CLAP YOUR HANDS, ALL YOU NATIONS
The celebration of Christ's ascension comes late in the year 2000, not until Thursday, June 1. Most churches will probably observe the event on the following Sunday, June 4.
There is no better song text for celebrating the ascension than Psalm 47, written centuries before the time of Christ. The joyful setting included here was composed by John Bell of the Iona Community, an ecumenical group that attracts increasing numbers of visitors to their conferences on the island of Iona, off the western coast of Scotland. (For information, try one of their websites: www.iona.uk.com or www.iona.org.uk.)
If you look carefully, you will notice that John Bell is credited with the tune but that the community was involved in creating the text. Much of the songwriting at Iona happens in community, with members trying things out and refining them as they sing together.
John Bell (see interview in RW 27) started collecting songs during his travels to ecumenical and international conferences. Many of the worship songs from Africa, Asia, and South America that have found their way into North American hymnals were first introduced in Iona song collections. This setting is found in Psalms of Patience, Protest, and Praise, a collection of twenty-four psalms (in North America all Iona music is available from G.I.A. Publications; 1-800-442-1358).
For years, missionaries from Europe and North America exported their hymns to non-Western cultures—but here the tables are turned. The African influence is clearly evident in this joyful setting: the refrain, repetition, simple harmony, and infectious dance-like rhythms combine to create a sound that will be at home anywhere.
You may want to start singing this particular setting during Eastertide so that by Ascension Sunday you're really ready to sing with freedom and exuberance. Begin by having your worship team or choir sing the hymn as a call to worship, either as written or in two groups (leader with all on refrain or antiphonally). The next week have the congregation join only on the "Amen. Hallelujah!" phrases (have them sing by rote, without the music). On Ascension Sunday, consider this song for a processional, with the whole congregation singing, either antiphonally or all together.
Ideally, this song should be sung with no accompaniment other than percussion instruments, especially on the refrains. Perhaps your choir can provide enough support for the congregation; otherwise, use keyboard for the first stanza or two, and see if they can do without it by the third stanza. (Be sure to keep the same rhythm moving between stanzas.) This setting is indeed a joyful way to celebrate Christ's ascension!
THROUGH ALL THE WORLD
Before Christ ascended to return to his Father, he gave the Great Commission, a mandate to his disciples to bring the gospel to the whole world. Those final words of Christ on earth (Matt. 28:18-20) were the inspiration for this wonderfully strong text and tune.
Author Bryan Jeffrey Leech was born in 1931 in England but became a long-time pastor in the Evangelical Covenant Church in Santa Barbara, California. Of his many hymns, this was his first and has become one of his most loved. Both text and tune were written in a very short time; the story is best told in his own words, adapted from the Worship Leader's Edition of The Worshiping Church (Hope, 1991):
Paul Liljestrund, minister of music at Calvary Baptist Church across the street from Carnegie Hall in New York City, approached me during a vacation in the early 1960s and gave me five days to write a text for an upcoming missions conference. Having written only parodies before, I knew wry little about poetic meter, so I found a hymn by George Herbert, "Lei All the World in Every Corner Sing," and borrowed its construction and adapted its theme. Paul then wrote his inspiring tune, which reminds me of the music of Vaughan Williams. My friend Warren Webster heard the hymn at the conference, sent it to the Hymn Society, and in 1970 it was published by them. As a result it is now in a number of hymnbooks, including that of the American Armed Forces. For years I have told aspiring songwriters to keep on writing because one never gets one's first song published; the advice is still good, even though Webster's championing of this hymn negated my rule.
I have always felt that the motivation for nnssions must not be the state of the lost, but the fact that, because people do not know God, they are robbing God of his due—which is worldwide, complete acclamation and worship. For we are working toward that day of all days when "all the world" will revere him."
This hymn is best led by organ. To teach it to your congregation, consider using it first as a unison anthem for your choir. On the final note, invite everyone to find a note in the D major chord, reaching up in full harmony with sopranos on the high A. Adding brass would also be very fitting. Who knows but that God might use this song to stir someone to respond to a call to bring the gospel next door or to the other side of the world!
