 1941, 1949, 1952, with an edition at Kutztown, Pennsylvania in 1922. Reprints of the 1952 edition had been made 16 times by 1999. John F. Funk published editions at Elkhart in 1880, 1905, and 1913, obviously for the Amish of the Midwest. The Ausbund went out of use in Mennonite congregations early in the 19th century; since that time it has been used almost exclusively by the Old Order Amish congregations of Pennsylvania and west. The Alsatian, Bavarian, and Hessian Amish who settled in Ohio, Ontario, and Illinois from 1824 on brought the Ausbund with them (last European edition at Basel in 1838) and may also have purchased some of the Lancaster editions.

The American editions of the Ausbund all carry significant additional materials beyond the European editions as follows: a total of 140 hymns rather than 137, an index of hymns by first lines, an index of hymns which can be sung to the same tune, the Confessio, Oder Bekantnuss of Thomas von Imbroich (19 pp.), Ein warhafftiger Bericht, von den Brüdern im Schweitzerland in dem Zürcher Gebiet, wegen der Trübsalen welche über sie ergangen seyn um des Evangeliums willen (38 pp.), and an appendix called Anhang von fünff schönen geistlichen Liedern (40 pp.), first added in 1767, but becoming "sechs" (six) hymns in 1785.

Even before the Revolutionary War, the Mennonite congregations began to use other hymnbooks, particularly one of the Reformed Church, which was called Ambrosii Lobwasser's Neu-Vermehrtes Gesangbuch and was popular among the Mennonites in Switzerland in the 18th and early 19th centuries. The first American edition was published at Germantown in 1753, a second edition in 1763. A number of clean, unused copies of the 1763 edition of this Reformed hymnbook were found by the author in the attic of the Groffdale Mennonite Church in Lancaster County, in 1925, mute evidence of their early use there. That various non-Mennonite hymnbooks, in particular the Reformed, as well as the old Ausbund, were used in Pennsylvania as late as the turn of the 19th century is indicated by a letter written in 1821 by Deacon Martin Mellinger to relatives in Germany (MQR 1931, 57 ff.), which tells about the conditions leading to the preparation and publication of an official Lancaster Mennonite hymnbook in 1803-4. Mellinger says: "And now I want to tell you how it went when the first book was to be printed. Since we had all sorts of hymnbooks, the old Swiss songbooks [Ausbund] and Reformed hymnbooks [Lobwasser], and not enough of what we had, our brethren decided to have a hymnbook printed for ourselves. Brethren and choristers were to select beautiful and fitting hymns, after which they were to be collected and given over to three, four, or five men. These men were to select enough of the hymns which had been collected so that the hymnbook would not be too large. After a time two Skippack brethren Franconia Conference came together with two of our leading bishops in my house to examine the hymns which had been collected. The Skippack brethren, since they have a large and strong church as well as a large district and are well trained in singing, had collected enough hymns for a complete hymnbook and had taken 3,000 subscriptions in advance. We also had many hymns from Virginia, from Jacob's Creek Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania, and from our vicinity, which were to go into the book. So it was feared that the book would become too large. In addition our brethren wanted to include a number of psalms and notes. In short, the difference was so great that the Skippack brethren said that their hymns had been handed in by so many brethren and dared not be omitted, and so many had already subscribed, and there was a lengthy discussion. The second day the Skippack brethren said that they were only delegates, and they saw no other way than to have their book [Die Kleine Geistliche Harfe, 1803] printed in Germantown where they had a good printer and bookbinder, which was so handy for them that they could look after everything, and we could print ours [Ein Unpartheyisches Gesangbuch, 1804] in Lancaster. And so the outcome was that they had as many printed as we. But that made no difference to us or them, for we love one another, and we visit them and they visit us every year. And still it is a pity that it had to be so. For many years many families have been moving to Virginia, Jacob's Creek, and Canada, and each has his hymnbook and then they have different hymnbooks when they come together. Although you will doubtless know most of the hymns in the books, you will probably find many beautiful and valuable hymns especially in the last appendix, which are unfamiliar to you and have never yet appeared in print" (MQR 5, 1931, 56 f.). Actually, 56 per cent of the Lancaster hymns appear in the Franconia hymnal, while 48 per cent of the hymns of the larger Franconia hymnal appear in the Lancaster hymnal.

The first original Mennonite hymnbook edited and published in America was the Franconia Conference hymnal, Die Kleine Geistliche Harfe der Kinder Zions (Germantown 1803, 472 pp., further editions as follows: Germantown 1811 and 1820, Northampton 1834, Doylestown 1838, Lancaster 1870, Elkhart 1904). It had 40 select Psalms in a first section, followed by 474 hymns (475 from the second edition on) in a second section under a new title, Sammlung alter und neuer Geistreicher Gesange. An appendix of 20 hymns, added in the second edition, grew to 34 hymns by 1870. It had no imitators or condensations as did the Lancaster hymnal. However, when the Church hymnal, Mennonite, was published in 1927 a special edition was furnished with a German appendix of 135 hymns (56 pp.) chosen from the Harfe by Bishop Abram G. Clemmer of the Franconia Conference. As late as 1952 1,000 copies of this German appendix were printed and bound in with the Hymnal for Franconia use.

