According to the Revised Common Lectionary, most of the Sundays from September through November fall under the general heading “Ordinary Time.” This designation is not meant to imply that these weeks represent an unimportant part of the Christian year. In fact, quite the opposite is true. Ordinary Time is a valuable reminder that the Christian life is an everyday vocation and is not reserved simply for special occasions. The very word ordinary derives from the Latin ordo, (“rule” or “order”); thus, these Sundays are numbered consecutively to mark the passage of time, which, like life itself, is a gift from God.
The Sundays of autumn actually provide several significant opportunities for out-of-the-ordinary Christian observance. Worldwide Communion Sunday, Reformation Day, the feast of All Saints, and Thanksgiving all fall within this period and may be celebrated in special services with appropriate music. This “Songs for the Season” features a number of hymns and congregational songs especially chosen to enrich your congregation’s worship during the autumn months.
HOW LOVELY, LORD, HOW LOVELY
For many of us who work in churches, autumn is a time of homecoming. Parishioners are returning from their vacations, and choir lofts and church school classes are filling up once again as fall programming gets underway. What better time to recall and sing the psalmist’s words “How lovely is thy dwelling-place, O Lord of Hosts!”
Presbyterian minister and educator Arlo Duba (b. 1929) wrote this fine paraphrase of Psalm 84 in 1984 while he was a member of the Psalter Task Force of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). Motivated by his observation that few existing metrical versions of this psalm adequately convey the sense that God’s house is truly a place of wonder and beauty, Duba composed this text with Hal Hopson’s melody merle’s tune in mind. Since then, the hymn has appeared in several books, including the Presbyterian Hymnal, and is being considered for inclusion in the new hymnal supplement Sing! A New Creation, now being prepared jointly by CRC Publications, The Commission for Worship of the Reformed Church in America, and the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship.
Merle’s Tune, written in 1983, is named for the well-known composer’s older sister, who was also his first piano teacher. Its elegant contours are the perfect vehicle for Duba’s graceful text. This is a hymn to sing and enjoy!
LET US TALENTS AND TONGUES EMPLOY
For a time, Jamaican composer Doreen Potter lived in Geneva, Switzerland, on the same street as the well-known hymnwriter Fred Kaan. This happy coincidence resulted in several musical collaborations, including this “Communion Calypso,” as Kaan calls it. Since its composition, “Let Us Talents and Tongues Employ” has been sung at several assemblies of the World Council of Churches and is now being sung at communion services throughout the world. It is a natural choice for use on Worldwide Communion Sunday, the first Sunday in October.
Surely one reason for the hymn’s widespread popularity is its music. The tune linstead is a lively, spirited Jamaican folk tune that is easy to learn and fun to sing. Youngsters especially will find the jazzy syncopations irresistible, and even the youngest children can memorize the four-bar refrain.
The song is even more effective when rhythm instruments are employed. Maracas can play a pattern of steady eighth notes, while claves play something like the following:
If you are fortunate enough to own some congas, encourage your drummer to improvise around the rhythmic pattern found in the first bar of the melody.
The keyboard part is written to be playable on the organ, but piano or keyboard seems a more natural choice, and improvisation is certainly appropriate. Finally, if you have a bass player in your midst (either upright or electric), have him or her play along to complete the Caribbean sound. All this joyful noise helps remind us of what communion really is: the joyful feast of the people of God.
COME NOW, O PRINCE OF PEACE
Another gift from the world church is this quiet hymn from Korea, which might be sung on Worldwide Communion Sunday or at any other time. It is a prayer for the unity of the church and the reconciliation of nations. Written in 1991, the words and music are the work of gifted hymn writer Geonyong Lee; Marion Pope crafted the English paraphrase.
The tune is simple and lovely and may be sung in unison, without accompaniment, perhaps lined-out in four-bar phrases by a cantor. The hymn may also be sung SATB, and there are some surprising harmonies near the end that add depth and color to the piece.
