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Help Needed - How To Find and Use a Lectionary

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  • Help Needed - How To Find and Use a Lectionary

    I need a primer, a "talk to me like I'm a 6th grader" introduction to the lectionary and to planning choir anthems for the church year.

    I am in my first job as organist/director at a United Methodist Church and, having grown up Jewish, am pretty clueless about this stuff.

    I have a doctoral degree in choral conducting, so Christian liturgy isn't new to me, and my wife was raised in the Episcopal church. The idea, however, of picking out anthems specific to each Sunday or at least to the general season of the Church year is.

    The pastor picks the hymns so I don't have to worry about that.

    The church has quite a collection of choral music in file cabinets. I will be using that music and not buying new, I've been told, simply because there is no budget for new.

    I started on July 1 and the summer has been easy - no choir, and the services have been in the multi-purpose room with a piano, an instrument on which I'm much more comfortable. September through June is a little more complicated. The choir apparently is small enough that it only sings every few weeks because often there aren't enough people, but I think I need to have an anthem in mind for every week. (I am hoping that what I'm able to offer will encourage an increase in the choir's size as well as an improvement in the choir members' attendance.)

    Here are my questions, and I'd appreciate hearing what other questions I ought to be asking but don't even know to ask, as well as any answers you've got for me.

    1. Is a lectionary specific to a denomination, e.g., UMC, or is it specific to Protestantism in general, or to any Christian worship that follows the Gregorian calendar?

    2. Is there an online version of a lectionary that I could use? Is it free? Is a print version preferable and, if so, it is available for purchase online?

    3. I recall someone telling me the Church goes through the Bible on a 3-year cycle, using about 1/3 of the readings possible each year. Is this correct? And if that's right, does that mean that a piece my church did in 2012 for a particular date in the Church year might again be appropriate now in 2015?

    Many thanks in advance for your guidance.


  • #2
    Welcome to your new job!

    Some answers:
    1. Lectionary is basically Catholic, but has been adopted by some Protestants. Even by those Protestants who follow it, it is not "mandatory", and there is an option to NOT follow it, either all the time, or occasionally. Here is more info from Wikipedia:
    It is basically a set of readings designed to follow the Liturgical Year, also known as the Church Year or Christian Year. Again, from Wikipedia:

    2. Yes, there are free, online versions of the Lectionary. Print or online - your choice.

    3. Yes, a 3-year cycle. Yes, if the Sunday and readings match from 2012, you can re-use them (or at least consider them) for 2015. Variances will come because although Christmas is a fixed feast - always December 25 - Easter Sunday (plus the season of Lent, the rest of the season of Easter, and the Sundays of Pentecost and Trinity) is movable. Because of this, some years will have more Sundays between Christmas and Lent and correspondingly fewer between Trinity Sunday and Advent. Other years will reverse this.

    There are additional resources, some of which can be found online, which will offer suggestions for music (hymns, anthems, instrumental) for any given Sunday in the Liturgical Year.


    • #3
      Thank you very much!

      The Wiki, if one follows some of the links, could easily become a history of the Church.

      I wrote my post here in advance of meeting with our Pastor, who told me she sometimes follows the lectionary but at other times, chooses to follow her own themes.

      My next project will be to go back to the church and see if I can find any organization in the way the music is stored - yikes!

      Since the minister turns out to be away for a few weeks, I can't really plan the Fall now but will be working on that more upon her return.



      • #4
        You need to work with your pastor to get any themes identified at least some weeks in advance, preferably at least 6 weeks or more so you have a chance to pick, maybe order music, and rehearse it without always having to jump at the last minute. Last minute music picks can be frustrating to you and your choir. Worst case, without the themes defined, you can still pick music generally appropriate to the season (Pentecost, Advent, etc.) and probably be fine. If you were in a Lutheran or Episcopal church, you would generally be totally safe working from the lectionary for the denomination (each has minor differences). However, I have never seen a Methodist pastor follow the lectionary, and I have played and subbed in quite a few Methodist churches.