The first edition of the Lancaster Conference hymnal, called Ein Unpartheyisches Gesangbuch (the word Ein was dropped after the second edition), was published at Lancaster in 1804 as a good-sized book of 511 pages. It contained two parts: first 62 select Psalms set to music; second a selection of 390 hymns with a new title page, Ein Neues, Unpartheyisches Gesangbuch zum allgemeinen Gebrauch des wahren Gottesdienstes. Auf Begehren der Brüderschaft der Mennonisten Gemeinen, aus vielen Liederbüchern gesammelt mit einem dreyfachen Register versehen. Later editions added numerous additional hymns in the form of three appendices (1808, first appendix, 35 hymns; 1820, second appendix, 32 hymns; 1829, third appendix, 14 hymns). The compiling committee states that several were selected from the martyr hymns of the earlier church hymnal, meaning the Ausbund; actually 64 hymns (45 per cent of the Ausbund total) were taken from it, amounting to 17 per cent of the 390 basic hymns in the book. It was apparently the only Mennonite hymnal, European or American, which took over any substantial number of the hymns of the Ausbund). This hymnal went through 14 more editions 1808-87, all at Lancaster with a late edition in 1903 at the same place. Mellinger states that the earlier editions were for 4,000 copies each. The hymnal was published again in 1923 and 1941 in a special edition for the Old Order Amish and other branches in Lancaster County which still use the book. It also seems to have been used in Southwestern Pennsylvania, in Ontario, and in Virginia, at least for a time.

2nd edition of Benjamin Eby's hymnbook

In 1839 a condensed version of the Lancaster hymnal, containing 102 of its hymns, small format, was published at Canton, Ohio, printed by "Peter Kaufmann and Co.," under the title Ein Unpartheyisches Gesang-Buch, zum allgemeinen Gebrauch des Wahren Gottesdienstes, probably for the newly established Mennonite congregations in Eastern Ohio. The Gemeinschaftliche Liedersammlung (Berlin, Ont., 1836), most likely edited by Benjamin Eby, also small format, took two thirds of its 205 hymns from the Lancaster hymnal and most of the rest from the Franconia Kleine Geistliche Harfe, omitting many stanzas. It was reprinted eight times at Berlin (Kitchener) (1838, 1841, 1849, 1857, 1883, 1892, 1908, 1918), twice at Lancaster (1860, 1870), and once at Scottdale (1950). It has continued to be reprinted for use by the Old Order Mennonites in Ontario up to 1999. In 1860 another condensation of the Lancaster Unpartheyisches Gesangbuch with 152 hymns was printed by John Baer's Sons in Lancaster "for the publisher" under the title, Eine Unpartheiische Liedersammlung, small format, which was reprinted eight times by Baer's (1864, 1867, 1870, 1876, 1886, 1891, 1900, 1905), twice at Elkhart (1911, 1929), and eight times at Scottdale 1917, 1924, 1929, 1936, 1941, 1942, 1945, 1954). It is still used by the Old Order Mennonites of Lancaster County and the Old Order Amish ("das dünne Büchlein," in contrast to the Ausbund, "das dicke Buch"). This hymnal was published in a revised larger edition with 309 hymns, still small format, by S. D. Guengerich, an Old Order Amish layman of Amish, Iowa, in 1892 (printed at Elkhart), which used somewhat less than half of the hymns of the older book, with many other hymns, but carried the same title with the addition, "Revidiert und vermehrt" (revised and enlarged). It was reprinted twice at Elkhart (1907, 1916), twice at Arthur, Ill. (1928, 1940), and once at Scottdale (1954). It has been used exclusively by the Old Order Amish in the Midwest and is still used in some places. Sometime before 1929 Guengerich published a 16-page booklet of 12 selections from it entitled Etliche Schöne Lieder. The Unparteiisches Liederbuch of the Church of God in Christ, Mennonite (Elkhart, 1906, Scottdale, 1915), small format, 353 hymns, has no connection with any of the above hymnals.

Three additional German hymnbooks of the Mennonite Church (MC) deserve notice. John F. Funk published in 1871 at Elkhart (later editions 1877, 1880, 1883, 1885, 1889) Die allgemeine Lieder-Sammlung zum privat und öffentlichen Gottes-Dienst mit Fleiss zusammengetragen. It had 329 hymns (2nd ed., 330) and an English Appendix of 23 hymns (1880 ed., 44 hymns). A German appendix of 19 hymns (Anhang) was added in 1877. This same hymnal was published in 1901 at Belleville, Pa., under the title Eine Sammlung von Schöne Lieder zum Gebrauch bei dem Gottesdienst, evidently for the Amish Mennonites of this community. It was reprinted in 1912 at Scottdale (Eine Sammlung von Schönen Liedern) and again in 1931, "With an appendix arranged and enlarged by a committee of the Amish Mennonite Church [tr. from the German] S. Yoder, C. W. Bender, J. B. Miller," all of the Conservative Amish Church near Grantsville, Md. The appendix contained German hymns numbered 331-80 (copyright by J. B. Miller) and the English appendix of 44 hymns of the Allgemeine Liedersammlung, edition of 1880. Deutsches Lieder- und Melodienbuch mit einem Anhang englischer Lieder zum Gebrauch in der Gemeinde, der Sonntagschule und dem Familienkreis (Elkhart, 1895, reprint Scottdale, 1926) was edited by a committee composed of J. S. Hartzler, C. Z. Yoder, J. S. Coffman, John Horsch, A. B. Kolb, W. P. Coffman, and John F. Funk. The preface states that it was published at the request of several conferences. It was the last of the German hymnals of the Mennonite Church (MC). Its English appendix reprinted the 457 hymns of the Hymns and tunes (1890).

