This Sing 10 pairs a chapel service planned by Ron Rienstra for Western Theological Seminary in Holland, Michigan, with an album review by Debra Rienstra, “New Wine from The Porter’s Gate: The Climate Vigil Album” posted July 23, 2022, on the Reformed Journal blog and on her website, DebraRienstra.com. In this article, Debra's blog post appears in gold font to easily distinguish it from the service.
We recreated the “in-between words” from notes that Ron prepared for leading the original chapel service. These spoken words are included to provide suggested transitions as you lead the service. As always, you are welcome to adapt this service and the words spoken to fit your own context as long as you include a spoken or written note indicating the original source.
While this resource focuses on a single collection of songs on the topic of climate justice, you are encouraged to examine other musical and liturgical offerings, such as those crowdsourced by the Climate Witness Project (crcna.org/climate-witness-project/worship) or resources previously published by Reformed Worship. To easily locate material from Reformed Worship, go to ReformedWorship.org and type “creation” in the search bar.
Moral and Divine Calling
Even while embroiled in another season of unexpected weather patterns, churches are all too often completely silent in response to the climate crisis. We could name any number of reasons for that culpable silence—or vocal dismissiveness. But for churches who hear the urgent moral call of these frightening days, we now have a growing number of resources to help us respond, including resources for worship.
Publishers and climate organizations are developing new eco-focused sermon commentaries and liturgies. The Season of Creation, from September 1 to October 4, is now an international, ecumenical addition to the liturgical calendar. Musicians, too, are getting on board to write new worship music that helps us respond to our divine call to heal a damaged earth.
With their album Climate Vigil Songs, The Porter’s Gate aims to help the church wake up to “one of the greatest moral challenges of our time.” This ecumenical, diverse group of musicians collaborates to develop worship songs that fill gaps in the church’s repertoire. So far they’ve released albums of work songs, neighbor songs, lament songs, justice songs, and Advent songs. Now, with this new album, they are “calling on Christians, and all people of goodwill, to gather in local communities to bear witness to our climate crisis—and take action to end it.” (Climate Vigil and Porter’s Gate, Climate Vigil Songs Worship Guide, p. 4).
To be fair, we’re not going to end the climate crisis; climate impacts are now “baked in” for generations no matter what we do at this moment. Our task, in partnership with people of all faiths and no faith, is to mitigate fiercely so as to avoid the worst impacts, to repair as much as we possibly can, and to build a more just and beautiful future. This is a moral calling—a divine calling—and The Porter’s Gate offers the church musical solace and challenge along the way with these thoughtful, innovative, vibrant songs.
In the excellent source materials that accompany the album, The Porter’s Gate founder Isaac Wardell explains that the album deliberately covers three main modes: praise, lament/repentance, and call to action and mobilization: “music for the movement.” We’re impressed throughout the album with the neat side-stepping of cliché, the emphatic avoidance of anthropocentrism, and the persistent attentiveness to the beauty and resilience of an aching creation. Climate Vigil Songs is great music as well as a generous and timely gift to the church.
Can you use this music in congregational worship? Sure! We have provided an example of just that from a chapel service held at Western Theological Seminary in Holland, Michigan. Taking a cue from one of the songs, “Water to Wine,” we have also included some additional reflections and song notes in the style of a wine review. We hope you will find this full-bodied resource at times smooth, at others leaning appropriately towards the tannic, always earthy, and definitely long on the palate.
The Climate Vigil Songs Worship Guide is a terrific resource. Besides listing all the amazing musicians involved in the project, the guide works through each song, presenting lyrics along with commentary and a brief devotional reflection. These reflections, written by an all-star cast, include an apt biblical passage, some substantial musings relevant to each song, a brief prayer, and some reflection questions. The end of the book is a primer on climate change and a theological case for Christian action.
Go to climatevigil.org/album to listen to the album (also available via most streaming services), download the worship guide, and access lead sheets.
The Lord be with you.
And also with you.
Come to us today, O God.
Come to us with light. [Light a candle.]
Speak to us today, O God.
Speak to us your truth. [Set Bible on pulpit.]
Dwell with us today, O God.
Dwell with us in love. [Drape cross with cloth.]
