Anita Thompson, Associate Pastor for Music and Worship at First Baptist Church Ahoskie, NC urges congregations to enter into a dynamic world of cross-cultural congregational song.
“The world is growing smaller and smaller all the time.” This is a statement I hear and read a lot these days. It’s a statement I not only agree with but delight in. As a minister whose primary role is worship and music leadership/planning, I’m so very thankful for the influence this “smaller world” has on congregational song.
When I began my seminary studies in the mid 1980’s, for the most part, congregational song was limited to a denominational hymnal. As a child I sang from the 1956 Baptist Hymnal, which was filled with traditional hymnody and gospel songs. As a teen, I remember the debut of the 1975 Baptist Hymnal which added some of the “cool” hymns and songs of the 60’s and 70’s. But by the next printing of the Baptist Hymnal in 1991, many of those hadn’t make the cut, and most that did were revised with inclusive language. (Thanks for that!) That 1991 hymnal also included music from the “Praise and Worship” genre, reflecting the growing popularity of that music with congregations. From 1956 to 1975 to 1991, there were lots of changes in our canon of hymnody, but nothing like the enormous opportunities our “smaller world” now provides.
Thanks to this “smaller world,” native song of our Christian brothers and sisters all over the world is readily available. We can now sing their songs of faith, most translated helpfully into English. (But how great it is for us to try to sing in their language, too: Swahili, Korean, Spanish, Chinese, Portuguese, and many, many more.) We’ve been gifted with congregational song from the Taize community in France, and from John Bell and others of the Iona Community in Scotland. Our exposure to this banquet of congregational song helps us remember that the Body of Christ is indeed a large, diverse one. I believe embracing this music can be a step toward seeing the world as God sees it in all its diversity of language, race, color and flavor.
On the shelves in my office you’ll find the 1956 Baptist Hymnal, along with the 1975 and 1991 editions. But you’ll also find dozens of hymnals and songbooks published in the last decade or so that contain a wealth of possibilities for multi-cultural congregational song. Thanks to the internet and cooperative publishers, for minimal cost I can print that music for congregational use. And I do! The Psalmist encourages us to “sing a new song to the Lord.” And since we now have more new songs than ever before, let’s sing them!