John Bell suggests using this hymn as a prayer response, alternating verses with spoken intercessions. Even when the English text is used, the singing of the Korean “O-so-so” in the first two bars is effective, reminding us of our unity with Christians in other parts of the world.
FOR ALL THE SAINTS
This is a completely different piece from the well-known How/Vaughan Williams hymn of the same name. John Bell of Scotland’s lona Community (already mentioned in connection with the Korean hymn “Come Now, O Prince of Peace”) has created a new song that thanks God for the lives of the saints. Presently available in the U.S. and Canada in the G.I.A. collection When Grief Is Raw, this hymn is also being considered for inclusion in Sing! A New Creation. It is a worthy addition to hymnic repertoire for the feast of All Saints.
Bell has set his text to the lovely traditional English folk tune o waly waly, which appears, albeit in a different meter, in the Psalter Hymnal (219). (For this hymn, the version in triple meter given here seems to work better.) The unusual tune name derives from the opening words of its original text, “O Waly, Waly, gin love be bony,” which dates back to the early eighteenth century.
An alternate keyboard harmonization is included here to add variety to the singing of this hymn. It is taken from Twenty-five More Harmonizations for Organ by Alfred V. Fedak (1998, Kingston, New York, Selah Publishing Company).
THE ALL THINGS NOW LIVING
Every November I participate in an interfaith Thanksgiving service that includes Methodists, Presbyterians, Unitarians, and Reform Jews. Katherine K. Davis’s hymn “Let All Things Now Living,” with its Old Testament imagery, is the perfect hymn for this annual event. It is also a wonderful hymn of thanksgiving appropriate for use at any time, and is especially effective as a closing hymn or recessional at the end of worship.
Davis (1892-1980) was a prolific composer who published nearly eight hundred pieces. “The Little Drummer Boy,” perhaps her most famous work, was, like many of her compositions, published under a pseudonym. She wrote the words of “Let All Things Now Living” as the text to a choral anthem published by E. C. Schirmer in 1939. The tune to which she matched her text was the lilting Welsh folk tune the ash grove.
One version of the hymn is found in the Psalter Hymnal. It includes Katherine Davis’s own harmonization of the ash grove and the second stanza descant from her choral anthem. In the Presbyterian Hymnal, a different harmonization appears in a higher key; this is the work of noted British organist and composer Gerald H. Knight (1908-1979). I provide yet a third arrangement, printed here as an organ introduction to the hymn or as an accompaniment to the unison singing of stanza 1 in the Psalter Hymnal version. It should not, however, be played when the second stanza descant is sung. When Katherine Davis’s descant is sung, her harmonization must also be played, or musical chaos will result! For readers who work with the Presbyterian Hymnal, this alternate harmonization is available in G major in the organ collection Twenty-five More Harmonizations by Alfred V. Fedak (Kingston, New York: Selah Publishing Company, 1998).
GOD KNOWS BEST
Monica, the mother of Augustine, prayed that he would not go to Rome as planned, but that he would become a Christian and that she would be able to influence his life with her presence. On the night before his departure, she went to a chapel by the sea and prayed earnestly. Yet when she emerged from the sanctuary in the early hours of the morning, she discovered that his ship had already left. Though she didn’t realize it, her petition was refused, but her real request and desire was granted. For it was in Rome that her rebellious son met the godly Ambrose, who led him to Jesus Christ. How comforting to know that God knows best.
—Alvin J. Vander Griend, The Praying Church Sourcebook (CRC Publications, 1990, 1997), p. 292
Everything You say, God, is right.
You know what I should do
and what I should not do.
You are fair in everything You do.
Whatever You decide is always right.
You’re so smart that
we can’t even give You a grade.
I like Your rules,
but I can’t follow all of them.
I’ve probably done some wrong things
that I don’t even know about.
Just in case,
forgive me for those things, too.
Please listen to the things I say
and to the things I think.
You are the one who understands me.
— Eldon Weisheit, Psalms for Teens (Concordia, 1992). Used by permission.
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