Renew us today, O God.
Renew us by your Holy Spirit. [Pour water into font.]
—adapted from “A Celtic Evening Liturgy,” The Iona Community Worship Book, © 1991 The Iona Community. ionabooks.com
Welcome and Introduction to the Service
Welcome to worship today.
Unlike most worship services, in which the music comes from varied authors and composers, today’s music originates solely from The Porter’s Gate, a loose ecumenical collection of artists and theologians. More particularly, the songs for today’s service originate from one album, entitled Climate Vigil Songs. This album is dedicated to reflecting on climate change, the most important theological issue of our age but one rarely addressed in worship.
Today we will use songs from this album as we praise God for the beauty and wonder of the created world and as we sorrow and lament the abuse of creation that has led to the current crisis. We will sing our prayers and even hear from God in song as we are called to action and mobilization.
[Include additional directions regarding any materials used in worship (printed music and lyrics, order of worship, etc.).]
We continue our worship by praising God for this amazing world we live in. It is hard to praise God without resorting to well-worn clichés. This first song, “Declaring Glory,” is a remarkable exception.
Jean-Jacques von Allmen, a theologian of worship, wrote that the church’s worship is not just representative of people, but the whole of creation, so that “[creation’s] sighs and groans may be ‘transformed into singing’” (Jean-Jacques von Allmen, Worship: Its Theology and Practice, Oxford University Press, 1965, p. 73). That is exactly what is happening in the song “Declaring Glory.”
It answers the question of what it might sound like if our ears could hear the planet in its sighs and groaning and praise. It’s the story from the first chapters of Genesis written in the first-person voice of Earth. So in the first line, the “I” of “When I was young” refers to when the earth was young, not the composer or those singing.
You are invited to reflect on the text of the stanzas which we will sing on your behalf and then join creation in singing the refrain, “declaring glory” as you feel comfortable.
Song of Adoration
“Declaring Glory (The Earth Sings Its Refrain)” Guerra et al.
“Declaring Glory (The Earth Sings Its Refrain)”
Tasting notes: A balance of playful and energetic joy with underlying notes of deep time.
Let’s try a song in the voice of the earth! This is a genius idea. It’s time for human congregants to be quiet, for goodness’ sake, and just listen: listen for the joy of creation—and the pain. On second thought, people should join in for the refrain, “Declaring glory!” But for most of the song, just go along for the ride as the earth praises the Creator across vast sweeps of time. And listen as the earth resolves: “I praise you till my fires run out.”
Duly immersed in our kinship with all creation, congregants can join in the coda, too, singing with all that has breath, “I’ll praise my maker in every age.” I suppose the implied question here is: Will we? Or will we destroy this stunning, alive, praising earth?
Pairing: A small choir could sing the verses, with the congregation joining on the refrain and coda. This song says: “Step aside, humans. It’s not all about you.”
Given the topic of this service, it makes sense to surround the congregation with creation itself, whatever that may look like in your context. An additional idea: if your congregation has the ability to project, find images that correspond with the text of “All Creatures Lament.” This would be a great way to include some of your youth. You might want to challenge them to take the pictures themselves, focusing on the abuses of creation found within your own community. If you also need to project the text, split the screen so that the images do not reside behind the words, but to the side, allowing those with visual challenges to more easily read them.
An increasing number of churches are starting to mark a “Season of Creation,” an addition to the liturgical calendar that begins September 1 and ends on October 4, the feast day of St. Francis of Assisi. St. Francis wrote the classic text “Canticle of the Sun” that many of us know as the hymn of praise “All Creatures of our God and King.” This next song takes that song of praise and turns it into a prayer of lament. Please join in singing this disquieting text.
Prayer of Lament
“All Creatures Lament” Zach et al.
“All Creatures Lament”
Tasting notes: Flavors of melancholy and grief deliver complex nuances of longing love. Characterized by quiet intensity.
Oh, what they’ve done with that beloved, familiar chestnut of a hymn!
All creatures of our God and King,
lift up your voices; let them ring.
Fill the earth with lamentation!
Cry out abuses of our pow’r;
tell what we lose with every hour
to our greed and depredation.