I'M GONNA SING WHEN THE SPIRIT SAYS SING
The day of Pentecost is obviously a good time to sing in celebration of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. But singing "in the Spirit" is something we aspire to every Sunday and every time we sing together—or pray, or cry or shout. This African-American spiritual encourages us to listen for and follow the leading of the Holy Spirit in all our speaking and singing. It is interesting that Paul's encouragement for us to pray and sing with the Spirit, but also with the mind, comes in the chapter on spiritual gifts (1 Cor. 14). All our singing and praying together comes with the opportunity to build each other up in our faith.
Like most African-American spirituals, "I'm Gonna Sing" is simple, repetitive, and accessible to everyone. The dialect character of the text is retained in most hymnals, either as "gonna" or "goin'-a." This traditional spiritual was included in the new African-American hymnal published in 1999 by Augsburg Fortress, This Far By Faith (see article on p. **). There the hymn is set with all four verses written out, in a more traditional and formal format. But here, to encourage people to sing this song from memory, only the first stanza is written out (there is, after all, only one word change in each stanza).
The well-known African-American writer and composer William Farley Smith (b. 1941) arranged this spiritual with a bass line and harmony that adds a lot of energy to this song of encouragement. Spirituals were historically sung unaccompanied, and this setting could well be sung only with choir accompaniment. But the more gospel-style harmony, with its repetitive bass line, invites vigorous keyboard accompaniment as well. Once the driving rhythm starts, make sure to keep it going between stanzas; by no means slow it down or add beats between stanzas.
Liturgically, this song could well be sung near the end of the service, as a song of commitment. Sometimes congregations include a "charge" to the congregation just before the final blessing. Instead of singing a doxology, consider the following sequence:
Charge: People of God, live in the Spirit, so that "whatever you do, in word or in deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God through him" (Col. 3:17). Song of Commitment: "I'm Gonna Sing When the Spirit Says Sing"
Blessing: May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.
The final spoken "Alleluia! Amen." will serve as the doxology.
COME, HOLY SPIRIT
On this page are two brief songs that fit into the category "service music." They are not hymns in the traditional sense, but serve a particular liturgical function; the first is a prayer refrain and the second a sung blessing.
"Come, Holy Spirit," like "Clap Your Hands," comes to us from the lona Community. This refrain is suggested for the litany on page 39; it is obviously appropriate for Pentecost, but the addition of the word "Maranatha" (which means "Come quickly, Lord") would commend this simple refrain for other times of the year as well.
This song was included in the little collection Come All You People (available from G.l.A. Publications; 1-800-442-1358), with the following note:
"Come, Holy Spirit" is an invocation of the Spirit as distinct from a summons to the people, tt simply requires the congregation to repeat the cantor's line, holding on to the last note of each phrase. It can be sung extremely quietly or with great power, depending on the occasion. It does nut require the cantor to stand in front; it can just as easily be led from the rear.
-John Bell and the Wild Coose Worship Croup of the lona Community
I would also suggest that the congregation does not need the music printed out. But make sure your choir or worship team knows when to come in on the repeats and how long to hold the final note of each phrase.
NOW GO IN PEACE
The words of this sung blessing come from Michael Mair, who set it to a Caribbean tune he heard in a multicultural neighborhood in Coventry, England. He intended the words "to encourage believers to exercise their priestly prerogative of blessing each other in the name of the Lord."
The trinitarian text makes for a joyful parting blessing to a worship service. The tune's Caribbean flavor is evident especially in the syncopation that is found in each phrase.
Rounds are best sung unaccompanied, with the harmony emerging as each part is added. Sing it first all together, and, if need be, provide a bit of support with guitar or keyboard (using block chords only).
Probably the best way to learn this song is to teach it first to the church school children or youth choir and have them teach it to the congregation. Once the song is moving along, add some percussion instruments.