FROM CHAOS TO COMMUNITY: Birth
Sometimes by Step (CCLI #915125)
If you have never had the opportunity to sing this classic song made famous by co-writer Rich Mullins, you may be surprised how familiar you may be with the chorus, “Step by Step,” which can be found in Worship & Song, 3004. This song puts the speaker in Abraham’s shoes and speaks of God’s faithfulness for going where God leads. The original key of the song is D, which works well if the congregation will sing the song in its entirety. However, if a soloist or the worship team sings the verse while the congregation sings the chorus only, the key of F would be best to put the chorus in a better key for congregational singing. Accompaniment can range from a piano or guitar to full band.
Every Promise (CCLI #4642105)
Keith Getty and Stuart Townend have created many memorable modern hymns and tunes, a few of which are already included in United Methodist collections. This hymn will have broad appeal in churches that worship in a variety of styles, and the accompaniment possibilities are endless because of the timelessness of the tune. Use any instruments at your disposal, from solo piano to full band or folk ensemble. If possible, include a tin whistle on the melody, which itself is idiomatically Irish. Since the range is quite low in places, have an alto lead the congregation on the melody. If a lower voice (bass or tenor) were to sing in that range, the timbre would not be as welcoming to the congregation, and it would sound too low. The choir can accompany in four-part harmony, but make sure the lead is a treble voice.
How Can We Name a Love (UMH 111)
This hymn represents the need for works to explore the fullness of God’s identity, found both in biblical imagery and the presence of the Spirit in the world. One of the connections between this hymn and the Scripture this week is not through the reading itself, but with the icon of The Trinity, by Andrei Rublev, who obviously saw the persons of the Trinity (the strangers welcomed by Abraham) in an expansive way. The persons of the Trinity are revealed in our relationships with God and one another, and Wren’s examples of father, mother, friend, partner, and--most importantly--Love, are all named here. The TERRA BEATA tune is widely known because of its association with the hymn, “This Is My Father’s World” (The United Methodist Hymnal, 144) or “This Is God’s Wondrous World” (The Upper Room Worshipbook, 71). Sing confidently! The worship leader and choir need to be sure to look around the congregation as the song is sung to encourage the seeing of God in one another. Accompaniment works best with organ or piano, but settings for other ensembles are prolific.
O God in Heaven (UMH 119)
In stark contrast to the previous hymn, the tune in this Trinitarian hymn from The Philippines is quite haunting, presenting yet another view of the character and identity of God. Because of the pairing with “How Can We Name a Love,” I would suggest putting these hymns in parallel major/minor keys (therefore, either E major/E minor or Eb major/Eb minor). Singing this hymn in Eb minor might be easier than you think, depending on how it is sung. I would recommend ending “How Can We Name a Love” with a low Eb pedalpoint and incorporating a random ring from handbells if available on Eb and Bb bells as a transition. Continue the pedalpoint as the melody is sung in unison by the worship leader and/or choir. This will allow the mourning and lyrical quality of the music to be most prominent. Read History of Hymns: "O God in Heaven" »
Welcome (Worship & Song, 3152)
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, 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 during the Eucharist. 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 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.
Who Is My Mother, Who Is My Brother (TFWS 2225)
One of the most enigmatic passages in Scripture is when Jesus asks this very question, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” (Matt. 12:48, NRSV) Shirley Erena Murray reframes the conversation to see how people, many-hued and unique, will bring many characteristics to Christ’s table and receive acceptance from Jesus Christ, the Friend and Savior. The accompaniment is very simple, and I recommend reflecting that in the choice of instruments. Use piano only with this work, and it will increase the intimacy and sensitivity of the text. Also sing with a very gentle, lyrical approach--words like “stigmas” and “segregate” aren’t very common in hymnic language, and singing them gently will offer an invitational way to encounter this challenging text. Read History of Hymns: "Who Is My Mother, Who Is My Brother" »
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.
Welcome in this Place (CCLI #4435790)
Hillsong Publishing is a name well known in many modern worship music circles, and they have made a name for themselves with so many titles in the CCLI Top 100. This particular song is written as a prayer of invocation to welcome the Holy Spirit, which makes it a wonderful choice before Holy Communion. Keep the accompaniment simple, no matter the instrumentation of the ensemble, and the tempo moderate. The ideal key is C.
We Welcome You (Africana Hymnal, 4152)
Marilyn Thornton has created a beautiful invitation to the Communion Table that may either be sung by a soloist, a choir or praise team, or the entire congregation. Only two stanzas are written for this song, but it may be sung repetitively throughout the distribution of the Communion elements. This song may be accompanied by piano alone or a band or rhythm section. Be aware that the sixth full measure can be difficult because of the descent to Db, but when sung by confident singers in a choir, the congregation will follow suit more easily than you might think.
Alpha and Omega (Africana Hymnal, 4029)
In a style very similar to “Total Praise,” this modern work offers praise to God, the beginning and ending, the womb of all creation. While this song was written to be sung a cappella (and, in many settings, in three parts as opposed to four), it is possible to sing with accompaniment. Two repeats are written in the musical score itself, so if needed a choir can sing the first statement of each section, having the congregation echo as the repeat. Sing freely and not too quickly, but also make the tempo move enough to accommodate the breathing of the congregation.
God Is Here (CCLI #6454669)
For an upbeat, positively engaging song related to Communion, see this modern work that pleads with God to open our eyes, hearts, and ears to be aware of the presence of the Holy Spirit. There are some tricky rhythms and vocal leaps in the chorus, however, and I encourage singing this song in E, which is one whole step higher than the original setting. Accompany with a guitar, simplified piano (not playing the melody), band, or small instrumental ensemble.
A Place at the Table (W&S 3149)
This hymn by Shirley Erena Murray is one of the most defining congregational songs of this generation, and its place in the church will be ever-present in the years to come. Murray redeems the juxtaposition of opposing sides (woman/man, young/old, just/unjust) by bringing them together as “everyone born.” If you find yourself introducing this to your congregation for the first time, teach the refrain in short phrases and have the congregation echo back the melody. Have a soloist and/or the choir sing the stanzas, and invite the congregation to join in on the refrain. Finally, invite the congregation to sing the fifth stanza with the choir. Though I fully recommend the PLACE AT THE TABLE tune in Worship & Song, another option would be to use the tune created by Brian Mann in the Global Praise collection, For Everyone Born: Global Songs for an Emerging Church. Use the tune that best encourages the singing in your setting. Read History of Hymns: "A Place at the Table" »
The Happy Song (CCLI #1043209)
This song is a musical testimony to the saving work of God, and it offers praise to God for the transformational work of grace. I encourage teaching the chorus only to the congregation, with a soloist singing the verses. The chorus is very singable and memorable, and with the placement at the end of this worship service, it works best this way to send the congregation forth singing something they can remember. The ideal key for congregational singing in this instance is the key of E. Accompany with piano, guitar, full band, or any instrumental ensemble in between.
His Eye Is on the Sparrow (TFWS 2146)
Well known as a long-time lyrical favorite from the early twentieth century, this hymn by Civilla Martin offers the congregation an opportunity to sing dramatically in worship with an opening section that sings in somewhat of a forlorn manner and a closing section that gives way to praise: “I sing because I’m happy, I sing because I’m free.” Make sure the singing of this hymn reflects the contrast of these emotions, and it will be a powerful statement indeed, regardless of the musical style of worship of your church. Read History of Hymns: "His Eye Is On the Sparrow" »