Lord, have mercy; Christ, have mercy;
Lord, have mercy!
Feel that stab in your heart? Yeah, that’s because this hymn is now a call for all creatures, including us, to lament the damage we humans have done to air, seas, land.
Mourn the destruction of our home;
Weep with the fear of worse to come.
The way the song dwells in the relative minor key just twists that knife even more deeply. But somehow, grief awakens love here. Buried in the lament is a new resolve:
Teach us to see your wonders now.
Help us to make a holy vow
here to halt your devastation.
Pairing: Great after the sermon and/or just before intercessory prayer. You’ll need at least a guitar and lead voice. Those gorgeous string arrangements are absolutely ravishing—that tremolo at the end! Even if your congregation cannot replicate the recording, you might retain a dramatic pause, which requires not just silence but absolute stillness.
Scripture Reading: Job 38
We offer to God our praise. We offer to God our penitence. And we come to God to hear a Word. Job 38 and the following chapters are a favorite of climate-aware Christians. So for the proclamation today, we hear a setting of some of these verses. Our position is like Job’s: we bring a complaint before the Lord as Job brought his. However, while Job believed he was innocent, we do not. We are not. We may be innocent of some things, but we confess regularly both “the evil we have done and the evil done on our behalf.” But like Job, we face the loss of so much. With Job we cry out for answers. Yet, as the folk from The Porter’s Gate remind us in their worship guide, “God surprises [us] by putting the question back to [us]: ‘Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?’ These are hard words for us, but a Christian vision of justice includes the recognition that God truly holds the world in God’s hands, and that we can cry out to God with our laments (like Job) knowing that the One who spins the earth on its axis can also sustain us in our work for justice.” (Porter’s Gate Worship Project, Climate Vigil Songs Worship Guide, climatevigil.org/album-leadsheets, p. 9).
You are invited to reflect as these words are sung on our behalf.
“Where Were You?” Chambers, Guerra
Sung on the congregation’s behalf.
“Where Were You”
Tasting notes: Flavors of sighs, wonder, and melancholy sharpened with wryness. Deep notes of poignance make for a heartbreaking finish.
What moxie to write a song in the voice of God from the end of Job! But it’s fantastic. Rather than depicting God’s voice as a “dressing down” of poor Job, this song regards the words out of the whirlwind as a love letter to creation. God asks the listener, with surprising gentleness, “Where were you?” and “Do you know?” Focusing the song on God’s questions brings us up short in our anthropocentric arrogance.
In the final verse, the human listener responds, “I don’t know. / But in the whirlwind of my weakness, / O my God, I hear you speaking, / and when I think of all your secrets, I shake and rejoice.” This helpless reply falls into silence with the song musically unresolved. Oof. Absolutely heartbreaking.
Pairing notes: Not for congregations to sing. In fact, it’s crucial that they remain silent and listen. Instead, have a pair of excellent voices do the song—or three voices! The additional voices give dimension in later verses. Let the musicians lean into the song’s quirky syncopation. For full effect, you really do need the string backup.
In response to the wonder, the grief, and the mystery of God’s sovereignty, we do the only thing we can do: we pray. We often think of the word “hosanna” as an expression of praise, but it really is a word of desperation, a cry for salvation. “Hosanna” means “Save us!”— and that’s the heart of our prayer. The spoken prayer we will be using was written in 2015 by Pope Francis.
Prayers of the People
“Hosanna! (Will You Rise?)” Wardell et al.
[Immediately following the last line of the song, the following prayer is spoken as the musicians carry on playing the first four intro bars. Singers hum throughout.]
Spoken Prayer of Intercession
All-powerful God, you are present in the whole universe
and in the smallest of your creatures.
You embrace with your tenderness all that exists.
Pour out upon us the power of your love,
that we may protect life and beauty.
Fill us with peace,
that we may live as brothers and sisters,
harming no one.
O God of the poor,
help us to rescue the abandoned and forgotten of this earth,
so precious in your eyes.
Bring healing to our lives,
that we may protect the world and not prey on it,
that we may sow beauty, not pollution and destruction.
Touch the hearts of those who look only for gain
at the expense of the poor and the earth.