        • #5
          Originally posted by Steve Freides View Post
          I need a primer, a "talk to me like I'm a 6th grader" introduction to the lectionary and to planning choir anthems for the church year.
          [big snip]
          1. Is a lectionary specific to a denomination, e.g., UMC, or is it specific to Protestantism in general, or to any Christian worship that follows the Gregorian calendar?
          2. Is there an online version of a lectionary that I could use? Is it free? Is a print version preferable and, if so, it is available for purchase online?
          3. I recall someone telling me the Church goes through the Bible on a 3-year cycle, using about 1/3 of the readings possible each year. Is this correct? And if that's right, does that mean that a piece my church did in 2012 for a particular date in the Church year might again be appropriate now in 2015?

          In my early career, I played for a Methodist church for about 3 years. We had a choir director. Methodist churches vary--some will roughly follow a lectionary cycle, while others won't follow it at all. As Regeron stated, the basics are:
          • The 4 Sundays leading up to Advent (Christmas)
          • Pentecost
          • Lent and Easter.
          You'll probably notice that they will also observe Patriotic Holidays as well (i.e. Memorial Day, 4th of July, Veterans Day, etc.) as well as Mother's Day and Father's Day. Depending on the church, they may use contemporary music vs. hymns. Their music may also include anthems that are not particularly religious in any way (i.e. Let There Be Peace On Earth and the like). Since your pastor is female, and you are Jewish, I suspect the church isn't a particularly conservative Methodist church, so your options will be more open. The church I played for would only allow a male pastor and hired musicians who made a profession of Christianity, so they would be considered more conservative and would probably be more apt to stick with a lectionary. That has changed since.

          As recommended, speak with your pastor upon her return, and she will be your best guidance on the topic and will probably be more than willing to share her vision for the future development of the church. You did neglect to mention how long she's been there. The Methodist churches regularly change pastors after approximately 3 years. They may allow 1-year extensions or an additional 3-year cycle, but would "urge" a pastor to move on after that time period.

          I would also recommend you keep Sibelius/Finale handy. When I was music director of a smaller church with only 8-12 in the choir, I often relied on my own arranging skills to create an anthem for an appropriate piece for that Sunday (SB or SAB). Such pieces can be just as pleasing, if done well.

          BTW, on a totally unrelated topic, I'd be interested in hearing your take on the topic of Jewish Organists and organists in Jewish services. The link I provided is an old thread, but might be worth reviving.


          P.S. My guess is that the music will be stored alphabetically as opposed to by lectionary cycle. Just check the texts and you should be able to figure it out.
          Way too many organs to list, but I do have 5 Allens:
          • MOS-2 Model 505-B / ADC-4300-DK / ADC-5400 / ADC-6000 (Symphony) / ADC-8000DKC
          • Lowrey Heritage (DSO-1)
          • 9 Pump Organs, 1 Pipe Organ & 6 Pianos


          • #6
            In the Episcopal church, we use the revised common lectionary. This is the three year cycle that has been mentioned. For the purposes of selecting appropriate hymns, we have the Episcopal Musicians Handbook, published each year, and designed to correspond to the revised common lectionary. Each week is laid out with several choices of hymns whose text or theme corresponds to the lessons of that week. I don't know if there is a Methodist Musicians Handbook, but if your church uses the revised common lectionary, then I suspect this might still be a useful resource, if only because so many hymns are shared between the two denominations and the appropriate hymns have been matched up to the revised common lectionary.


            Johann Sebastian Bach

            (at Home) Conn 645 Theater Deluxe
            (at Church) 1836 E. & G.G. Hook Bros, Opus 26


            • #7
              My church (a Disciples of Christ congregation) and my pastor (a former Methodist pastor) use the Revised Common Lectionary, administered by Vanderbilt Divinity Library. I assume that most Protestant denominations use approximately the same set of texts, as I see references to other denominations on church music websites using most of the same texts. Here is the website:


              It's a bit vague at first, understanding the organization and layout, but once you get the hang of it, you can find the readings for each Sunday of the year. The scripture texts are printed out in full, when you click the link for the date, so you don't have to turn to the pages in a printed Bible.