In 1855 Samuel K. Cassel edited and published at Skippackville, Pa. (Franconia Conference district), Der Christliche Sänger, eine Sammlung der vornehmsten und gebräuchlichsten Lieder zum Gebrauch des öffentlichen und privat Gottesdienstes für alle heilsuchende Seelen jeder Christlichen Benennung, small format, with 228 hymns. The family of Abraham A. Meyer (d. 1877) published after his death Christliche Lieder gedichtet und zum Theil gesammelt von Abraham A. Meyer an der Deep Run in Bedminster Taunschip, Bucks County, Pa. (Milford Square, 1877), small format, with 46 hymns, 28 by the author. The executors of Daniel Kreider published after his death Hinterlassene Lieder-Sammlung (Lancaster, 1865) with 13 original hymns, small format. George Funk, of Bowling Green, Clay County, Ind., published The little hymn book, a selection of hymns from different authors (n.d., 1864), with 23 hymns, small format. None of these four hymnals was of any historical consequence.

All of the above hymnals were without notes, except the Deutsches Lieder- und Melodienbuch, since the Mennonites and Amish up to the end of the 19th century generally (with increasing exceptions) sang one-part music only, and objected to published notes in their regular church hymnals. The only exception was a few tunes for the Psalms in the Franconia and Lancaster hymnals. All singing in church was a cappella, of course, since musical instruments in the church services were forbidden.

English Hymnals

The English hymnals of the Mennonite Church (MC) began with a small format book published at Harrisonburg, Va., in 1847, entitled A selection of Psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. From the most approved authors, suited to the various occasions of public worship and private devotion of the church of Christ by a committee of Mennonites [Joseph Funk, David Hartman, Joseph Wenger], with 363 hymns. It was reprinted by Joseph Funk at Singers Glen, Va., six times (1851, 1855, 1859, 1868, 1872, 1877) at Lancaster four times (1862, 1864, 1869, 1875), at Elkhart three times (1880, 1882, 1884), and at Scottdale in 1948. In 1851 the title was changed from A Selection to A Collection and the number of hymns increased to 402, with a German appendix of 27 hymns, which grew to 37 in 1855, and changed to an English appendix of 48 hymns in 1875. This was the only English hymnal of the church until 1890, when Hymns and tunes appeared at Elkhart. Joseph Funk's Harmonia Sacra (first published in 1816 as Die allgemein nützliche Choral-Music at Harrisonburg, Va., then in 1832 in English as A compilation of genuine church music, called Harmonia Sacra with the fifth edition in 1851) did not become a regular church hymnal, since it was in the long (horizontal) singing-school format and had three-part harmonizations (four-part harmonizations introduced by 1871). It did, however, furnish many of the tunes for the little English hymnal and was very popular. Called the New Harmonia Sacra in its 15th edition (1876), it is still being printed (24th edition by 1999). A similar book was the Philharmonia compiled by M. D. Wenger and published at Elkhart in 1875 (reprint in 1881) under a double title in English and German: The Philharmonia, a collection of tunes, adapted to public and private worship, containing tunes for all the hymns in the English Mennonite Hymn Book, the Gemeinschaftliche, Unparteiische and Allgemeine Liedersammlungen, the Unparteiische Gesangbuch, and the Mennonitische Gesangbuch, with instructions and explanations in English and German, also English and German texts to most of the tunes, metrical indexes, etc., including a greater variety of meters of church music than any other work of the kind now published. Compiled by Martin D. Wenger. (The "all" in this title was an overstatement.) An English Sunday-school hymnal, prepared by C. H. Brunk of Virginia, published at Elkhart in 1883 (reprints 1884, 1888) under the title Bible school hymns and sacred songs for Sunday schools and other religious services, 40 pp., was really a hymnal for children. A similar book, The Christian harp and Sabbath school songster, designed for the use of the social religious circle, revivals and the Sabbath school, published in 1866 jointly by Ruebush & Kieffer of Singers Glen, Va., and H. B. Brenneman of Bremen, Ohio (printed by Joseph Funk's Sons at Singers Glen), has also been attributed to C. H. Brunk (Mennonite Cyclopedic Dictionary, 44).

The first American Mennonite hymnal with printed tunes (for about one half of the hymns) was Hymns and tunes for public and private worship, and Sunday schools compiled by a committee [H. S. Rupp, Samuel Shank, Emanuel Suter, C. H. Brunk, J. S. Coffman] (Elkhart, 1890), with 457 hymns and 216 tunes, sponsored by the Virginia and Indiana Mennonite Conferences. It was a transition hymnal between the German and the English books, especially in the Franconia and Lancaster Conferences, but was displaced in turn by the Church and Sunday school hymnal of 1902.

The fully official English hymnbook of the Mennonite Church (MC) began in 1902 with the Church and Sunday school hymnal, a collection of hymns and sacred songs, appropriate for church services, Sunday schools, and general devotional exercises. Compiled and published under the direction of a committee appointed by Mennonite conferences (Elkhart, Ind., and Freeport, Ill., 1902) with 412 hymns and a German appendix of 50 hymns, It also appeared in a word edition without music. It was reprinted at Scottdale in 1911 and 1926 and a number of times since, and in 1911 given a supplement (Church and Sunday school hymnal supplement), which increased the number of hymns to 532. (Selections from Church and Sunday school hymnal was issued at Scottdale in 1911.) It remained in print in 1999. It was finally replaced in 1927 by Church hymnal, Mennonite, a collection of hymns and sacred songs, suitable for use in public worship, worship in the home, and all general occasions, J. D. Brunk, Musical editor, S.F. Coffman, Hymn editor, Published by approval of Mennonite General Conference, First Edition fifteenth thousand. Printed in both shaped and round Notes (Scottdale, 1927). This standard hymnal, with 657 hymns, has gone through thirteen editions, with a total of 120,000 copies issued to 1956. However, the Church and Sunday School Hymnal of 1902 continues to be reprinted and enjoys a substantial patronage, with probably 80 per cent of the sales of the Church Hymnal of 1927; from 1925 to 1954, 73,000 were printed. It remained in print in 1999. Select hymns and gospel songs taken from the Church hymnal for use in conferences and special meetings, with 77 hymns, appeared first in 1929, was issued in an enlarged edition with 132 hymns in 1934, and reached its final form in 1953 with 138 hymns, with the title Selections from Church hymnal for use in conference, special meetings, with a total printing of 20,000.

