Singing Alleluia songs in a dozen different languages from across the breadth of the Christian church worldwide brings a richness and depth to our sense of being the body of Christ. On the recent Songwrite weekend held at Burnside City Church in Adelaide, Rev Professor Michael Hawn led the morning congregations in a global experience of worship through music, asking “How people who suffer can sing Alleluia?”
After two national UCA Songwrite events, this was the first synod-based event where budding songwriters could gather with space to create. As one of the co-ordinators of the event I had the privilege of helping lead some of the worship, running a recording studio, sharing some of my own songs, and even trying to write some fresh material.
Our songs both teach and express our beliefs, and an Australian church needs Australian music as well as the music of the church across time and space. Michael Hawn, who came to us from Perkins School of Theology in Dallas, Texas, is an expert in the global study of church music. Michael introduced us to two forms of song structures – sequential (think hymns) and cyclical (think short choruses or chants) and we explored the shape and value of each. This took us out of a “traditional” vs “contemporary” dichotomy (the “worship wars” of music…) and in particular brought a deeper appreciation of ways in which cyclical music invites participation, integration, improvisation and movement. Cyclical music is also good in intergenerational communities and in settings where there are people who speak different languages. [This is chapter 7 in his book “Gather into One: Praying and Singing Globally“.] PDF summary available here.
It is a particular challenge for a multicultural church to learn to value the musical forms of its member cultures and to not practice cultural imperialism when it comes to music in worship. And of course, to sing in languages other than English is more than symbolic of the worldwide communion of the church, but also inclusive of our membership.
But the weekend was mainly about songwriting, and we were blessed by having Robin Mann, Leigh Newton and Ian Coats available as mentors to help with lyrics and melody. Participants could also have their song scored (thanks to Lilly Coats and Rosie O’Reilly) and recorded.
On Saturday evening we had a cafe-style space where people could share their songs over dinner. Wonderful, moving and inspiring.
Here is one of the songs that I shared, written by myself and David MacGregor.
On Sunday morning Michael Hawn led two Burnside City Church worship services and we shared some music from our songwriters.
After the first Songwrite event a UCA Songwriters group was set up on Facebook and songwriters are welcome to join. The Assembly Worship Working Group is planning to set up a website for people who want to share their songs freely with the UCA. More details soon.
Burnside City Church will be the venue for the national Transforming Worship Conference to be held 27-20 July 2017. The event is co-sponsored by the Assembly Worship Working Group and Formation, Education & Discipleship.