FROM CHAOS TO COMMUNITY: Rites of Passage
Listen to My Words (CCLI #7029174)
Selecting the opening song on a difficult Sunday is always a challenging task. This paraphrase of Psalm 5 sets the tone for this service very well. The Psalm begins, “Give ear to my words” (NRSV), which bathes the opening of worship in prayer. Be sure to sing in a manner that invites prayer. If the opening set of four sixteenth notes is always sung with too much emphasis on the first note, the effect on congregational singing may be jarring. Rather, let the sixteenth notes build toward the half note. This will take the march-like feel out of the rhythm and add just enough lyricism to encourage the same from the congregation. Accompany with a simple ensemble, using piano, guitar, and cello. The cello would be very effective as a way to present the bass line here, and the timbre of that particular instrument, as opposed to the electric bass, will reflect the mood of this service. The original key of A minor (relative to C major) is ideal for congregational singing. Lastly, the bridge sections are so long and different from the melody of the verses that I would have a soloist only sing those sections, inviting the congregation to sing on verses only. I would also encourage the last phrase (“Listen to Our Words”) to be sung rubato and unaccompanied by a soloist.
Out of the Depths (UMH 515)
Psalm 130 also gives us the words of lament, and these words will help undergird our receiving and response to the scriptural narrative today. Presenting this hymn in a creative way can also provide context for the rest of the service. Many hymns by Martin Luther are often regarded as being accompanied by organ only in a chorale form, but I would challenge you to look for other ways to enliven the singing of this hymn. The depths of lament here conjure a feeling of simplicity. Therefore, it may be more stark and powerful to accompany the singing with a solo flute one octave higher than the melody line. A bass pedal point on E, either from organ, another instrument, or the bass section of a choir, can also prove effective. Also, create some dissonance and mystery on the last sung note from two octaves of handbells as one octave spells out an E major broken chord, with the higher octave on an E minor chord as the last sung note is sustained. Read History of Hymns: "Out of the Depths" »
Hear My Prayer, O God (W&S 3131)
As a bridge from the previous hymn, hold an E pedal point as readers get in position. At that point, instruct the choir or soloist to begin. If sung by a choir, this Taizé-like chant works very well a cappella, so work to equip your choir to do this, if possible. If not, don’t fret. The accompaniment is simple and can be played on either organ or piano. The text, written by Carl Daw, reflects the angst of the Scripture passage most effectively, so whether soloist or choir--sing plaintively.
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.
Mighty to Save (W&S 3038)
Because of the power of atmospherics in worship, falling into a pit of despair and not coming out is always a risk. Knowing this, it is important to remind the congregation that God knows our despair and works in the midst of it. We all are guilty of “fears and failures,” and the knowledge that Jesus is Lord can redeem even the most hopeless situations. This song is most powerful when accompanied by a full band, but a solo piano or smaller ensemble also works well.
Our CCLI Top 100 vetting team offered a critique of this song for use in conversations among worship planning teams, with the primary concerns being that the actions of the Resurrection are a little confused here. Upon consulting Paul’s letters, we find that God the Father raised Christ the Son from the dead, and this song paints Jesus as the one who “conquered the grave.” This may be a small point, but it was offered as a concern because of the way in which songs affect the theological vocabulary of the church. Receiving a high score, it was still recommended for use in worship, and the yellow rating was given to encourage conversation about it in the local church.
When We Are Called to Sing Your Praise (W&S 2216)
The tone of this hymn is almost defiant when paired with the KINGSFOLD tune, and singing it allows for a bit of righteous anger on behalf of those feeling that emotion in the congregation. However, on the second half of each stanza, the hymn turns toward the prayer for God to remind us that God knows our despair. The end of the final stanza even moves toward thankfulness in the midst of “the shadowed way.” Accompany on organ or piano, or even this arrangement of the tune if you would like to accompany with a Celtic ensemble.
Author of Life Divine (instrumental) [W&S 3166]
I recommend the playing of AUTHOR, which is the tune of “Author of Life Divine” found in Worship & Song, during the serving of Communion in this service–primarily to give the congregation time to wrestle with the tension between the altar used to bind Isaac and the Communion Table. Allow the music to accompany the ritual action of the holy meal to support the sighs too deep for words. Read History of Hymns: "Author of Life Divine" »
Lift Every Voice and Sing (UMH 519)
No hymn tells the story of struggle as well as this classic hymn text from James Weldon Johnson. It does take a long time to sing, so be sure you have set aside plenty of time to sing it in its entirety at the close of the service. The tempo of J. Rosamond Johnson’s tune needs to be slow, with the dotted quarter = 46 or so. Accompany with organ or piano, and be sure to prepare the choir in plenty of time so they can learn all the parts. Regarding breathing, make sure the leader and choir take full breaths to not breathe within the words at the end of the second, fourth, and eighth lines (“liberty,” “rolling,” and “victory is”). In its singing, also find a way to make sure the congregation knows the context of the hymn, which can be found in History of Hymns: "Lift Every Voice and Sing".