FROM CHAOS TO COMMUNITY: Creation
Peace With Justice Sunday
Awesome God (Africana Hymnal, 4004)
In an accessible setting for any congregation, this hymn offers a short, repetitive chorus that is easy to sing in unison melody or in three-part, SAT choral format. Allow the instruments (preferably at least piano, but also bass, drums, guitar, and other instruments as available) to begin playing, with spoken greetings and statements of praise and worship over the chord progression. Much of the life in these short songs is in the interjections of the worship leader, so take some time beforehand to create some sung hooks between phrases and lead-ins to offer the words of an upcoming phrase. Try to avoid just speaking the words; rather, use musical cues to offer the phrases beforehand. Allow the praise and thanksgiving for the power of God’s Spirit to be embodied in the singing. The trickiest part of the rhythm is singing the dotted eighth notes in the 6/8 meter, which creates a 2-against-3 rhythm. If the rhythm proves too tricky, it would be okay to sing as a quarter/eighth/quarter/eighth, but it must be noted that it would not be culturally or stylistically accurate. Keep the tempo slow, with the eighth note between 132-136 beats per minute. I also recommend segueing immediately into the next song, “God of Wonders.”
God of Wonders (Worship & Song, 3034)
Though this is written in Worship & Song in the key of G, this song should be lowered to F for this day to match the key of “Awesome God” just before. If the eighth note remains the same (132-136), the tempo should be just about right after the transition. However, moving from 6/8 to 4/4 can be difficult for the inexperienced band. Take time in rehearsal to practice the transition multiple times to allow the eighth note to stay the same in both meters. Another option would be to remove the tempo altogether and have the instruments freely improvise out of tempo, with the drummer resetting to a new tempo. Regardless, if a piano is used, the piano should not play the rhythms as notated. A pulsing quarter note accompaniment on the chord progression will sound more authentic and prevent rhythms from being too haphazard and jolting.
Gracious Creator of Sea and of Land (Worship & Song, 3161)
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.
God of the Sparrow, God of the Whale (UMH 122)
Many congregations vary on their use of this hymn. I have found churches that love the imagery in the hymn and also those that find it to have a lack of human relativity because of the use of third-person language and the lack of “personal” language. Jaroslav Vajda and Carl Schalk teamed up to create what is truly a beautiful statement of awe, woe, grace, care, love, and joy when considering Creation and God’s role in it. The tune is very singable, and the tempo should support four-measure phrases, with a gentle lilt. Allow the lyricism of the tune to sing, and try different groupings with certain stanzas (women, men, left, right, etc.) to sustain the length of the hymn. Many accompaniment options exist, from organ accompaniment to a guitar and flute, and possibly a light drum to create a pulse. Read History of Hymns: "God of the Sparrow, God of the Whale" »
Living in the Imagination of God (Africana Hymnal, 4141)
Hymns on God’s wonderful work of creation all point toward God’s imagination and handiwork, but picturing God’s imaginative qualities is a bit more specific than most hymns will include. This song can be taught easily by teaching the musical phrase “We are living in the imagination of God,” and then follow by teaching the refrain, which begins, “Eyes have not seen…” Allow a soloist to sing the remainder of the work until the congregation has sung the song enough to learn and confidently sing the melody throughout. The ideal accompaniment is piano or band, and the accompaniment written out in The Africana Hymnal is idiomatic for the style. Singing and playing it does take some rhythmic practice, so be sure to work ahead! Your congregation will enjoy this and be able to sing it confidently if it has been learned carefully by the worship leaders. Read History of Hymns: "Living in the Imagination of God" »
The Right Hand of God (Africana Hymnal, 4041)
Many Afro-Caribbean songs have an idiomatic style rooted in forms that are highly rhythmic, and this upbeat song is no different. The accompaniment is a calypso rhythm and is quite difficult if taken too fast. Regardless of the speed, keep the tempo steady so the rhythmic pulse does not lose any drive and intensity. It would be possible when playing from the Africana Hymnal accompaniment to only play the choral parts if the piano part is too difficult. Supplement with a calypso drum beat (you can find a calypso drum part here) with congas or bongos, with steady shakers on all beats and off-beats. Accompany with a piano, and try it with a violin or solo instrument on the melody or improvising.
