‘Worship & Song’ Blends Old and New Tunes

Date Posted: 3/30/2011

From the rousing “Jesus, Jesus, Oh, What a Wonderful Child” to the prayerful “Open the Eyes of My Heart,” the newly released “Worship & Song” collection offers something for just about everyone.

“Worship & Song,” jointly developed by the United Methodist Board of Discipleship and the United Methodist Publishing House, contains 190 hymns and worship songs, including old-time gospel favorites and popular contemporary praise songs. New worship-planning resources in the collection supplement The United Methodist Hymnal and other songbooks.

“There is always good, new congregational music being written,” said Gary Alan Smith, senior music editor at Abingdon Press and project director for “Worship & Song.”

“Worship & Song” is actually two publications in one — a songbook and a collection of prayers, litanies, liturgies and short items for worship planners, pastors, leaders and musicians.

The collection “contains a greater number of songs that are currently shaping the future of congregational song, and it represents more contemporary styles and idioms than have previous publications,” said Dean McIntyre, director of music resources at the United Methodist Board of Discipleship.

Musician Bryan R. Dunn, 30, said he is “really pumped” about the possibilities.

“I like that ‘Worship & Song’ takes some of the old hymns from Cokesbury and puts a new twist on them,” said Dunn, director of music ministries at Mullins United Methodist Church, Memphis, Tenn.

 “This new book has a very eclectic variety of musical styles so it can be used in any church service at any church. (It) makes you want to stand up and clap, and at the same time, it covers the necessity for somber times.”

Best of all, he said, the new resource has the potential to “spice up the interest and keep people coming to church.”

Faithful to Wesleyan heritage

“Methodism was born in song,” said the Rev. Carlton R. Young, who edited both the 1966 Methodist Hymnal and the 1989 United Methodist Hymnal.

Charles Wesley’s lyrics set to the popular tunes of his day led countless people to join the Methodist movement founded by Charles’ older brother, John.

One of the most popular Charles Wesley hymns is “O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing,” which he wrote in 1738 to celebrate his conversion. That classic — with few exceptions — has been the opening hymn of every Methodist song collection worldwide.

It opens “Worship & Song” as well. But contemporary composer Mark Miller’s rendition gives the song a contemporary, can’t-get-the-tune-out-of-one’s-head flavor while retaining the grandeur and beauty of the original hymn.

“One of the byproducts of this new collection is to bridge what I think are really ambiguous terms — ‘traditional’ and a so-called ‘contemporary’ music — and to say, ‘This is what it means to be in both camps,’” Young said.

The Rev. Delores J. Williamston agrees.

The songbook breathes new life into worship by blending old favorites with newer, less familiar songs, she said. Williamston serves First United Methodist Church in Independence, Kan.

“This is a great tool for a more multicultural ... as well as multigenerational worship experience,” added Williamston, an African American whose congregation is predominantly white.

One of the greatest challenges in church music is striking the right balance between the comfortable and the cutting-edge, said the Rev. Charlie Overton.

The associate pastor of worship and discipleship at Hillcrest United Methodist Church, Nashville Tenn., said he wants to mix songs that get people eagerly singing along with newer texts that inspire people to look at the Christian faith in new ways.

He appreciates the inclusion of music from contemporary Christian artists and composers in “Worship & Song.” Many United Methodist congregations are already using some of these songs, he pointed out. Having them in an official church songbook gives them added legitimacy and authority for use in worship.

Not your mother’s hymnal

General Conference, the denomination’s top lawmaking body, authorized development of a new hymnal and worship book for the church in 2008. However, financial constraints forced cancellation of the new publication.

As part of their regular duties to update the church's music and worship resources, the Publishing House and the Board of Discipleship had started work on a new collection as a follow-up to the worship supplement “The Faith We Sing.” That project, which was less costly than a General Conference-sanctioned hymnal, continued. “Worship & Song” is the result.

Revision of The United Methodist Hymnal requires a vote of the General Conference. Supplementary resources such as “Worship & Song” augment the official hymnal and do not require formal denominational approval.

McIntyre of the Board of Discipleship said reaction to the new collection has been enthusiastic so far.

Musicians, liturgists and pastors alike “recognize its value and potential, both as a supplement to existing resources and worship-music style as well as an important tool in reaching out to younger people and helping the church to speak to the present and future.”

He expressed hope that “Worship & Song” will “provide the church with the musical language, styles and practices to continue to tell and appropriate the timeless truth of the gospel, even in new musical and textual language with theological integrity and faithfulness to our Wesleyan heritage.”

Marcia McFee, who helped direct worship at the 2008 General Conference, said hymnals and supplements are “the tools of (the worship leader’s) trade. The worshipping body is the canvas.”

Before leading worship, McFee said, she always prays, “Dear Lord, please make something happen in worship today that is not in the bulletin.”

She expects “Worship & Song” to help those surprises occur more often and more easily.

*Dunlap-Berg is internal content editor for United Methodist Communications.