To meet the demand for somewhat lighter music for Sunday-school use, the Mennonite Publishing House, using manuscript delivered by the Music Committee of the Mennonite General Conference, has published the following songbooks: Life songs (1916) with 271 hymns and Life songs No. 2 (1938) with 343 hymns, both books edited by S. F. Coffman, and Songs of the church (1953) with 274 hymns, edited by Walter Yoder. The latter book contained numerous chorales and was definitely of a higher type than Life songs. Selections from Life songs No. 2 was issued in 1943 with 122 numbers. Sheet music of heaven, compiled by C. F. Derstine published by the compiler, was printed at Scottdale in 1925 and 1926, with 300 hymns as a Sunday-school type of book, and reached a total of 10,000 copies printed. Life songs appeared in five editions in 1916-30 with ca. 20,000 copies, Life songs no. 2 in eleven editions, 1938-50, with 96,000 copies, and Songs of the church in one edition with 15,000 copies. Life songs no. 2 remained in print in 1999.

Three hymnbooks for children have been published at Scottdale, Pennsylvania: Children's hymns and songs in 1924, with 143 hymns (no tunes), not officially sponsored; Songs of cheer for children, a collection of hymns and songs suitable for use in the primary and junior departments of our Sunday schools, authorized by Mennonite General Conference, compiled by Music Committee (1929), with 155 hymns (152 tunes); and Junior hymns for juniors in church, Sunday school, and Summer Bible school (1947) with 157 hymns and 146 three-part tunes, edited by Walter Yoder. Songs of cheer has had seven printings with a total of 41,000 copies.

No careful study has yet been made of the sources of the hymn selections in either the German or English hymnals of the Mennonite Church (MC). However, it is clear that the English hymnals contain almost exclusively standard English and American hymns, supplemented by the American Gospel songs of the late 19th (with considerable influence from Ira D. Sankey's Gospel songs Nos. 1-5) and early 20th centuries. Very few hymns have been contributed by Mennonite writers. Unfortunately very few of the standard German chorales have found their way into the English hymnals, in contrast to the hymnals of the General Conference Mennonite Church and the Mennonite Brethren Church, although good translations have been available.

In a class by itself is Amische Lieder, written and compiled by Joseph W. Yoder (published by the Yoder Publishing Company, Huntingdon, Pa., n.d., 1942). This book contains 114 pages, with 97 hymns, 38 of which are taken from the Ausbund (in each case 3 stanzas only) and set to its historic tune (one part only) which Yoder wrote down from actual singing by an Amish song leader. The remaining 59 hymns are taken from what Yoder calls the "Dine Mickley" (thin book), the Unparteiische Liedersammlung, which is also used in certain Amish services and sung with "faster tunes," also not printed in the book, and for which Yoder has transcribed the music. Yoder's avowed purpose is to help the Amish to conserve their hymn tunes and to contribute toward uniformity in the various Amish communities. A 14-page section, "Rudiments," closes the book.

General Conference Mennonite Church

German Hymnals

German hymnbook prepared by Conference of Mennonites in Canada in 1942.

The first hymnal of this group, the Gesangbuch zum Gottesdienstlichen und Häuslichen Gebrauch in Mennoniten Gemeinden (Philadelphia, 1873), was a republication of the hymnal of the South German Mennonites of 1856 (with the word "Evangelisch" dropped from the title), with its 600 hymns, but without 30 pages of prayers, and with the addition of an appendix of 22 hymns apparently chosen by the committee which the conference had commissioned to prepare a hymnal. It was reprinted in a "second improved edition" at Berne in 1885 with exactly the same content. Meanwhile those congregations in the General Conference which had come from Russia (1874 ff.) continued to use for some time the Gesangbuch in Welchem eine Sammlung geistreicher Lieder befindlich, zur allgemeinen Erbauung und zum Lobe Gottes, which they had used in Russia and which was reprinted in Elkhart, first in 1880 and seven times later (----, 1889, 1895, 1903, 1907, 1916, 1918), at Scottdale five times (1926, 1937, 1944, 1949, 1954, total 31,800 copies), and at least twice in Mexico (1940, 1943); and is still in use among the most conservative Mennonites in Canada and in Mexico. The General Conference successfully sought to unite, in church music, its eastern and western wings in the United States by issuing with notes a revised edition of the 1873-85 Gesangbuch under the title Gesangbuch mit Noten (Berne, 1890) with 600 hymns, of which it had only about half in common with the book of 1873, although it used all the 24 categories of the table of contents of that book. A total of some 50,000 copies of this popular book were distributed in its 15 editions (1890 twice, 1893, 1896, 1898, 1901, 1906, 1908, 1911, 1913, 1914, 1920 [?], 1925, 1927, 1936) and an edition of 1906 by the Mennonite Publishing Company at Elkhart, Ind., for the Amish churches. It was replaced, for the German-speaking congregations, in 1942 by the Gesangbuch der Mennoniten (Rosthern, Sask., 1942) with 550 hymns, prepared by a special hymnal commission of the Canadian Conference, but published by the General Conference, which was reprinted in 1944, 1947, and 1949, for a total of 20,000 copies. An appendix, Anhang zum Gesangbuch, with 60 additional hymns was published, which led to an edition of the main hymnal called Ausgabe mit Anhang (third edition, Newton, 1953). The appendix (Anhang) could also be purchased separately.

