In last year’s March issue (RW 75) we announced an international search for new song texts based on New Testament passages. The announcement also appeared on our website and in the newsletter of the Hymn Society of the United States and Canada. To our delight, ninety texts by forty-two writers came in from all over the English-speaking world, including England, Scotland, and New Zealand, as well as the United States and Canada. Texts were submitted on the following New Testament books: 14 texts from Acts, 8 from Romans, 22 from the two letters to the Corinthians, 3 on Galatians, 9 on Ephesians, 5 on Philippians, 3 on Colossians, 2 from Timothy, 7 from Hebrews, 3 from James, 5 from Peter, 2 from the letters of John, 3 from the book of Revelation, and a couple that combined passages. We’re happy to provide the winning text here along with another text chosen by the judges for honorable mention.
This is our second hymn search. We decided to share with RW readers what’s involved in such an undertaking because congregations often choose a similar process to solicit songs for important anniversaries or ministries.
Step 1: Finding Support
The idea for this search came from an exchange with published hymn writer and long-time RW subscriber John A. Dalles, pastor of Wekiva Presbyterian Church, Longwood, Florida. John was one of the winners of our first hymn competition back in March, 1995; his text “To God We Pray, ‘Your Kingdom Come’” was published in RW 35 (p. 39); sixty-five of his texts have since been collected in Swift Currents and Still Waters published by GIA.
In an e-mail about a resource in RW, John mentioned in closing how much he had appreciated that hymn search process back in 1995. I responded that I would love for RW to do another hymn search, if only someone would underwrite it with some modest funding. Not long after that he wrote back that he and his wife, Judy, would like to take up this challenge, and we were on our way! We’re very grateful to John and Judy for their generosity and encouragement.
Step 2: Determining a Theme
The next step was to settle on a theme for the hymn search. That was not difficult, since a search for new songs based on New Testament texts was already underway at the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship. An announcement had gone out in RW 74, and well over a thousand submissions poured in, mostly based on the Gospels. So we decided to focus our search to texts based on all New Testament passages except the gospels.
For the larger New Testament project, a committee chaired by Joyce Borger, oncoming editor of RW, is sifting through all the submissions to determine which texts best reflect the various passages. The plan is for a print collection of about three hundred songs. Another possibility would be to create a database for preachers and worship planners that includes the whole list, perhaps with references where those texts could be found. So if someone were preaching on Romans 8, for example, they could find all song titles based on passages in Romans 8. What a helpful planning tool this could be!
Step 3: Getting the Word Out
As already mentioned, we publicized the hymn search in RW as well as in Stanza, the news bulletin of the Hymn Society in the United States and Canada; several current hymn searches underway by congregations are available on their website (www.thehymnsociety.org); reading those descriptions may give you ideas for your own congregation’s search.
Step 4: Finding Judges
We’re very grateful for the three judges who willingly took on this task as a labor of love. Their assignment was to review each of the texts (no names attached), determining how well each text reflected the chosen Scripture passage and its meaning for Christian living. The purpose of the whole venture was to be able to connect Scripture with congregational song. Our three judges were
- Delores Dufner, liturgy director for the Sisters of St. Benedict’s Monastery in St. Joseph, Minnesota, and author of two published collections of hymn texts.
- David Eicher, director of music ministries at La Porte (Indiana) Presbyterian Church, and past president of the Presbyterian Association of Musicians.
- Roy Hopp, director of music at Woodlawn Christian Reformed Church, Grand Rapids, Michigan, and composer of many published hymn tunes and anthems.
Each of the judges worked first by e-mail, followed by a meeting at a conference they all attended. For the final decisions, the judges collaborated by phone. Each came to the final call with their top five choices ranked, and not all the choices were the same! Listening to their conversations about these texts was a wonderful exercise in learning about how texts and tunes can communicate Scripture most faithfully and powerfully in ways that congregations can sing.
Step 5: Publishing the Results
In the end, two texts were selected. One winner received the $300 prize; the other, an honorable mention. To all those who submitted texts, our grateful thanks as well. We’re delighted to present these two new songs to the congregations!
The Bread Is Broken, You Are Whole
Click to listen [ full version ]
The winning text “The Bread Is Broken, You Are Whole” by Richard Leach is based on the words of institution of the Lord’s Supper found in 1 Corinthians 11:23-26. The text is intended for communion services or whenever attention is given to the new heavens and new earth. Here is what he wrote about this text:
“As often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” (1 Cor. 11:26) is one of the verses on which “The Bread Is Broken, You Are Whole” is based. The hymn comes from the tension between the joy of receiving Christ in communion and the gravity of remembering his death. At the Lord’s table we celebrate Jesus risen and alive; yet we proclaim his death to ourselves and to the world around us, because the world, whose brokenness led to his death, is not yet mended. The cross of Christ—God rejected, the innocent suffering—is a sign of our own times.
Proclaiming Jesus’ death does not take away our joy in Jesus’ risen life. It means we know the world that still awaits the full power of that life. The church serves that world and witnesses to it that the will of God is “all things made new” (Rev. 21:5), a wholeness and gladness the world hardly dares to imagine.
Choosing a tune is not always easy, even when a text is written in a meter with many tune choices, like this one in Common Meter Double (lines with syllables numbering 8686 8686). Leach suggested both kingsfold and resignation. The judges preferred the duple character of kingsfold over the triple resignation, which “took over too much.” kingsfold is known to many congregations, but perhaps a composer would like to try writing a new tune. Incidentally, the craft of writing new tunes that are both fresh and accessible for congregational singing is an even greater challenge than writing new texts!