Jesus Calls Us (UMH 398)
This work remains one of the most prominent hymns focusing upon Jesus’ call to the disciples on the Sea of Galilee. The only modern hymn that would probably rival it in use with this scriptural story would be “The Summons” (The Faith We Sing, 2130). If your congregation is in need of a different format in which to sing this hymn, I encourage pairing it with either of the tunes SURRENDER (“I Surrender All”) or TRUST IN JESUS (‘Tis So Sweet to Trust in Jesus”), and singing it accordingly with the refrain attached to those hymns and tunes. The refrains of surrendering and/or trusting pair well with the call to follow Jesus. Any of these tunes can easily be accompanied on the organ, piano, or folk ensemble (guitar, violin, bass, banjo, mandolin, etc.).
It Is Well with My Soul (UMH 377)
Because of the emotional story of the writing of this hymn, it remains as the most accessed article in our History of Hymns column. Choirs and congregations are widely attached to this intimate and personal hymn that speaks of peace and assurance in times of grief and struggle. This expression of liberation from sin is universal and speaks to Christians of many different walks. Choirs get excited about the possibility of singing this in a cappella, four-part harmony, so let them do it, even if it is just the refrain. If the key of Db does not work in your setting because of the difficulty of the key signature for keyboardists, it might be easier to play and sing it in the key of D, with the natural signs becoming sharps and the flats becoming natural signs. Read History of Hymns: "It is Well with My Soul" »
Prayers of the People (CCLI #7039048)
\This song is a great example of modern music created to serve a liturgical purpose, and it is very accessible to churches with any instrumental accompaniment. The song is not meant to stand alone as a song; it will require some intercessions to be created from the context of your community. Respond to each intercession with either the A theme (“You hear us calling”) or the B theme (“Lord, have mercy”). This poignant piece works with organ, piano, guitar, or any other simple accompaniment.
Prayers of the People (The Faith We Sing 2201)
Also a wonderful choice for liturgical singing, this short piece by Bonnie Johansen-Werner enhances intercessory prayer with an easily singable refrain and response. I recommend singing the refrain multiple times (in the manner of the songs of Taizé) before the petitions begin. Follow each petition, whether voiced separately or as a group, with the response. Finally, end with a reprise of the refrain before ending. If your choir is able to sing four-part harmony, instruct them to sing the parts gently as the congregation sings the melody in unison.
All Creation Sing (CCLI #5305393)
Steve Fee has modified a long-time favorite of the church, “Joy to the World,” by adding an energetic chorus to the existing hymn. The main challenge with this song is that it needs to remain in D because of the range of the hymn. This key is familiar to United Methodist churches because it is the key contained in The United Methodist Hymnal. However, this places the refrain in a fairly high tessitura (average range) for most churches. If that is the case in your context, simply have the congregation sing the stanzas, which most will already know well, and have the worship team or choir sing the chorus. This should work well and will give life to a hymn that is likely already familiar to your congregation. Plus, singing this setting away from the Christmas season might also enable you to do something different with it!
All Things Bright and Beautiful (UMH 147)
Because of its universal focus on the fullness of creation, this hymn is always a favorite in many settings. The playfulness of the tune seems to enhance certain phrases in the hymn (“little bird” and “river running,” for instance), and this one is always a staple in children’s choir settings. Have children in your church learn this hymn in either children’s choir, Sunday school, or another small-group setting, and encourage them to lead the singing of it together in worship. Accompany with a flute, recorder, or other solo treble instrument. Percussion instruments will work, too, such as hand drum or light tambourine, so if children do not want to sing, give them an instrument to play. If this is not the direction you choose, organ or piano also work best with the accompaniment. Regardless, keep the accompaniment light to sensitively address the text. Read History of Hymns:"All Things Bright and Beautiful"»
Creation Sings (W&S 3018)
I will not soon forget the debate we had when creating the collection Worship & Song. Shirley Erena Murray was not happy with the choice of tune (LONDONDERRY AIR) for this hymn in the book because of its “overtones of regret” stemming from the old Irish song, “O Danny Boy.” She eventually relented, and I think that was a wise decision. At least in North America, most people can remember only the very beginning of “O Danny Boy,” with most not able to sing past the line, “the pipes, the pipes are calling.” However, a great number of people know the melody. Therefore, this is the perfect pairing because of the way the text sings at the beginning of the second half of the hymn (“The Spirit Sings!” and “O God, you draw…”). The highest note is also on a great vowel for that range in both stanzas. Organ or piano make the best accompaniment for this hymn.