A selection of 132 hymns from the Gesangbuch mit Noten was published in 1892 at Berne by the Christliche Central Buchhandlung, Welty & Sprunger, under the title Evangelisations-Lieder aus dem Gesangbuch mit Noten, geeignet für Schulen, Bet- und Bibelstunden, u.s.w.

The Choralbuch of Heinrich Franz (Leipzig, 1860, 1880) was reprinted for the Mennonites of Manitoba four times (Elkhart 1878, 1918, and twice in Manitoba). It was further reprinted in condensed form by a group of four men from the Chortitz Mennonite congregation at Steinbach, Man. In 1935 a special Choralbuch was published by a commission appointed by the Ministers' Conference of the Conference of Mennonites in Canada. It bore the title Choralbuch in vierstimmigem Tonsatz zum Gebrauch in Kirche, Schule und Haus der Mennonitengemeinden, and contained two or three stanzas of 250 hymns with four-part music (ciphers).

Not to be overlooked is the Kleiner Liederschatz für die Schule und den Familienkreis. Gesammelt und geordnet von einigen Lehrern und Schulfreunden in Kansas (Newton, Schulverlag von Bethel College, 1901), reprints at Newton 1914 and 1928, with 126 songs. It was copyrighted "by David Goerz, in trust for the Western District Conference of the Mennonite Church of America." The Herald Publishing Company published the editions of 1914 and 1928. A similar booklet of 80 pages is Der Kleine Sänger (6th ed., Altona, Man., D. W. Friesen & Sons, 1947).

Meanwhile the Gesangbuch zum gottesdienstlichen und häuslichen Gebrauch in den Mennoniten-Gemeinden Russlands (first ed., Odessa, 1842) with its 725 hymns was reprinted in Germany in 1929 for the newer Canadian immigrants from Russia, with the title changed to substitute "Canada" for "Russland" (called erroneously "Fifth Edition").

J. A. Sprunger, formerly a minister in the Mennonite Church of Berne, Indiana, after about 1898 a minister in the Missionary Church Association, edited, with H. J. Dyck, a Mennonite minister from Kansas associated with him in work at the Light and Hope Orphanage at Birmingham, Ohio, Himmels-Harfe für Sonntag-Schulen, Jugendvereine und Evangelisations-Versammlungen at Birmingham in 1907, with 178 hymns, published by the Light and Hope Publishing Company, a publishing agency created by and largely owned by Sprunger.

English Hymnals

The need for an English hymnal in the General Conference Mennonite Church was met by three successive books: (1) Mennonite hymnal, blending of many voices, prepared and arranged for use in the Mennonite Churches of the General Conference of North America (Berne, 1894 and 1905) with 560 hymns; (2) Mennonite hymn book (Berne, 1927, 1928, and 1929) with 412 hymns, and (3) The Mennonite hymnary (Berne and Newton, n.d., 1940) with 623 hymns. The first was, in spite of the assertion on the title page, only a reprint of the hymnal Many voices, published by the non-Mennonite A. S. Barnes Co. in 1891. The Mennonite hymn book was the first English compilation by General Conference editors (leading members on the editorial committee were G. A. Lehman, A. D. Schantz, and W. H. Hohmann), but it never became popular, less than 5,000 copies being sold of the three editions. A Selection of songs Taken from the Mennonite hymn book (1929) with 69 hymns was donated to the General Conference session of 1929 by the Berne Witness Co. in an edition of 1,500. A new edition of this Selection, but with only 56 hymns, was printed in 1935. More popular was Treasure songs for schools and churches, compiled for general use in all religious services, corresponding to the Kleiner Liederschatz of 1901. It was sponsored by the Western District Conference, but published by the Herald Publishing Company at Newton in 1937, in an edition of 2,000 copies. Intended as a supplement to the Mennonite hymn book, with a lighter type of music, it had 290 hymns including many children's choruses. A selection of 45 hymns of the book was published in 1936 [sic!], prepared by the Committee on Schools and Education of the Western District Conference, under the title, Selected songs from the new song book. The committee which edited the Treasure songs was composed of P. P. Buller, P. R. Voth, P. J. Wedel, and J. R. Thierstein.

The Mennonite hymnary of 1940, edited by W. H. Hohmann and Lester Hostetler, was an outstanding success, selling 37,000 copies in nine editions up to 1955. Although all the General Conference hymnals have expressed the desire to carry on the tradition of the German hymn as one of their purposes, the Hymnary is most successful in this purpose, with 104 German hymn tunes, 58 of which are classified as chorales. Besides the standard English and American hymns the book has an important section of 26 Psalms and Psalm tunes, and also a good selection of 68 of the better Gospel songs. Although it began as a revision of the Mennonite hymn book, the Hymnary turned out to be a new compilation (about 63 per cent of the Hymn book was taken over, constituting 41 per cent of the Hymnary). Lester Hostetler also edited 101 Hymns from the Mennonite hymnary, with actually 113 hymns, in 1947 (2nd ed. 1953). His Handbook to the Mennonite hymnary (Newton, 1949, pp. 425) "seeks to explain, as far as possible, the origin of the words and music of every hymn in the Hymnary." "Without a doubt, the Mennonite hymnary is the best hymnal that the General Conference Mennonites or any other Mennonite conference has published" (Wohlgemuth). It has had great influence on the General Conference Church. The Mennonite retreater was a camp hymnal with 121 hymns, published specifically for use at Camp Wood, Kan., in July 1939.

