This I Believe
Hillsong has crafted a wonderful liturgical piece that is intended to function as a credo, paraphrasing and rearranging the parts of the Apostles’ Creed. Remarkably, they crafted it into a song that has a “Verse-Chorus-Bridge” form. One of the only concerns is the deconstruction of the Apostles’ Creed into a series of statements that are not orderly in presentation. In other words, the attributes of the three persons of the Trinity are scattered throughout the song. However, the creed’s form has been replaced by the form of the song structure, and this might provide enough to help internalize this historic statement of belief. The melody is simple and repetitive enough, but also motivic, so the congregation should be able to learn it with little effort. Accompaniment can vary from solo piano or guitar to full band. Again, if accompanying with piano, do not double the melody. Allow the voices to lead the rhythm to avoid bogging down the rhythm.
We Believe in One True God
This sung creed is very compact and concise in its structure, and it fits within the bounds of appropriate Wesleyan doctrine and theology. Each stanza is focused upon a different person of the Trinity. RATISBON is a beautiful tune and, for the most part, easily singable. If it is unfamiliar to your congregation, don’t hesitate to use the tune DIX (commonly associated with “For the Beauty of the Earth”) instead. Accompany with organ or piano, and keep the tempo somewhere between 104-108. Your congregation will appreciate a slightly brisk tempo on this hymn when working to support the higher notes of the RATISBON tune. View and download a remarkable choral setting of this work by composer Tom Council »
When Jesus Wept
This hymn by early American choral and tune composer, William Billings, is stark in its minimalist nature. The power of the hymn in relation to the story of Jesus and the raising of Lazarus cannot be overstated and provides a moving backdrop for Jesus’ emotion in the story. The recommendations for this hymn and tune are varied this week, depending on the development of the narrative. Each recommendation is featured in a rubric within the Scripture reading. For the instrumental suggestion, any instrument will work to accompany the reading, but I would select an instrument that has an inherent mourning quality, with the best suggestion being a cello. If possible, allow the soloist and duet to sing a cappella. If a tonal center is needed for the vocalists, instruct the cello to play a D pedal tone underneath the singing. The cello (or other instrument) can return to the melody again when the congregation joins in singing. There are a couple of ways to split up the leading of the canon:
1) If you have a choir, divide them into three or four parts to support the work of the entire congregation.
2) If you are only using one instrument and two vocalists, have each of them play or sing one part of the canon.
Divide the congregation in three or four parts in a way that makes sense in the seating arrangement of the worship space. Try to have the vocalists also work on cueing the congregation when the entrance of each section begins.
At first glance, it may appear that the range of this song makes it unsingable by your congregation. However, there is a way to do it, especially within the ritual action set forth in this service. As people are writing, have a soloist sing the verses and welcome the congregation to sing the chorus as they feel led. Since they will be writing during the Call to Believe, singing should be optional. If the band, praise team, soloist, or choir are the only ones singing during this time, that is perfectly acceptable. If the congregation does sing, however, my recommendation is to sing in the key of F, with the chorus down one octave from what is written in the vocal sheet found on the CCLI website. This puts the song within a comfortable range, especially for this time of reflection. Accompany with piano, guitar, or band.
Out of the Depths
Martin Luther created a haunting text (translated by Gracia Grindal) and tune based upon the lament of Psalm 130. The melody is written in what is known as the Phrygian mode, which possesses a dark, brooding quality with the lowered second degree of the E harmonic minor scale. Austin Lovelace harmonized the tune, but it is often most effectively presented and sung with a unison melody and sparse instrumentation--maybe an E pedal tone from an organ and a string or wind melody. It may also be effective to have a choir sing parts (with organ accompaniment) beginning on the pickup to measure 11 and continuing through the first note of measure 15, with the pedal tone and unison melody returning on the last phrase. Another way to create a pedal tone with handbells is the “singing bell” technique. To read more about this ethereal use of handbells, click here. If you choose this technique, I recommend using E and B bells only. It might also be possible to use higher bells in a random ring using more notes from the E Phrygian mode scale. Make sure to take plenty of time between phrases, and do not rush the singing of the lament. Keep it moving, but allow time for each phrase to settle and the congregation to breathe. The lack of a rigid tempo will allow the mournful quality to permeate the singing of this hymn.
Mark Miller’s choral work, published by Choristers Guild, has been featured in worship services across the country, including a community service following the July 7, 2016, shooting in Dallas involving the death of five Dallas police officers. The words of this work are taken from a short, anonymous poem from a victim of the Holocaust in World War II, and Miller’s choral setting is appropriate for adult and youth choirs. Children’s choirs can also be used to sing along with the melody. The piece builds in intensity and volume as the same chorus is sung repetitively, and the last words are sung by a soloist. This selection stands as one of Miller’s finest works.
Lift Every Voice and Sing
A monumental hymn in African-American churches across the country, this hymn by the creator of God’s Trombones, James Weldon Johnson, is a rousing call for people to praise the God of hope and freedom. “Lift Every Voice and Sing” recalls the “dark past” (stanza 1) and the power of God to liberate and bring people to victory. In addition to its place in African American history, the hymn is full of narrative imagery, and the music is incredibly dramatic. Singing this hymn takes some time because of the long text and slow tempo required to sing it appropriately. A suggested tempo would be around 132 (per eighth note). Accompany with piano, organ, or rhythm section (piano and/or organ, bass, drums). Read History of Hymns: "Lift Every Voice and Sing" »
We recommend this work to your worship this week as a song only sung by a praise team, soloist, or band. This selection is not recommended for congregational singing unless there has been a concerted effort to put it before the people numerous times leading up to this service. It is a great song by singer Rich Mullins, but it is incredibly syncopated. Though it is somewhat repetitive, the repetitions aren’t always the same, so it makes the singing of it very difficult. Use whatever key is most accessible for your ensemble, and give it life. Because of the focus on belief, sing this in a celebrative tone during Communion, even if that is different from normal. This is a point where the open table and our doctrine intersect, and that is reason to offer praise to God.
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, but the final plea to “summon our courage” is quite appropriate as we move toward Holy Week. 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.