The history of North American hymnbooks is beyond the purview of this book, but needless to say, it is varied and interesting. About the middle of the twentieth century a new interest in liturgy arose throughout Christendom. Liturgical movements flourished among Catholics, Lutherans, and Episcopalians, as well as among several nonliturgical denominations. Man^of these movements quickly recognized the close ties between worship and doctrine. Believing that worship could move groups together, the ecumenically minded leaders in some denominations were especially cognizant of the impact that worship forms could have on the church.
Two branches of Lutheran hymnals grew in somewhat parallel fashion in the latter half of the twentieth century. In 1941, the LCMS published The Lutheran Hymnal, prepared by all six member denominations of the Inter-Synodical Committee of Hymnology and Liturgies of the Evangelical Lutheran Synodical Conference of North America. This joint project of six synods (Missouri, Ohio, Wisconsin, Illinois, Minnesota, and the Norwegian) employed the Common Service of the previous century, which exhibited the best English-language liturgy of the time. Two years later, several Lutheran groups proposed a Joint Commission on the Liturgy Because the LCMS had just completed its hymnal, President John Behnken declined the invitation; however, “bodies, representing about two-thirds of Lutherans in North America, did respond positively.” As a result of these efforts, the Service Book and Hymnal of the Lutheran Church in America was produced in 1958. As expected, joint worship practices led to corporate mergers among several Lutheran groups. Of the eight Lutheran bodies that had worked on this hymnal project, four formed the ALC and the other four became the LCA. In 1959, the LCMS initiated discussions with these same Lutheran churches to develop a joint hymnal for all North American Lutherans. Again, because the Service Book and Hymnal had just been published, there was no great desire on the part of the other Lutheran groups for such a project. Instead, the LCMS developed its Worship Supplement, which was published in 1969.
Meanwhile, Pope John XXIII (1881-1963) called the Roman Catholic Church together for the Second Vatican Council, which opened on October 11, 1962, and concluded on December 8, 1965. One major emphasis of this council was the introduction of worship variations through the “Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy.” Lay participation in worship (including the possibility of receiving Communion in both kinds), liturgy in the language of the people, and a greater emphasis on Scripture readings (along with sermons) were a few of the momentous changes. Protestants took note of and were invited to consider these changes in light of their own traditions, particularly the use of a common liturgical calendar.
In early 1966, as a result of synodical convention resolutions in the summer of 1965, Oliver Harms (1901-1980), president of the LCMS, invited the ALC and the LCA to form a joint worship commission. This group became the Inter-Lutheran Commission on Worship (ILCW). Beginning in 1969, the ILCW produced several study documents, which were to be reviewed by local Lutheran congregations and national synods. Regrettably, because theological controversy erupted nationally within the LCMS during the early 1970s, most LCMS congregations paid little attention to these liturgical studies. However, throughout this period of upheaval in the LCMS, plans continued simultaneously among other North American Lutherans for a joint hymnal.
In 1977, the LCMS rejected the proposed Lutheran Book of Worship on theological grounds, though church politics were also involved as an underlying cause of the rejection. The ALC and the LCA, along with the new AELC (a group that broke away from the LCMS shortly before this hymnal was rejected), adopted Lutheran Book of Worship. Ten years later, in 1988, these three Lutheran bodies formed the ELCA. (Gathered Guest, Concordia Publishing House, p. 43-49)