In 1956 The Youth hymnary, also edited by Lester Hostetler, with 303 hymns, was published at Newton.

The Mennonite Brethren Church

Heimatklange, used by Canadian Mennonite Brethren

Since this body is wholly of Russian origin, having immigrated to the United States in 1874 ff. and, with a much larger number of immigrants, into Canada in 1922 ff., it has until recently used the German books it brought from Russia, or reprinted in North America, or the songbooks of other related groups, chiefly of the Gospel song type. The first book used in Russia was the Glaubensstimme, the songbook of the German Baptists. This was reprinted in 1905 at Medford, Okla., by the M.B. Publishing House, edited by H. W. Grage, under the title Zions-Glaubensstimme, with 512 hymns with music. The Heimatklänge, by E. Gebhardt, published in seven editions in Russia, was republished twice in America, in a revised edition at Mountain Lake, Minn., in 1924 (?) by A. Kroeker, and in 1939 (?) at Winnipeg. Both in Russia and in America a popular combination was the Drei-Band (three volumes) Heimatklänge-Glaubensstimme-Frohe Botschaft, all of non-M.B. origin. The Mennonite Brethren Publishing House at Hillsboro, Kan., published the Sänger-Bote in at least five editions, Zions-Klange and Neue Zions-Lieder (1919) by J. J. Franz and D. B. Towner, and printed A. G. Sawatzky's Lieder-Quelle für Kirche und Haus, which appeared quarterly in 1929-30. The Sängerbote was a periodical publication of an M.B. Association of Singers (Christlicher Sängerbund der Mennoniten Brüdergemeinde von Nord Amerika) beginning in 1912. Young People's sacred songs, edited by H. C. Richert, also published by the M.B. Publishing House at Hillsboro (1935), is really a collection of 25 numbers of the gospel song type, partly for special groups, only 15 being of the hymn type for mixed voices.

The first official conference hymnals of the Mennonite Brethren Church of North America, and the only ones to date, are: the Mennonite Brethren Church hymnal, a treasury of hymns and gospel songs compiled, edited and published by the Mennonite Brethren Hymnal Committee . . . Music Editor, Herbert C. Richert (Hillsboro, n.d., 1953), with 500 hymns; and the Gesangbuch der Mennoniten Brüdergemeinde herausgegeben im Auftrage der Bundeskonferenz ausgewählt und zusammengestellt von dem Gesangbuchkomitee der Kanadischen Konferenz ... (n.p., n.d., Winnipeg, 1953, with 4th edition in 1955) with 555 hymns. The English hymnal is composed largely of hymns of the gospel song type of English and American origin; only 34 German hymn tunes appear, among which are only 10 chorales. The German Gesangbuch has a larger proportion of hymns of the German chorale type, but the number is still relatively small compared to the number of songs taken from Glaubensstimme, Reichslieder, Heimatklänge, Ausgewählte Lieder, and Evangeliumslieder, from which many selections were made. The Evangelical Mennonite Church (Kleine Gemeinde) formally adopted the M.B. hymnal in 1955 for regular use in all its services.

Smaller Groups

The groups with smaller membership naturally find it difficult to publish hymnals and therefore commonly use books of other groups. The Krimmer Mennonite Brethren German hymnal of 1884, Die Geistreiche Lieder, Auswahl für Familien und öffentliche Erbauungen mit Sorgfalt gesammelt von der Krimmer Mennoniten-Brüder Gemeinde (Elkhart, Ind., 1884) with 754 hymns, small format, was a brave venture for a very small group. It was not repeated. The same is true of the Evangelical Mennonite Church's (formerly Defenseless) one hymnal, Glaubens-Lieder, Eine Sammlung Geistreicher Lieder zur öffentlichen und häuslichen Erbauung und zum Lobe Gottes (Elkhart, 1890) with 600 hymns, small format, and an appendix of 50 English hymns. The somewhat larger Church of God in Christ Mennonites published their first hymnal in 1952, The Christian hymnal, a collection of hymns and sacred songs suitable for use in public worship, worship in the home, evangelistic meetings, and general occasions (Hesston, 1952), with 629 hymns, small format, prepared by a hymnbook committee of the General Conference with Harry D. Wenger as chairman. This hymnal shows considerable influence from the Church and Sunday school hymnal (1902) of the Mennonite Church (MC), and also carries largely gospel songs. A small booklet of 14 pp., called Der Köstlichere Weg. In Liedern, was published by Peter Tows of Stern, Alberta, in two editions, 1912 and 1914. Neither the Evangelical Mennonites (Kleine Gemeinde) nor the Evangelical Mennonite Brethren have ever published any hymnals of their own.

The Reformed Mennonites, founded in 1812 in Lancaster County, Pa., by John Herr, have had their own hymnals since 1847. In that year A Collection of hymns, designed for the use of the Church of Christ, by John Reist, minister of the gospel, small format, with 197 hymns, was published at Buffalo, N.Y. Reprints appeared at Lancaster in 1858 (bound with it Eine Kleine Lieder-Sammlung, zum allgemeinen Gebrauch des wahren Gottesdienstes für die Gemeinde Gottes also published at Lancaster in 1858, which had appeared at Harrisburg in 1837), in 1873 (revised), and in 1895.

