By Nate Crary, Director of Worship and Music
People have been gathering together to sing boldly since long before the Reformation, though not just while sitting in the pews on Sunday mornings. In sixteenth-century Germany, people were often found singing corporate song as a form of entertainment in the local pubs and taverns. They were singing popular secular tunes of the day with rhythms and melodies that were accessible to a broad audience and with lyrics being sung in their native German language.
Martin Luther and his reformers thought to borrow melodies from the popular culture and transform them for use by congregations in worship. For example, the tune The Ash Grove, found twice in our cranberry-colored ELW hymnal (#547 and #881), is a Welsh folk melody. Because so many new sacred hymn texts were being written in the German language, there was a need to find new melodies to set them to. It made sense to the Reformers, then, to draw from familiar pub tunes and modify them slightly to make them more singable to an untrained voice.
In this way, Martin Luther was able to challenge worshippers with new melodies that drew meaningful participation from all who gathered in sacred spaces. And, though Luther would not want us to completely forget our past, I think he would encourage us to continue this practice of developing new hymnody to help us rediscover our Lutheran worshipping identity today.
What is a Moment of Reformation?
Our most concentrated time of observing the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation will take place this fall. In the meantime, we’re offering these brief “Moments of Reformation” offered by pastors, lay staff and members of CtK. We’ll offer reflections on a number of topics related to the Reformation, balancing a helpful look back over the past half-millennium with a forward-looking, outward directed commemoration, focused on the amazing grace and everlasting mercy of God in Jesus Christ. Read more.
Sign up for a Reformation small group
Delve into what it means to be Lutheran this October in a Reformation small group. Let us know if you're interested.