Singing the Church Year
Unlike other LOFT services, which take place on Sunday night and go for seventy-five minutes or more, this hymnsing service took place on a Friday morning and lasted under twenty-five minutes. It was part of a week-long project of educating students about the seasons of the church and what it means to find our identity, as Paul says, in Christ, inserting our stories into his story, giving our own lives context and purpose.
The challenge in this service was using two separate structural grids: one that shaped the service according to liturgical function (a modified Approach/Word/Response), and another that shaped it according to the church year. We wanted it (a) to be fairly coherent intellectually, to teach without being pedantic or plodding, and (b) to be coherent emotionally, to “flow,” and allow the Spirit to take us someplace.
Keep in mind that these notes are descriptive, not prescriptive. Use them as a jumping-off point for your own reflection and creative planning.
The music begins immediately, even a few minutes before “official” start time.
“O Come, Let Us Adore Him” Renew! 1
Key of F. To encourage the congregation to enter more deeply into adoration as they sing, introduce with just the piano. Other instruments are added each stanza (4 in all): violin, bass, guitars playing arpeggios, and cymbal swells from the drummer. Build in intensity and volume until end. Repeat first stanza, this time a cappella.
After song concludes, leader says something like, “The Lord be with you.” (And also with you.) “Welcome to ______. Today we are going to conclude our week-long series on the seasons and feasts of the church by journeying through the church year in song.”
Leader says, “Our journey begins in Advent, where we find the Israelites—and ourselves—in ‘lonely exile’ awaiting Christ’s coming. But we sing with hope too (rejoice!), because of God’s sure promises. Please join us.”
“O Come, O Come, Immanuel” PsH 328, PH 9, RL 184, SFL 123, TH 194, TWC 133 (st. 1, 6)
Play in Fm (half step up from written music) to make transition easier. Get at the song’s “loneliness” with a spare accompaniment on the verses (solo cello, guitar, and flute), and at the song’s hope with a two-handed keyboard joining on refrain. Let the first “rejoice!” sing out, the next can be a softer echo.
As the song concludes, piano transitions back into F major. Gentle introduction of the refrain of “Go, Tell It on the Mountain.”
While piano introduces “Go, Tell It on the Mountain,” leader says, “Our Advent hope is rewarded at Christmas, when we hear of the birth of our Savior. We burst with joy, and our joy spills over into Epiphany and into the whole world as we encourage one another to tell everyone the good news that Jesus Christ is born.”
“Go, Tell It on the Mountain” PsH 356, PH 29, RL 206, SFL 133, TH 214, TWC 152
Begin congregational participation not with refrain, but with stanza 1: “While shepherds . . .” Play quietly, slowly, rubato—with anticipation. Use just the piano, making use of the higher registers. Hold the last chord of the stanza as long as possible, then snap off. A tempo (briskly), walk the bass up to F, and let the whole band join in celebrating, swinging. A saxophone or other brass can take it up another notch.
Leader prays along these lines: “Christ Jesus, we give you thanks for coming to dwell among us, to teach us how to live and how to love. We confess that as we try to follow your example, we often mess up. You urge us to holiness, but our hearts are fouled with our own sin (add specific confessions). Forgive us, Lord. (Do not end prayer with “Amen” or “in Jesus’ name” but let the prayer continue with the song.)
“Create in Me a Clean Heart” (Psalm 51) SNC 49
Key of G. Keep the accompaniment spare and prayerful. Introduce with the last line played by a plaintive violin and guitar. Piano and bass join when congregation begins singing. Sing twice through.
Leader says something like this: “During Lent, we remember our sinfulness, we ask for forgiveness, and as we follow Jesus into the last week of his life, we contemplate with awe the mystery of his sacrifice for our sakes.”
“What Wondrous Love Is This” PsH 379, PH 85, SFL 169, TH 261, TWC 212 (st. 1-2)
Key of Dm. Single instrument introduction. To worship as thoughtfully as possible, sing a cappella.
When music concludes, observe a moment of silence. Then, without further explanation, leader reads Matthew 28:1-6—the story of the Resurrection.
“Celtic Alleluia” SNC 148
Key of G. Drums, piano and violin begin immediately as Scripture reading ends. For a very Celtic feel, a low tom drum (mimicking a bhodran) begins with a quarter-eighth pattern. The violin plays a sfz-attacked two-string drone on G and D (two beats/measure, no chord changes). The piano simply plays G in octaves down low. A tin whistle or soprano recorder plays the melody all the way through the refrain one time. Then the congregation joins in. Hard snare rim shots on the three beats of the half-measure before the stanza begins give the congregation a clear cue where to begin the stanzas. Piano joins providing melody and harmonic support on the stanzas, the drone-harmony returns on the refrain. The penny whistle can go to the descant on the refrain when the congregation is confident in their singing.
The song concludes with two measures of the percussive drum and violin drone, a slight ritard, the last notes ringing out.
Leader says something like this: “Our risen Lord ascends to heaven but does not leave us alone—on the feast of Pentecost he sends us the Holy Spirit to comfort, to inspire, to unite, to renew us and the whole earth.
“Sing and learn with us this new song, a fresh breath of the Spirit. The stanzas will be sung for you, but please join us on the refrain. Don’t worry if we have trouble and our music sounds like little more than people mumbling in many languages—that might be fitting. Please join us.”
“Send Us Your Spirit” SNC 163
Key of D. Sing gently, steadily, prayerfully. Soloists may sing the stanzas from various locations within the congregation. First stanza accompanied by piano, second by guitar, third by both. When the congregation sings the refrain after stanzas 2 and 3, have a solo instrument play the melody a measure behind, in canon.
Leader prays the following: “Holy Spirit, renewed daily by your love, may we follow Jesus through the rest of this day, this month, this whole year. Fill our days, our average, ordinary days with love for you, with humility and purpose for ourselves, and with compassion for our world. When we fall down, pick us up. Encourage us with your grace. May we do all that you have called us to, filled only with Jesus Christ, our All in All.”
“You Are My All in All” Songs for Praise & Worship 220
Key of G. To fill the room with adoration, accompany with full band and sing with gusto one time through together, then in canon another time and a half. A piano introduction with a guitar playing in thirds (Ã la Van Morrison’s classic songs) gives this the right feel.
Leader offers a benediction: “People of God, hear God’s blessing: (use any appropriate benediction).”
“Go now into this season of light, marching together in the peace and the light of God. You may leave as we sing.”
“Siyahamba” SNC 293
Use as much percussion as you can—especially hand percussion—but let the celebration be grounded, not flighty. Have a bass or piano give the pitch, then allow the congregation to sing with verve and spirit, harmonizing as they are able.
Ten Service Plans for Contemporary Worship
Complete plans for thematically integrated contemporary services. Each service plan includes theme, Scripture, outline, prayers, song suggestions, and both spoken and musical transitions, so that the entire service can flow from start to finish. Also included are suggestions for performing each song. By Ron Rienstra. Available Winter 2003 from Faith Alive Christian Resources, 1-800-333-8300, www.FaithAliveResources.org.