The United Missionary Church (formerly Mennonite Brethren in Christ and known as the Evangelical Missionary Church in 1999), whose beginnings date back to 1875, has had several hymnals. As early as 1876 Daniel Brenneman, one of its founders, published The Balm of Gilead: for Christian workers and reformers, a collection of Psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs "old" and "new," for public and private devotional exercises. Especially adapted to the use of revival, prayer, and fellowship meetings; family worship, and the Sabbath school (Orrville, Ohio. H. A. Mumaw, Publisher, 1876), a booklet with 101 hymns. In 1881 the Evangelical United Mennonite Publication Society published at Goshen, Ind., A choice collection of spiritual hymns adapted to public, social and family devotion and designed for the use of Evangelical United Mennonites and all lovers of Zion, small format, with 834 hymns, prepared by a committee composed of Daniel Brenneman, Solomon Eby, and B. Bowman. A revised edition was published in 1893 at Berlin, Ont., with the number of hymns reduced to 791, but with a separate section added called Revival hymns (189 hymns) with its own title page, which could also be purchased separately. It carried many standard English and American hymns, as did the next hymnal. In 1907 the M.B.C. Church published its Church hymnal, a choice collection of hymns and meters for public worship in the M.B.C. churches, compiled by Henry S. Hallman, with 774 hymns and 258 tunes, sponsored by three district conferences: Canada, Michigan, and Northwest. It was not reprinted since the denomination soon began to use the popular Gospel song hymnals of other groups, such as Gospel hymns, Pentecostal hymns, etc. In 1917 the Pennsylvania district conference published its own hymnal, Rose of Sharon hymns, compiled by a committee of which H. B. Musselman was the leader. Its 727 hymns are very largely of the gospel song type, and quite different from the Church hymnal.

The Hutterite Brethren

Before coming to North America in 1874 ff., and in America until 1914, the Hutterian Brethren used only manuscript hymns, of which they had a large number, and which were to be found collected in numerous codices. Examples are: a codex of somewhat before 1600 containing 165 hymns on 550 pages, one of about 1650 with 140 hymns on 800 pages, and one of about 1660 with 80 hymns on 780 pages. These three codices were the chief sources for the first printed Hutterite hymnal, Die Lieder der Hutterischen Brüder, Gesangbuch, Darinnen viel und mancherlei schöne Betrachtungen, Lehren, Vermahnungen, Lobgesänge und Glaubensbekenntnisse, von vielen Liebhabern Gottes gedichtet und aus vielen Geschichten und Historien der heiligen Schrift zusammengetragen, allen frommen Liebhabern Gottes sehr nützlich zu singen und zu lesen. Herausgegeben von den Hutterischen Brüdern in Amerika (Scottdale, 1914). This stately quarto volume of 891 pages, two columns to the page, probably prepared by Elias Walter with the aid of John Horsch, contains 276 hymns, written from 1527 to 1762, mostly with many stanzas each (up to 70 and 80 stanzas in some instances), arranged chronologically. It is clear that these hymns were not intended to be sung in full, but are often historical poems, relating the tribulations of the church and the experiences of the martyrs. A second edition of this hymnal was printed by the Christian Press of Winnipeg, Man., in 1953, with 632 pages, identical in content but using smaller type. A. J. F. Zieglschmid had prepared before his death in 1950 a scholarly edition of the Hutterite hymns in manuscript which is deposited in the Mennonite Historical Library at Goshen College.

An altogether different type of hymnal is the Gesang-Büchlein. Lieder für Schule und Häuslichen Gebrauch Herausgegeben von den Hutterischen Brüdern in Canada, which has appeared in small format in four editions thus far: 1919 (135 hymns), 1930 (137), 1940 (166), 1950 (186). The first edition had the following title page: Gesang-Büchlein. Lieder besonders zum Auswendiglernen für die Jugend in der Schule geeignet, meistens aus alten Handschriften gesammelt und herausgegeben von Elias Walter. The second edition indicates it was published by the Hutterian Brethren in Alberta. Not a single one of the hymns in the large hymnal of 1914 appears in the small book, nor do its hymns have any Hutterite character; rather they seem to be typically Lutheran or even Pietistic in type. There is no connection between this book and any existing German Mennonite hymnal. What manuscripts Elias Walter used is unknown, nor where the 52 additional hymns of the later editions came from, except that the author of the last hymn is given as Rev. A. G. Gross of Brentham, Alberta, in 1909, and the third last hymn is ascribed to Joseph Mändel of Elie, Man., both certainly Hutterites. How this quite un-Hutterite hymnal has come to be the popular book of the modern Hutterites must remain a mystery.

Apostolic Christian Church

This group, sometimes called the "New Amish" by outsiders in the 20th century, had their hymnal Neue Zionsharfe, Eine Sammlung von Liedern und Gesängen für die Gemeinen der Gläubigen in Christo, Neue Auflage, with 275 hymns printed by "John F. Funk and Bro." at Elkhart in 1875. In 1924 it appeared in English as Zion's harp, a collection of hymns and songs for the Apostolic Christian Church of America, translated from the German, with 253 hymns (reprinted 1941, 1959, 1964, 1965, 1968, 1973, 1979, 1982, 1983, 1987, 1989, 1992, 1996, 1997). A revised edition printed in Fort Scott, Kansas by Sekan Printing Co. appeared in 2000 with 256 hymns.