Teach us to discover the worth of each thing,
to be filled with awe and contemplation,
to recognize that we are profoundly united with every creature
as we journey towards your infinite light.
We thank you for being with us each day.
Encourage us, we pray,
in our struggle for justice, love and peace.
—Pope Francis, Encyclical Letter Laudato Si’, 2015 © Libreria Editrice Vaticana, Vatican City
[Following the prayer, return to singing the refrain.]
“Hosanna! (Will You Rise?)”
Tasting notes: Notes of indie rock, praise chorus, and gentle longing, with a smooth finish featuring joyful anticipation.
This song is not quite as simple as it might first seem. It begins by placing us in a time of earth crisis, waters rising all around. Is that first instance of the Lord’s Prayer, then, the voice of creation itself? Is creation longing for God’s kingdom to come, wondering if God will rise? The initial refrain combines praise (“Hosanna”) with a plea (“Will you rise?”) Perhaps, together with creation, we are embedding our call for God’s action in praise for God.
As the song heats up, the ambiguities shift. By the time we get to later repetitions of “Will you rise?” it seems we are asking one another: Will we rise to the urgent moral call of these crisis days? Will we combine our praise and our pleas with all creation and then act? What is our praise of God urging us to do for the beloved creation?
Pairing notes: Two good lead voices are needed for this one. Congregants will need to join in the “Hosanna” and “Thy kingdom come” refrains once they hear them. This song could work almost anywhere in a service: as an opening song, before or after intercessory prayer, concluding a communion sequence, or as a sending song.
When we pray, we don’t just pray and sit back, thinking we’ve done what is required of us. We don’t just pray and then wait with our fingers crossed, hoping God does something. We work too. In fact, it’s a sin to pray and then not be the ones who go out and try to fulfill what we just prayed for. Pray, work, and wait in hope.
Some of it is in our hands; some is not. But we work knowing that God is moving in ways we can’t see, to bring about the kingdom and the renewal of the physical world as well as the spiritual. So yes, we work AND we wait, and we pray with hope.
Song of Dedication
“The Kingdom Is Coming” Wardell et al.
“The Kingdom Is Coming”
Tasting notes: Flavors of rhythm and blues deliver complex nuances of the Civil Rights era and revolution. This is the movement song, man.
This is one the congregation can clap and dance with. I love how the refrain declares, “The kingdom is coming! / We are praying for it. . . . / We are waiting for it. . . . / We are working for it.”
Praying, waiting, working—so much for passivity. Are you waiting around for God to fix everything? Nope! Not how it happens. God is working, and we join in: “Come and join the work. He’s restoring all things.”
Pairing: Perfect for after the sermon, during communion, or as a sending song. A small choir would be great on the verses, with all joining on refrain. To do it right, you need drums, guitars, bass, and synth/strings, but you could get by with only a really good electric guitar.
May the God of hope fill us with all joy and peace
through the power of the Holy Spirit.
—Romans 15:13, adapted
Bless the Lord.
The Lord’s name be praised.
Go in peace.
[A sign of peace may be exchanged by all.]
A Final Word
This is but a taste of the Climate Vigil Songs album. I commend to you the whole collection for your own listening edification, perhaps for study with the excellent Worship Guide. Gratitude to The Porter’s Gate, other contributors, and those who supported them for the love and skill put into this album. I hope churches and Christian groups everywhere will drink deeply and be inspired to regularly include prayers for the care and protection of creation in worship.
More from Debra and Ron Rienstra
- Rienstra, Debra. Refugia Faith: Seeking Hidden Shelters, Ordinary Wonders, and the Healing of the Earth. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2022.
- Rienstra, Debra and Ron Rienstra. Worship Words: Discipling Language for Faithful Ministry. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2009.
- Rienstra, Ron. Church at Church: Jean-Jacques von Allmen’s Liturgical Ecclesiology. Eugene, OR: Pickwick Publications, 2019.
Refugia: A Podcast about Renewal, available on various podcast platforms with recordings and supporting material also available online at debrarienstra.com/refugia-podcast.
Refugia Newsletter, a fortnightly newsletter for people of faith who care about the climate crisis and want to go deeper (refugianewsletter.substack.com).