9 Resources to Help Your Congregation Sing Globally
By Matthew A. Laferty
Congregation-to-congregation resourcing from the Association of International Churches in Europe and the Middle East
Diversity is a tremendous blessing in many of our international congregations. As our congregations gather for worship, we see rich tapestries of ethnicities and nationalities, traditions, and languages assemble. For many of us worship is the most tangible expression of the kingdom of God in our world.
While diversity is a gift, it also has challenges. In terms of worship it often raises questions about whose traditions are honored, what styles are accepted, how is our diversity embodied, and what songs are sung. Navigating these questions is never easy. We pray for the Holy Spirit's guidance and seek the wisdom of others.
When I arrived to serve my first international congregation over five years ago, I naively asked about music. At that time our congregation was 40% African, 40% North American and European, and 10% other. The congregation was utilizing a hymnbook for the U.S. Armed Forces from the 1950s and a Lutheran hymnal supplement from the early 1990s. Our congregational singing was quite American-centric, leaning heavily on late 19th/early 20th century American hymnody and 20th century praise choruses. After my first few Sundays I asked myself, "how does 'Shine Jesus Shine' and 'A Charge to Keep I Have' engender our diversity?" This question along with many others led into informal conversations with the congregation about worship music and changes in music selection. There was a sense of affinity to the existing repertoire as well as a desire for new music representing the various cultural contexts in the congregation. For that moment in our congregational life, the shift to global music was the best way to uphold our diversity. Our order of worship did not change, but the way we thought about our diversity and music did. We found music from the countries represented in the congregation and slowly introduced new songs. After a few years, a Sunday's music may encompass Zimbabwean chants, Australian praise choruses, Taize songs, Korean laments, and traditional American hymns.
What is global praise music? Global praise music generally refers to hymnody from outside English-speaking North America and Europe. The music may be Asian, African, Middle Eastern. Songs may follow more traditional melodies or take up new ways of singing. Global praise music can utilize different instrumentation or irregular melodies. It may be sung in another language or translated into English.
How can I think theologically about diversity and global music? I would recommend Gather Into One: Praying and Singing Globally by C. Michael Hawn. The author seeks to help pastors and congregations with mono-cultures reflect about incorporating these prolific global resources into congregational worship.
The truth - it's not for everyone. Congregations may not want global music. For some their understanding of God and attraction to new new members is based on their existing music tradition. Or they have discovered other ways to express their congregational diversity (in or out of worship). But it is worth the conversations with your congregational leadership. Don't make assumptions about worship music if you've never asked.
We want global praise music! What do we do now? Below I recommend eight songbooks. I have linked you to their websites. The book descriptions are provided by the publishers. Purchase a few and try them out in worship.
Global Praise I edited by S.T. Kimbrough, Jr. and Carlton R. Young
"Global Praise songbook was published by Global Praise as part of the awareness of the beauty of song from diverse cultures and languages that everyone can sing to enrich worship, fellowship, and faith. Includes songs old and new with innovative and refreshing sounds." Also check out the final songbook in the series - Global Praise III - which includes 180 songs.
Sound the Bamboo by the Christian Conference in Asia
"This revised version is filled with indigenous Asian hymns, songs, and ritual music from over 20 different countries representing 40 Asian languages. The majority of the book’s contents come from 'grassroots' churches; many of the selections were transcribed in cities and small villages all over the Asian region."
"Faith songs from the Caribbean Islands performed by singers from the Providence Methodist Church and United Theological College of the West Indies in Kingston, Jamaica which include exciting calypso, reggae, and other rhythms sung in English, Jamaican dialect, Spanish, Papiemento, and Creole."
Hosanna: Ecumenical Songs for Justice and Peace by Andrew Donaldson (ed.)
"Inspired by the 10th Assembly of the World Council of Churches, these songs of praise, adoration, struggle, mission, faith and hope constitute a deep resource for the pilgrimage of justice and peace. They are here published in English, French, Spanish, and German, with other languages."
Put Your Arms Around the World: Global Song and Activities for Children
"These songs provide an opportunity for children to sing Bible stories and songs that illuminate biblical images. In these songs the children will learn about living in peace and harmony with all people, that children are building God’s church, and that the table of Holy Communion is open to all people wherever they are. Children will sing that in God's world we must walk hand in hand with all of God's children and that we must care for God’s gift of creation."
About the author: An ordained United Methodist minister, the Rev. Matthew A. Laferty is the pastor of the English-Speaking United Methodist Church in Vienna, Austria. He previously served the Moscow Protestant Chaplaincy - another AICEME member congregation - from 2011-2015.