Gospel Hymn Influences

The American "Gospel" hymn, often referred to in Germany as the "English" type hymn, which arose about the middle of the 19th century and became a widespread and very popular type of hymn and tune in both England and America largely as the result of the great Moody revivals of 1870-90, has also influenced American Mennonite hymnology, and to a lesser extent that of the German, Swiss, French, and Russian Mennonites. Developing out of the earlier "White Spirituals" and religious folk music of the southern Mountains, and aided by camp meeting and Sunday-school hymns and tunes of the first half of the century, this type of hymn was published in an increasing number of hymnals in large editions from 1875 on. The two most important collections have been Gospel hymns and spiritual songs (Nos. 1-6, 1875-94), the famous "Moody and Sankey songbook," and the Pentecostal hymns (1894 ff.) series, published by the Hope Publishing Co. Gospel hymns was translated into German as Evangeliums-Lieder (1891) for use in America and Germany. Similar additional Gospel song books published in Germany, some before and some after the Evangeliums-Lieder, were Glaubensstimme, Frohe Botschaft, Heimatklänge, Reichslieder, and Siegeslieder. In Europe it was the more pietistic and "Gemeinschaft" circles, and the Mennonites influenced by them in South Germany, France, Switzerland, and Russia, which used these books. In America although some such German books were used by Mennonites, (for instance, all the K.M.B. congregations used the Evangeliums-Lieder until they changed to English, and most of the Kleine Gemeinde congregations in Manitoba used this book for Sunday school for the period ca. 1915-45, and began to use it in regular church services to displace the old Gesangbuch, Eine Sammlung geistlicher Lieder, which had been used from the beginning of their history) it was the English books mentioned above and others like them which had the greatest influence. Hymnals of gospel songs were introduced directly into many Mennonite (MC) congregations at the time of the transition from the German to the English language from about 1890 on, though almost exclusively for Sunday-school use. Thus many congregations developed the practice of using two hymnbooks, the non-Mennonite gospel type for Sunday school, the more standard Mennonite type of hymnal for "church" services. Some of the gospel type books were actually "published" in imprint editions by Mennonite publishers, but most of them were bought directly by the congregations from such publishers at the Hope Publishing Co., and the Rodeheaver House, both in Chicago. The Mennonite Publishing Co. at Elkhart published soon after 1897 The Gospel call, a choice collection of standard hymns and gospel songs, and about 1905 Songs of Faith and Hope. The issuance of Life songs and particularly Life songs no. 2 effectively replaced the outside publications, and has largely eliminated the use of the cheaper type of gospel song in the Mennonite Church group. In 1910 the Mennonite Book Concern of Berne, Ind., issued an imprint edition of Evangeliums-Sänger, edited by Walter Rauschenbusch and Allan Sankey. Similar publications by Mennonite Brethren publishers in the United States were Zions-Glaubensstimme (1905) and Neue Zions-Lieder (1919), the latter edited by J. J. Franz and D. B. Towner. Besides in the complete hymnals mentioned above, the gospel hymns and tunes influenced American Mennonite hymnology by the deposit of smaller or larger numbers of gospel hymns in every major English Mennonite hymnal published in America. The widespread use of such hymns and tunes has influenced the piety and even theology of Mennonites toward a heightened emotional emphasis and more emphasis upon subjective religious experience. This influence has been both wholesome and harmful depending upon the form it has taken and the extent of use. It has contributed in some quarters to a progressive detachment from the historic heritage and anchorage of Anabaptist-Mennonite background, accompanying and aiding similar outside influences in other areas of 20th century Mennonite church life, both in America and Europe.

See also Church Music; Hymnology of the Anabaptists; Hymnology of the Mennonites in the Netherlands; Hymnology of the Mennonites of West and East Prussia, Danzig, and Russia; Hymnology (1989); Hymnology of the Swiss, French, and South German Mennonites


Bender, Harold S. "The Literature and Hymnology of the Mennonites of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania." Mennonite Quarterly Review 6 (1932): 156-68.

Bender, Harold S. Two Centuries of American Mennonite Literature. Goshen, IN: Mennonite Historical Society, 1929.

Hege, Christian and Christian Neff. Mennonitisches Lexikon, 4 vols. Frankfurt & Weierhof: Hege; Karlsruhe: Schneider, 1913-1967: v. II, 86-91.

Hohmann, W. H. Outlines in Hymnology with Emphasis on Mennonite Hymnology. Newton, KS 1941.

Wohlgemuth, Paul W. "Mennonite Hymnals Published in the English Language." Unpublished doctoral dissertation in Musicology, Univ. of So. Cal., 1956, dealing primarily with the tunes.

Additional Information

CMBC Singers singing "So lang mein Jesus" from Exultation (CMBC Singers 1986) (from the Gesangbuch der Mennoniten (used by permission)). (1.5 minutes)

Author(s) Harold S Bender
Date Published 1956

Cite This Article

MLA style

Bender, Harold S. "Hymnology of the North American Mennonites." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1956. Web. 31 Mar 2023. https://gameo.org/index.php?title=Hymnology_of_the_North_American_Mennonites&oldid=170666.

APA style

Bender, Harold S. (1956). Hymnology of the North American Mennonites. Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 31 March 2023, from https://gameo.org/index.php?title=Hymnology_of_the_North_American_Mennonites&oldid=170666.


Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 2, pp. 879-886. All rights reserved.

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