Amazing Grace (My Chains Are Gone)
A current trend in modern worship music involves taking a pre-existing strophic text and adding a new refrain (which is actually not new at all—see “Marching to Zion,” The United Methodist Hymnal, 733, a very popular example in which Robert Lowry did the very same thing in 1867 to a text of Isaac Watts, “Come, We That Love the Lord”). This practice pays homage to the hymns of the past while adding a bit of character from current approaches to songwriting. I still marvel at how well Chris Tomlin and Louis Giglio took “Amazing Grace,” which many would consider to be “untouchable” because of its popularity, and had a result so successful. This work is accessible to congregations of all shapes and sizes, and people will sing it. Be sure, however, that this doesn’t completely replace the singing of “Amazing Grace.” While congregations do appreciate and sing this song, it should not take the place of this monumental hymn every time the message of “Amazing Grace” is needed. Accompaniment can be simple to more complex, from piano alone to full band. Many interpretations of this call for the last stanza to be accompanied by piano alone, even if using a band. Ideal key is Eb, which is what is printed in Worship & Song, although D or E can also work if needed. Read our Amazing Grace (My Chains are Gone) Hymn Study »
“You make beautiful things out of the dust” is a reminder of what God can do in the midst of our frailty and brokenness. Your congregation may already be familiar with this song through a vacation Bible school curriculum. This week, because of the brevity of its suggested use, sing in a low range (as written) throughout. Use the same key as “Amazing Grace (My Chains Are Gone)” to provide continuity in this opening set. Accompaniment is best supported with a piano, guitar, or band. For more notes on this song, refer to music notes from the first through third Sundays in Lent.
As mentioned above, sometimes “Amazing Grace (My Chains Are Gone)” simply cannot replace the singing of this classic hymn. Sung in a variety of different styles across the globe, use whatever style and accompaniment seem appropriate this week. Feel free to use a traditional style as written, but don’t be afraid if this is the week the random bagpiper in your congregation wants to play along. Or you may prefer to change the harmonies just a bit and provide a more chromatic, gospel accompaniment with slight swing rhythms and a heavy, slow tempo. Rest assured that the focus of the hymn is on God’s grace, and this can be expressed in a number of ways. View and download a choral setting that can be used to support congregational singing »
Live in Charity (Ubi Caritas)
A classic text from the ninth century, “Ubi caritas” has been set by composers through the ages from plainchant to choral works (see Maurice Duruflé, for example) to Taizé. The setting found in The Faith We Sing hails from the work of Jacques Berthier and the Taizé Community. Should you ever have the opportunity to visit Taizé in rural France, you will hear a number of different approaches to singing and accompaniment, depending on the time of year you attend. Most often during Lent, the accompaniment will be a simple guitar, but don’t let that stop you from using more of the instrumental obbligatos found in the Accompaniment Edition of The Faith We Sing. The brothers of Taizé always encourage their songs to be contextualized, so accompany however is appropriate for your congregation. Songs from Taizé are very short and intended to be sung cyclically. The repetition allows the words to become the prayer of those singing, so sing it numerous times (8-10 at least) to allow the congregation an opportunity to transcend the written notes. Should members of your choir want to sing different parts, that is possible if they are confident singers. Should you choose to sing the song in Latin, here is the pronunciation:
Oo-bee cah-ree-tahs eht ah-mor
Oo-bee cah-ree-tahs Deh-oos ee-bee ehst.
Read History of Hymns: "Where Charity and Love Prevail," an article on the translation and setting of “Ubi Caritas” in The United Methodist Hymnal.
People of God
During the Call to Nurture, this song provides opportunities for reflection during the ritual action. The range is somewhat wide, but it is not impossible for congregations to sing. Should you choose to sing it congregationally, make note that the tessitura (average range) sits high in the chorus, so I would recommend singing it no higher than the key of Bb. Should your band, praise team, or choir sing this without the congregation, choose the key most accessible for your ensemble.
Laurie Zelman and Mark Miller’s hymn, “Welcome,” gives us what Laurence Hull Stookey has referred to as the “intersection of time and eternity” (Calendar: Christ’s Time for the Church, p. 17) by connecting the past, present, and future with the eternal time of the reign of God. This hymn is rich with imagery of the table being prepared, shared, and extended into the world. If your congregation is unfamiliar with this hymn, my suggestion would be to teach it over time by asking them to sing the refrain (and taking the time to teach it to them before worship) the first time you encounter it. Continue singing it in following weeks as you gather around the table, and have soloists sing the stanzas. Over time, the congregation will associate the hymn with the Eucharist and will be able to sing it as they build their liturgical memory. When accompanying on piano, which in this case is not easy, I would recommend not playing the melody because it can easily complicate the singing. Improvise on the chords of the song and allow the voices to carry the melody.
The Servant Song
Many deacons in The United Methodist Church feel a very close connection with this hymn, and all Methodists could do the same. The very tune of this beautiful hymn of servanthood is warm and nurturing, so be sure to offer hospitality to the congregation by teaching it if they are not familiar with it. (Learn more about Introducing New Hymns to the Congregations ») Set aside time at the beginning of the service to introduce the hymn so your teaching does not disrupt the flow of the service when you encounter it in the liturgy. This hymn can be accompanied with organ, piano, guitar, or any combination of instruments. Use a solo wind or string instrument to double the melody if the congregation needs support. Read History of Hymns: "The Servant Song" »
There’s a Spirit of Love in this Place
As the Act of Thanksgiving for this week, this hymn is suitable for its acknowledgment of the presence of God through the Holy Spirit and the corresponding singing of Alleluias toward the end. I would recommend a tempo of 60 bpm (beats per minute), but it should never feel rushed or dragging. Build toward the Alleluias in every stanza, and encourage the choir to sing the lush, four-part harmony, which is found in the Singer’s Edition of Worship & Song. Read our There's a Spirit of Love in This Place Hymn Study »
Blest Be the Dear Uniting Love
This hymn is recommended to be sung during Communion as it offers praise to God for grace and unity. If the hymn tune, HAVERGAL, is not familiar to your congregation, there are plenty of other common meter tunes you can use, such as LAND OF REST or MORNING SONG, that would be appropriate during Communion. If you would like to try a different tune that can support congregational singing, view and download an original setting of Blest Be the Dear Uniting Love by Tom Council. The singable tune is set for choirs, but it is done simply enough that the congregation can sing along with the choral melody.
Gracious Creator of Sea and of Land
John Thornburg and Dan Damon have created a beautiful doxological hymn that offers praise to the Trinity by using vivid imagery, such as “sculptor of coral,” “miller of sand,” and the reference to Jesus’ followers as “fisherfolk.” The first stanza alludes to God the Creator, but also the story of the Exodus, in which the power of God led people to freedom. The second stanza recalls Jesus’ teaching by the Sea of Galilee and his invitation to follow him. The final stanza relates to the Pentecost story and the movement of the Holy Spirit. Dan Damon’s tune is commendable and quite easy for congregations to learn, but another choice would be SLANE (commonly associated with “Be Thou My Vision”). Sing at a tempo that allows for a subtle lilt in the 3/4 meter and gives the congregation the ability to sing entire phrases in one breath.