FROM CHAOS TO COMMUNITY: Weaning
Everything Falls (CCLI #5490411)
Though this song is quite challenging to work through for a congregation, it is almost fitting that its singing takes some work because of the tension it addresses and the angst within the song itself. Making a great opening for such a difficult service, this song is best approached in one of the following manners: 1) Sing in the original key of C, but do not change octaves as written in the song. The chorus is far too high for congregations to sing, and such a dramatic shift is discouraging for singers. To achieve the octave shift, have a lower male voice sing the verse, with a treble voice singing the chorus. This will bring the difference in range without the tension that goes along with an octave shift otherwise. 2) Sing in the key of G, which is quite a bit lower than the original key (C). This places the range of the verses too low for most congregations, but the refrain is in a higher tessitura that sits well for congregational singing. Have an alto soloist sing the verses in a lower range, and invite the congregation to sing beginning at the chorus. The range in the verses is too low (and aurally “muddy”) for male ranges, but a clear, female voice can handle this in a way that doesn’t sound pressed or strained. The ideal accompaniment is piano, guitar, or full band.
Mothering God, You Gave Me Birth (TFWS 2050)
One of the more historically controversial hymns published in The Faith We Sing, this hymn embraces the feminine characteristics of God, from giving birth, to feeding, to nurturing. It must be said, however, that this kind of exploration in language addresses the need for people to see the fullness of God. Throughout Scripture, many images of God appear, and yes, even mothering ones like this lament of Jesus:
“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!” (Matthew 23:37, NRSV)
Notice it doesn’t declare a gender for God; it simply offers a feminine image of a hen because the characteristics of God are above our own understanding of who God is and how God works. In many churches, however, singing feminine imagery might be a new or uncomfortable practice. Set aside plenty of time to talk to the congregation about why singing hymns with feminine divine imagery helps better shape our understanding of the fullness of God. In conjunction with the scriptural narrative this week, the singing of this hymn can be very powerful as the people will focus upon the challenges of weaning and the lament that can stem from it. Read History of Hymns: "Mothering God, You Gave Me Birth" »
I Was There to Hear Your Borning Cry
This classic John Ylvisaker hymn fittingly bears a good bit of feminine imagery within its title, for who is indeed present for the birth of a child? The mother. God here is represented as a caring parent who nurtures throughout life--from birth through childhood and all stages of adulthood. For the purpose of singing within the liturgy this week, we recommend singing stanzas 1, 2, and a reprise of 1. Accompany with piano, organ, or guitar. Read History of Hymns: "I Was There to Hear Your Borning Cry" »
Holy Darkness (W&S 3141)
Dan Schutte is most well-known for his hymn, “Here I Am, Lord,” but this particular hymn this week has some very powerful singing qualities by offering images antithetical to what is usually expected in hymns. So often darkness is regarded as the evil place, or the place without God, where God is often symbolized by light. Schutte turns this upside down, however, by offering the darkness as a very sacred place in which God dwells. Likewise, pain and suffering are seen as the places where God draws near- much more closely than in times of ease. For the liturgical purpose this week, have the congregation sing the refrain only, with the stanzas sung by soloists or choir. The ideal accompaniment is piano, organ, or fingerpicked guitar. Read History of Hymns: "Holy Darkness" »
Lord of All Hopefulness (TFWS 2197 OR CCLI #4778835)
If you have never prayed the daily office, singing this hymn at varying points during the day is a good start. Each stanza relates to a different time of day: waking, labors, homing, and sleeping. Singing the stanza that relates to your work at a particular time can help center your prayer on the activity of the moment. Within this service, allow each stanza to be a prayer for those encountering times of parting and possible division. Singing of bliss, strength, love, and peace can help us focus on the things we and others need as we encounter difficult times. If someone in your congregation plays a tin whistle, this is an opportunity to allow that person to add to the Irish character of the tune SLANE (which is commonly sung with “Be Thou My Vision”). Accompany the whistle with a guitar, piano, or organ. The printed key is Eb, but you might need to lower to D, depending on the key of the tin whistle.
