History of Hymns: 'Summoned by the God who Made Us' ('Sing a New Church')
By C. Michael Hawn
“Summoned by the God who Made Us” (“Sing a New Church”)
by Delores Dufner, OSB
Voices Together, 1
Summoned by the God who made us
rich in our diversity,
gathered in the name of Jesus,
richer still in unity.
Let us bring the gifts that differ
and, in splendid, varied ways,
sing a new church into being,
one in faith and love and praise.*
*© 1991 The Sisters of St Benedict, St Joseph, MN. Used by permission. Published by Oregon Catholic Press (OCP). All rights reserved.
“Sing a New Church,” the title by which this hymn is most commonly known, is one of the most prominent texts by Sister Delores Dufner (b. 1939). The National Association of Pastoral Musicians (NPM) commissioned the hymn in 1991 for its Convention in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on the theme “Singing a New Church.” The hymn was first published in the author’s first collection Sing a New Church (Portland, Oregon, 1994).
The author expressed the underlying motivations for the text:
I wrote “Sing a New Church” as an affirmation of the ecclesiology embraced by the American Catholic Church in the wake of Vatican II. But beginning in the 1980s, my church was experiencing a pendulum swing, and reform movements were being challenged. I was dismayed by directives coming from church leaders in Rome, which suggested that some of the changes that had been authorized by the worldwide council of Catholic bishops were being undone (Email correspondence, April 14, 2020).
The hymn’s themes include the following:
Diversity as richness and gift for the building up of the Church; the dignity and splendor of the baptized; the basic goodness of all creation and the power of the Spirit to bring creation to fulfillment; the unique value of every culture and ethnic group; the unity, in freedom, desired by God for the human family (Dufner, 1994, p. 96).
These themes are supported both in scripture and in Sacrosanctum Concilium (Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, 1963), the primary document outlining the liturgical reforms of the Second Vatican Council (1962–65). For example, Article 37 states, “Even in liturgy, the Church has no wish to impose a rigid uniformity in matters which do not implicate the faith or the good of the whole community; rather does she respect and foster the genius and talents of the various races and peoples.” Similarly, the author specifies Article 123 as part of the hymn’s underlying theological framework: “The art of our own days, coming from every race and region, shall also be given free scope in the Church, provided that it adorns the sacred buildings and holy rites with due reverence and honor.” It is in this spirit that Sr. Dufner emphasizes diversity within the unity of the body captured in the refrain:
Let us bring the gifts that differ
And, in splendid, varied ways,
Sing a new Church into being,
One in faith and love and praise.
©1991 The Sisters of St Benedict, St Joseph, MN. Used by permission. Published by Oregon Catholic Press (OCP). All rights reserved.
Stanza 1 balances the “God who made us / rich in our diversity” with the assembly “Gathered in the name of Jesus, / richer still in unity.” The juxtaposition of “Summoned” and “Gathered,” “rich” and “richer,” “diversity” and “unity” balance complex theological ideas in the brief span of a single stanza.
Stanza 2 introduces the mystery of the Rite of Christian Initiation in the opening lines: “Radiant risen from the water, / robed in holiness and light.” This second birth in baptism is seen as an extension of the goodness of all creation, as the poet echoes Genesis 1: 27 and Galatians 3:26–29 in the final two lines of the stanza: “Male and female in God’s image, / male and female, God’s delight.”
Stanza 3 continues the theme of “the goodness of creation” and includes the work of the Spirit, skillfully echoing Joel 2:28: “Dare to dream the vision promised.” Stanza 4 draws upon the earlier cited articles in Sacrosanctum Concilium in its petitions to “Bring the hopes of every nation; / bring the art of every race.” The “hopes” and “art” are then to be “w[oven] into a song of peace and justice” for all “time and space.”
The final stanza begins with a Eucharistic petition: “Draw together at one table / all the human family,” a petition reverberating with the spirit of Ephesians 2:19–22. The writer draws directly upon Galatians 5:1: “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free,” which is re-expressed by the writer in the final two lines: “Shape a circle ever wider / and a people ever free.”
While a proponent of new hymns, Sr. Dufner believes that the complete range of congregational songs should be honored:
I feel sad . . . when I realize that a lot of people today sing only texts and tunes which were written in the last ten or 15 years, because I think that there's a whole tradition, and a whole heritage that they’re maybe missing out on. And the communion of Saints says to me that we need to be nurtured not only by the things of our day . . . but we also need some of the texts and tune which have nurtured our ancestors (Rittmueller, 2019, n.p.).
Despite the author’s careful grounding of this hymn in both the documents of the Catholic Church as expressed in the Second Vatican Council, scripture, and appreciation for the fuller heritage of congregational song, her work has come under extensive criticism in some quarters of the Catholic Church (See Erickson, 2009, pp. 53–60). To her critics, Sr. Dufner responds:
To those who were threatened by its claims, this song may have sounded a note of unholy rebellion. But what these threatened Catholics saw as rebellion, I saw as obedience to God, to the liberating Spirit who blows where She will, who entered the windows opened by Pope John XXIII to renew the face of the earth (Ps. 104:30) (Email correspondence, April 14, 2020).
Following the author’s practice of pairing her texts with established hymn tunes in many cases, Sr. Dufner recommends NETTLETON for pairing with this text: “I chose the tune NETTLETON before I began to write the hymn, because I felt it could best express determination and strength of commitment to the Gospel as Jesus taught and lived it” (Email correspondence, April 14, 2020). A second tune used in a few cases is HOLY MANNA. Both are energetic tunes in the Sacred Harp tune tradition.
The hymn appears widely in several American Catholic hymnals by GIA Publications, Inc., and Oregon Catholic Press. It has an ecumenical appeal (using lowercase “c” in “church”) in a variety of Protestant collections, including Singing the Faith (2011) and Ancient and Modern: Hymns and Songs for Refreshing Worship (2013) in the UK, Worship and Rejoice (2008) and Voices Together (2020) in the United States, and the Canadian Worship in the City (2015).
Delores Dufner, OSB, Sing a New Church (Portland, OR: OCP Publications, 1994).
_____, Email correspondence with the author, April 14, 2020.
Karl Bjorn Erickson, “Reflections on a Hymn,” Sacred Music 136, no. 3 (Fall 2009): 53–60, https://media.musicasacra.com/publications/sacredmusic/pdf/sm136-3.pdf (accessed February 10, 2023).
J. Michael McMahon, “Singing a new church,” Ministry and Liturgy 32, no. 8:5–7.
Tracy Rittmeuller, “The Knowledge and Mystery of Truth: Delores Dufner on Words that Want to be Said’, Lyricality Conversations (15 October 2019): https://lyricality.org/2019/10/15/the-knowledge-and-mystery-of-truth-delores-dufner-on-words-that-want-to-be-said/ (accessed February 10, 2023).
Sacrosanctum Concilium (1963), https://www.vatican.va/archive/hist_councils/ii_vatican_council/documents/vat-ii_const_19631204_sacrosanctum-concilium_en.html (accessed February 10, 2023).
C. Michael Hawn, D.M.A., F.H.S., is University Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Church Music and Adjunct Professor, and Director, Doctor of Pastoral Music Program at Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University.
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