About the Author
Richard Leach (email@example.com) is a graduate of Princeton Theological Seminary and served more than twenty years as a pastor in the United Church of Christ in Connecticut. In 1987 he sat in on a Yale Divinity School course on worship taught by Jeffrey Rowthorn. One of the classes was about new hymn writing, which had a strong affect on Leach:
The words of Thomas Troeger and Brian Wren were so vivid and so energized, compared to what I was leading the congregation in every Sunday morning, that my first reaction was Wow! And then I thought, I wonder if I could do that? And then, I want to do that. So I began to try.
I have been writing hymn and anthem texts steadily since then. The Hymn Society in the United States and Canada, and many friends made through the Society, has become a significant part of my life.
Leach is currently a lay member of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, living in northern Pennsylvania and working as business manager for the IT consulting company of his wife, Beverly. Several of his texts are found in recent hymnals, and Selah Publishing Company has published several collections (available through www.selahpub.com or by calling 1-800-852-6172). These include
- We Sing the Shoreline (hymns for Advent, Christmas, and Jesus’ Ministry; 2004)
- Honey from the Rock (hymns for Lent, Easter, and the life of the church; 2005)
- Credo (hymns based on the Apostles’ Creed; forthcoming in 2006)
In each collection the texts are set to tunes by a variety of contemporary composers.
Click to listen [ full version ]
“Come Boldly” by Christopher L. Webber, the text receiving honorable mention, is based on Hebrews 4:14-16. Webber wrote about this text:
The Epistle to the Hebrews is a rich source for me and led to one hymn that was published several years ago in Canada and the United States. Hebrews 4:14-16, about coming boldly to the throne of grace, has inspired several hymns and is one that I have often cited to inquirers classes as the best summary I know of the Christian faith. When we have problems, we may well know of people who could help us, but we have no way to reach them. Conversely, there are many friends we can reach, but who have no way to help. God in Christ is uniquely approachable and also able to help. In Christ, God has shared our human life to the full. He knows our needs and now, at God’s right hand, is able to respond to our prayers. Isn’t that the essence of the faith? God loves us, comes near to us, and is ready to empower us to overcome the obstacles in our way. That surely is something to sing about!
About the Author
Christopher L. Webber (firstname.lastname@example.org) is also a graduate of Princeton Theological Seminary; he began his ministry in a blue-collar parish in Brooklyn, then moved to a suburban parish on Long Island, and for six years served the expatriate Anglican congregation in Tokyo before returning to serve a large parish in suburban New York. He has been “retired” for several years, though still serves two small parishes in the rural northwest corner of Connecticut.
I have always written poetry, though not often until the last twenty years or so. My mother loved poetry and read it to me as a child. The rhythms of language are deeply ingrained. I began more serious writing when the new Episcopal Prayer Book came out and the singing of psalms was encouraged. Metrical psalms are the easiest since familiar tunes can be used, but too many existing metrical psalms employ obsolete language and inverted sentences and are simply too quaint for regular use. So I began paraphrasing the psalms myself, a few at a time, for occasional use and, over time, accumulated enough to make me wonder whether they would be useful to others. A New Metrical Psalter was published in 1986 and continues to sell several hundred copies a year.
While traveling in Scotland, I discovered that the metrical tradition includes Scriptural passages other than the psalms and I decided to try my hand at that. Hymns from the Bible was published in 2000.
I like writing; I’ve spent nearly fifty years trying to explain things clearly from the pulpit, and hymn writing is more of the same. Hymn writing provides an opportunity to use language more creatively. It seems to come in bursts. A special church occasion may call for one hymn, and then others follow.
Webber suggested Ralph Vaughan Williams’ tune king’s weston for this text. A fine match, this tune makes it possible to sing this text from Hebrews with overtones of Philippians 2 from the older familiar text “At the Name of Jesus.”
The Bread Is Broken, You Are Whole
The bread is broken, you are whole,
O Jesus, Living One;
the world that sent you to the cross,
confronted and undone.
Yet hurt abounds and hope is mocked,
O Jesus, now as then;
we break this bread and tell your death,
until you come again.
Your church is waiting for the day
your cross becomes a sign
of days gone by, to tell no more
the truth of our own time.
The wine of that new day is poured,
a cup not yet brimful;
yet here and now we taste the world
made new and glad and whole.
The bread is broken for our sake,
O Jesus, Living One;
the life we need, the joy we seek,
are met upon your tongue.
We know the song that waits for us
when all things are made new,
And sing it now: Alleluia,
O Lamb of God, To You!
A Congregational Song Search to Celebrate the 150th Anniversary of the Christian Reformed Church
The sesquicentennial committee is soliciting original compositions of congregational song (words and music) from members of the Christian Reformed Church, to be used in worship services celebrating the 150th anniversary of the founding of the denomination in 1857. The theme of the celebration will be “Grace through Every Generation.” The deadline for submissions is May 31, 2006. For details please visit www.crcna.org.
On a barren hilltop just outside the walls
of an ancient city as the evening falls,
speaks a dying figure hanging on a tree,
saying “It is finished”—words of victory.
Tested just as we are, in a world of strife,
through the pain and conflict of a human life,
here at last completed with his final breath
is a life triumphant over sin and death.
Let us then come boldly to the heavenly throne,
where our human weakness is so fully known,
and the mercy given by which we are freed,
and the grace provided for our time of need.
—Christopher L. Webber