              My pastor may or may not tell me in advance which of the several texts he will use as the basis for the sermon, but at least I can get a general idea of the thematic thrust of the day when choosing hymns and other music. Of course, all pastors have the right to stray from the Lectionary at will, and mine does, sometimes doing several weeks of a series of his own choosing, putting the Lectionary aside for those weeks.

              Keep in mind that the Lectionary year begins with Advent, four Sundays before Christmas. Right now we are in Year B, and will move to Year C for the first Sunday of Advent, which is November 29 this year.
              *** Please post your questions about technical service or repair matters ON THE FORUM. Do not send your questions to me or another member by private message. Information shared is for the benefit of the entire organ community, but other folks will not be helped by information we exchange in private messages!



              • #8
                Not being in the U.S., I can't help a lot, but I grew up with a fixed lectionary in my Lutheran church, so if you went to church regularly, you could hear basically the same scripture reading and psalms and what have you on a given Sunday. However, last year marked the beginning of something new: a slight change in lectionary tradition, new texts, different psalms, and it's currently being tried out all over the country. Exciting times for us - but I only found information in German, so can't really post it here.

                But I'm sure that with the help of your pastor and maybe some people from the choir, you'll soon grow into your new role.


                • #9
                  My church and minister used to follow the lectionary loosely. Then we got a new minister who has to wait until he is "led by the spirit" to know what he will preach about, week by week. His spirit seems to talk to him on Tuesday, so I get the scripture lessons and sermon title emailed to me on Wednesday, and I have to make all my choices by Wednesday evening, so the secretary can type the bulletin on Thursday.

                  I think the reality is that he considers the lectionary to be non-christian somehow, because no born-again could be expected to follow such a plan. I also think he is too unskilled and lazy to plan ahead more than one week at a time.

                  I never speak with the minister in person - if I go into his office, he stares at his computer while we talk, making me think that I'm interrupting something more important.

                  Because of this, I have had to rely on "general" anthems - with NO expectation that they might tie into a theme of any kind. Besides, the minister only has 2 themes - accept Jesus as your lord and saviour; if you're in trouble, pray and read your bible. There is NEVER any mention of how to love your neighbor, or how to help others.

                  You are very lucky to have a minister who considers you important enough to talk to. Mine is so high on his pedestal that he considers himself to be working alone in the congregation. He can't even bring himself to thank the choir, even though the congregation loves what the choir does.


                  • #10
                    You all have been tremendously helpful here - thank you.

                    crapwonk, the Minister explained to me that she follows the lectionary except when she has a particular theme of her own she wishes to follow for a set period of time, and she assured me she will help me plan out through the end of the Christmas season upon her return, so it sounds like she has a planned formed already - that's good for me.

                    myorgan, I will visit the thread on Jewish Organists when I finish this reply. Yes, it is a liberal congregation, as are many, I suspect. I don't know if this is specific to UMC and there are other kinds of Methodists, or simply a reflection of where we're located, but that liberal attitude and my own coincide so I'm glad for that.

                    As to Sibelius/Finale, I have been using Sibelius for a _long_ time and am quite handy with it, and I've mentioned to everyone at the church that I'm ready, willing, and able to provide arrangements of my own. I just need to get a handle on what's appropriate or not first.

                    The idea of generic anthems is interesting - I will ask the minister about that. That would be more to my own liking - provide good music that's appropriate to the service in a general way. But I am also up for learning about the Church year and learning how to pick specific texts that go with the week's readings. I'm always up for learning something new.

                    Arthur, thank you for the link, I will check it out.

                    jbird604, thank you - that's the kind of specific information that will be very, very helpful to me as I navigate this process for the first time.

                    andijah, thank you - my wife has always called me a closet Lutheran because I'm such a big fan of J. S. Bach and, in particular, his chorales.

                    regeron, I am glad I'm not in the church you described. I had a chance to sub at this church two or three times before I applied for the job, and I also had a chance to discuss my personal theology with the minister to make sure we were all OK with it. So I'm looking forward to my year and to learning a lot.



                    • #11
                      I had forgotten about this resource until a previous poster alluded to it:
                      The United Methodist Music & Worship Planner 2014-2015

                      Among other things, it includes anthem recommendations for every Sunday and church holidays.