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. 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.
Praise You in This Storm (CCLI #4543620)
Many churches that worship in modern musical styles will be familiar with this work, which came to prominence with the band Casting Crowns. It addresses the theme of God’s faithfulness in times of struggle and offers words of commitment for those singing to remain faithful as well. The recommended key for congregational singing is D minor (Relative to F Major), and this song can be accompanied by full band, guitar, or piano.
You Are Mine (TFWS 2218)
Hymns that offer assurance are very often the hymns many congregations want to sing, especially hymns that use the language so often found in divine encounters in the Bible: “Do not be afraid.” David Haas’s hymn also includes a very singable and sentimental melody, with only one place that is frequently challenging for congregations: The opening melodic line of the stanzas is almost the same as the first melodic line of the refrain, but the last two notes of the opening phrase of the refrain have a different rhythm, and the last note is different. This may seem like a minor issue, but it frequently trips up even the most experienced singers who are unfamiliar with the hymn. If your church has a choir, make sure they are aware of this difference and that they can sing the difference in these lines confidently. It will make a great difference when you introduce it to your congregation. The ideal accompaniment is piano or organ, although a guitar can also be effectively paired with either of these instruments (if paired with the organ, use a softer organ registration such as flute stops).
O God, in Whom We Live (W&S 3153)
The scriptural narrative this week is very difficult, and when we encounter the Communion Table, it is likely there will be some in attendance who feel wounded by the division created when Abraham sent Hagar and Ishmael away. For this reason, we have recommended this hymn. When sharing in the holy meal, it is important to acknowledge that we do so together, despite our “proud divisions.” Particularly poignant is the acknowledgement in this work that all are children of God. Sing this hymn in a nurturing way (this doesn’t mean very slow!) at a tempo in which the half note = 60. Allow time for the congregation to breathe before the third phrase (“We live in darkness”), and accompany with either organ or piano.
Jesus Is Here Right Now (Africana Hymnal, 4134)
Again, following so tough a story as today, the assurance that Jesus is in this place is comforting and offers hope and peace to many who will be grieving in this service. Be sure to prepare your choir ahead of time on this selection because they will be the key to the congregation learning this song. Your pianist will also love playing the accompaniment, with its swing and chromaticism of the gospel harmonies. I encourage playing and singing at a tempo where the dotted quarter note = 50. Accompany with piano or rhythm section (piano, bass, drums, organ). Make note that the copyright of this song is registered with GIA Publications, and using it requires permission from OneLicense.net
Let Your Mercy Rain (CCLI #4822853)
This great modern song offers the image of God as merciful rain. Be aware, however, that the image of rain can be both healing and damaging (for instance, one community plagued by drought might view this song differently from one plagued by flooding). Use your best judgment on the inclusion of a song that invokes natural images and when they will be most effective. The song itself is bold and energetic. If you are familiar with the Chris Tomlin recording of the song, I believe it is a little sedate and under tempo for such a work as this. At the conclusion of the worship service, this is a good time to speed up the tempo just a little bit more than the original. However, this also depends on the worship dynamic you create at the conclusion of the service in your context. Accompany with guitar, simplified piano (not on the melody), or band, but let the voices lead the melody. Tomlin is renowned for singing in keys not good for congregations, so the key of G is recommended here.
Blest Be the Tie That Binds (UMH 557)
Ever a classic hymn well known by churches of varying traditions, this eighteenth-century work is a perfect choice for the ending of this service because it illustrates the bonds temporarily broken and the hope to mend them, either in time or eternity. Many congregations will be familiar with this text, and accompaniment on organ or piano is recommended. However, since it is so well known, feel free to be creative with it! A common practice would be to sing in 2/2 and syncopate the rhythm, so that the following sequence is created:
When singing in this way, it is good to accompany with percussion to support the pulse of the music. Another option would be to use a new tune, such as the one written by Chuck Bell for the 2015 FUMMWA Music and Worship Arts Week, which you can purchase from purchase from Chuck Bell Music.
Read History of Hymns: "Blest Be the Tie that Binds" »