May 5, 2021

Three Congregational Songs for Pentecost

In RW 139:11, the Sing 10 column introduced fourteen congregational songs for Ascension and Pentecost. Ruth-Ann Schuringa, one of the contributors for the resource article, provides background information and performance practices on the three songs that she recommended. —editors

I recommended three congregational songs for Ascension and Pentecost in Sing 10 for RW 139: a story-song by Canadian song-writer Jeremy Benjamin Zeyl, a surprisingly bridgeless contemporary song from Hillsong, and a modern revival hymn from an Irish worship band.

Music is an art form that works on us in very particular ways through a specific combination of melody, tone/mood, tempo/pace, chord structures, texture, harmony, rhythm, volume, repetition, and even space (rests). Add lyrics (poetry) to music and you have a piece of art that engages our senses, our emotions, and our minds. Through congregational song we participate in this art of music in a unique way: together, hearing our own voice while also hearing all the others. What a gift from God! How a song is received in each congregation will depend on its unique context, of course: suburban/urban/rural; small town/city; Canada/Nigeria; Protestant/Catholic; white/coloured. These three songs have found their way into our Canadian, mostly white, suburban, Christian Reformed church. I offer them here for your consideration for Pentecost worship.

They Were Waiting

By Jeremy Benjamin Zeyl

Jeremy wrote this song a few years ago, he told me, for his home church Talbot Street CRC in London, Ontario and he has given me permission to share the song with Reformed Worship readers. The power of this song for worship is in the biblical story of Pentecost, the coming of the Holy Spirit, along with a singable, meaningful chorus.

The first two verses and chorus tell us the story from Acts 1, and then verse 3 pivots and makes it personal, bringing it to the here and now: “And now you come, spirit you come here among us, rushing in, filling up our hearts . . .” By way of changing a few words, the final chorus becomes a prayer for the local congregation: “Holy Spirit, you fill up our hearts and give us words of truth.”

“They were waiting” is a guitar-driven song and works best with a solid acoustic guitarist, piano/keyboard, and strong vocals, unison on the verses. If you listen to the YouTube link you will hear that there is room for electric guitar and more percussion, as well as harmonies on the chorus, and a full-band sound if that works in your context.

Dynamically the song begins simply, with an increase in volume and full instrumentation towards the last chorus, and then a tapering down to the final prayer-chorus. I like to use this song as a gathering song on Pentecost Sunday, even before any words of welcome. I think the worship team could wait until the worship space has quieted, waiting for all to be still, before beginning the song with the words “they were waiting.” At the end of the song, prayers for the Holy Spirit’s work in worship, and in the life of the congregation would be appropriate.

You can listen to and buy Jeremy’s song here.

For the music (leadsheet only) feel free to email me and I’ll send it to you. We charted the chords down a bit from Jeremy’s original key to the key of C, which we found more singable to the congregation.

“King of Kings”

By Brooke Ligertwood, Jason Ingram, and Scott Ligertwood

Hillsong, CCLI #7127647

This has been a surprising little gem in our church’s repertoire. From it’s trinitarian chorus to the biblical storyline found in the verses, it could be used in many liturgical contexts and church seasons. The first verse begins with Advent: “In the darkness we were waiting without hope without light…to fulfil the law and prophets to a virgin came the Word from a throne of endless glory to a cradle in the dirt.” Verse two brings us to Jesus’ arrival on earth to “reconcile the lost,” and then verse three celebrates the resurrection. The fourth verse captures the coming of the Holy Spirit and the birth of the church: “And the Church of Christ was born, then the Spirit lit the flame; now this Gospel truth of old shall not kneel shall not faint.” I think there’s a challenge here for the church: to rekindle this spirit and to know the power of the gospel.

The beauty of this song musically is the simplicity of the chorus: straight quarter notes, mostly stepping up or down, with a repeated melody at the beginning of 3 of the 4 phrases. This chorus could even stand alone as a trinitarian prayer of praise, alternating with spoken prayers in praise of the gifts of the Father, Son, and Spirit. The song could easily be accompanied with piano only, if that’s your context. There’s a little introductory melodic motif (on leadsheet from CCLI) which makes its way between verse and chorus again, and as an “outro” which could be played on piano, or with an electric guitar if you have a worship band setting. The verses are a bit rhythmically challenging, so maybe a soloist (I would lean toward a contemporary voice instead of a classical voice; if you could find a teen or young adult, even better) could sing it first. It could also be effective to begin with the chorus instead of the verse as that is the simpler part of the song, and allows the congregation to participate immediately. We sing it in the key of D.

“Build Your Kingdom Here”

By Rend Collective, CCLI #6186078

In 2013 the Irish worship band Rend Collective led worship for the “All Ontario Youth Convention” in Waterloo, Ontario, Canada, for almost 1,000 high-school youth and their leaders. Our teens and leaders came home raving about the band and their worship songs. One song really stuck with our church, “Build Your Kingdom Here.” It would be appropriate for either Ascension or Pentecost worship. It begins with the powerful prayer: “Come set your rule, and reign in our hearts again,” and each verse ends with the call “we are your church, we need your power in us, we are the hope of the earth.” It’s a kingdom-mission song. In the band’s own words: “we need God to move, but we also need to move; build your kingdom HERE, in us, in our churches.” Rend Collective has called this piece a “modern day song of revival.” The lyrics are packed with missional language, calling on the church to wake up to its calling to lay down our lives for the hurt, the sick, the poor. The chorus challenges all of our churches: “set your church on fire, win this nation back, change the atmosphere, build your kingdom here.” As a song of revival it packs a lot of energy, and needs a big bass kick-drum, a gifted acoustic guitarist, percussive piano, and any other percussion you have (like a jingling johnny!). The melody is catchy with enough repetitions within the verse that it’s easy to learn. The lyrics are dense though, and the song is fast, so be sure to give your congregation lots of opportunity to listen first, to engage rhythmically and ponder the powerful text before trying it themselves. This song makes an excellent closing song for Pentecost worship, as a call for the spirit to work through us and our church. If you’re unfamiliar with this group, I encourage you to look up some more of their songs, on your favourite listening device. An added bonus of songs like “Build Your Kingdom Here” (YouTube), “My Lighthouse” (YouTube), and “Joy of the Lord” (YouTube) is that the infectious energy really engages our younger families. We brought it down to the key of B-flat for a comfortable singing range.

Ruth Ann Schuringa is worship director at Mountainview Christian Reformed Church in Grimsby, Ontario, where she works with her husband and lead pastor Erick. She is also an endorsed worship coach in the CRC and is available for mentoring, coaching, teaching, or consultation.