Singing our way into a second century of being United Church, we expect the Spirit to show up. Such is the mystical character of faith. As we develop our new hymn resource, we need to figure out how to commission new music, and what precisely we want to sing! The pickings are wide and wonderful. How do we decide?
The working group to prepare Then Let Us Sing! includes an Education, Justice, and Ethos subcommittee. It was our task to bring some answers to this question. We note that Voices United, More Voices, and Nos Voix Unies will continue to be published. We don’t need to make choices from within those books, nor replicate what is well established. Our new resource must nourish the growing edges of the church. It will fill gaps in our current song repertoire.
Principally, Then Let Us Sing! will give us words for the faith we celebrate and music that will make that faith sing in our hearts.
So it is that we consider how we decide what to sing in the next generation. Or: Why we’ll sing what we sing when we sing a new song.
We sing of the Spirit
who speaks our prayers of deepest longing
and enfolds our concerns and confessions,
transforming us and the world…
A Song of Faith
Then Let Us Sing! will celebrate the image of God in all peoples and cultures and in creation.
The diversity reflected in the Trinity is part of our inspiration. We worship a Triune God, a God whose identity is shown to us in relationship. Our sacred creation stories feature more than a single image of God. So it is that we celebrate the diversity of created and beloved humankind. Our most terrifying stories, those of crucifixion and war and exile, also feature this multi-faceted presence of God. In our laments and our fears, our faith still sings.
Singing is a deeply physical experience. We draw breath; we read the music; we follow the instruction of the choir director; we rely on the folds of our larynx; we practice; we adjust our posture; we listen. In all of these things singing is an experience of the body. We recall that a central element of our faith is incarnation: the incarnation of Jesus from which we intuit our own particular incarnations of grace.
In singing our faith, we are connected through the breath of the Holy Spirit, uniting us in our common purpose as the body of Christ, and as United Church.
As neighbours, wrapped up in this whole gorgeous melodious creation together, and from the physicality of the real world which is our common home, we acknowledge these priorities:
We are looking for music that lifts up the intercultural and anti-racist commitments of the church. We are actively seeking material that prioritizes Black, Indigenous, People of Colour, French-speaking, genderfluid and genderqueer, LGBTQQITTPA+ and Two Spirit voices*, migrants, and people with disabilities. We want composers and lyricists to write hymns that reflect genders, economic differences, struggles with colonialism, refugee experiences, and care for creation. We are working on how to publish hymns that are expressed through American Sign Language and Langue des signes québécoise.
To this end we have prepared a rubric which will guide the members of Then Let Us Sing! who are calling for submissions. We have prepared another rubric from which those who are examining submissions will chart their observations. The rubrics also include age, sing-ability, contextual need, popularity, cultural significance, counter-cultural influence, variety, theology, quality, and rootedness in United Church ethos.
The United Church of Canada has a unique position among faith traditions, and we expect Then Let Us Sing! to reflect that. Celebrating our diversity as gifts from God and as reflections of the image of God expresses beauty and teaches our common faith. Part of our identity is considering our growing edges, our confessions and changes, and possibilities toward which the Holy Spirit draws us. This is to say, the breadth of holy song reveals a deeply grounded faith that is strong and courageous enough to grow.
In readiness for music selection, the Education, Justice, and Ethos subcommittee prepared a theo-ethical framework. To do so we read, studied, interviewed, and consulted widely across the church. That theo-ethical framework is the basis for the submission rubrics, and from that framework we write this article.
Composing music and creating the poetry of lyrics is a creative endeavor that speaks to the deeply incarnational blessings of the artist. As those who play the music and sing the words, we will compensate artists fairly—thereby honestly celebrating the image of God in all people and cultures. We will do our level best to find the persons who bring this creative genius to our sung expressions of faith and ensure that copyright is firm. Questions of copyright are a justice issue; we are aware that dominant culture voices in the Global North have appropriated the cultural treasures of people from the Global South and those marginalized in the Global North. We pledge to work against this reality.
Faithful Song as Antidote to Fear
In this confusing and threatening time, local churches and denominations are tempted to worry about their own survival rather than the gospel at the heart of our faith. We see the work of animating congregational song as an antidote to this fear. In our singing, we become signs of life and hope for the church. Then Let Us Sing! helps with this holy task; it is a hopeful investment in the future of the church and an expression of who we are, who we want to become in relationship with each other, and who God calls us to be. After all, by singing one another’s songs, we grow in our communities and into the world.
The theological work of the Education, Justice, and Ethos subcommittee is a passionately pastoral response to the needs of the church we love. We have been animated by the Holy Spirit.
Then Let Us Sing! is a courageous expression of hope for the life, teaching, and witness of The United Church of Canada in a fresh generation. Submissions are now open: tell your friends! Please pray for this work.
Grateful for God’s loving action,
we cannot keep from singing.
For Susan Blain, Lloyd MacLean, Alydia Smith, Peter Stickney, Becca Whitla, and Emo Yango
Education, Justice, and Ethos subcommittee of Sing2025
*Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, intersex, transitioning, transsexual, pansexual, asexual, Two Spirit and others
First printed in Gathering, ACE 2021/2022. Used with permission.