                      Be careful with spending too much time arranging your own music unless you really enjoy that. You can sink an amazing amount of time.

                      Do you have a music budget? If so, make use of it. Most choirs like a mix of known and new music. If you are lucky enough to still have a good music store near you that has anthems to read through, that is more reliable than just listening to sample CDs. In the Washington, DC/Baltimore area we have lost our two big music stores when the respective owners retired. Other resources: get on the mailing lists for the big music publishers. They send out mailings prior to the start of each major church season. The best mailings have the actual music reproduced in addition to the CD. Augsburg-Fortress hosts several music clinics each year in multiple locations around the country.
                      It is too late for this summer's clinics, but there are also clinics in early winter at some locations. These are free and it is a lot of fun to be in a sanctuary with other musicians. There are usually several anthem reading sessions and a hymn sing.


                      • #12
                        Originally posted by crapwonk View Post
                        The United Methodist Music & Worship Planner 2014-2015
                        Aha! I figured there must be something like this for Methodists. I couldn't find one when I googled it. . .

                        Also, if your congregation sings, there is one other important aspect to hymn selection. You should try to constrain most of your choices to hymn tunes that the congregation knows. My congregation is noticeably stronger when they are familiar with the tune. This may or may not be an issue for you.

                        If you find that it is, then some hymnals (at least the Hymnal 1982) contain a metrical index of tunes, which shows which texts can be used with which tunes. This is helpful if you want to keep the text that goes with the lessons, but either you or the congregations doesn't know the originally appointed tune. It can be confusing if several of the parishioners read music, but I am convinced that better than half of all "singers" in singing congregations are just reading the words and following along aurally. Spend enough time with your congregation and you will know who reads the music.

                        Johann Sebastian Bach

                        (at Home) Conn 645 Theater Deluxe
                        (at Church) 1836 E. & G.G. Hook Bros, Opus 26


                        • #13
                          When I started my current job, I planned the choir anthems based on what anthems had been sung in the previous two years. I also asked them if they had favorite anthems, and tried to include those where appropriate. It gave me a chance to hear them doing what they do well, and see where there might be opportunity for improvement, even if they knew a piece inside and out. I was approaching things from a different angle from my predecessor. The choir enjoyed tweeking and getting new sounds from what they considered familiar.

                          Sometimes, too, if I found that we had a couple extra easy anthems ready to go, I'd include them at the beginning of the service in place of the organ prelude.

                          In short, I made them feel proud of their accomplishments. They left rehearsals and services with a sense of having contributed in many ways. New anthems were easy enough and interesting enough to provide a sense of being able to learn and sing while having fun. The congregation appreciated not only the quality of work which the choir did, but also the spirit in which the choir did that work.


                          • #14
                            Apologies if it's bad form to reply to an "old" thread; as a Methodist pianist (I get to play organ when I sub at other neighboring churches) I have one more resource to share here which may be useful to the original poster and I don't believe it's been linked already. We do indeed, for the most part, support the use of the Revised Common Lectionary, though pastors are free to free-form if they choose. But, in addition to the official RCL, there's also an adapted version of it (same readings, customized to be UMC-specific) on the GBOD web site here:


                            This one will provide the same readings as the RCL sites already linked in the thread, but the neat thing on this site in particular is that for each calendar date, it provides indexed hymnal recommendations with song names and page numbers for five or six "Methodist" or pseudo-Methodist hymnal publications including the '89 hymnal and the two supplemental volumes to it.

                            I also built some spreadsheets with Google docs which can be used to quickly plan services using those hymnal references; essentially it provides a way to label each hymn in the spreadsheet based on how well we know it (or if we completely avoid doing it) and then used a spreadsheet trick or two so that now what I can do is duplicate a "template" tab for a new week, type or copy/paste the list of hymnal numbers from the web site into the spreadsheet, and it quickly goes and retrieves those particular rows from the master index, and then I can sort them by the "do we know it" factor and quickly end up with a list from which to choose for that week. I can send those documents by e-mail to anybody who might be interested, but PM me about it rather than sidetracking this thread any further.


                            • #15
                              Michael, thank you! I will follow these links when I'm not on my phone but at a real computer later.