Resounding Truth: Music, liturgical renewal, parish life with the Episopalians

Beth and I continue to be glad for the opportunities to take our book displays on the road, serving in various quarters of God’s Kingdom.  We are treated well everywhere we go, and most recently spent a few days at a Franciscan retreat center selling books to good clergy friends in the Episcopal Church.  These priests—rectors, canons, associates, chaplains, pastors, from small parishes and large cathedrals—invite us back each year for their educational retreat.  This year the theme was music.  We sold books on all sorts of topics (contemplative spirituality, parish life, church conflict, worship planning, liturgical aids, lectionary preaching, Bible study) and some resources on mission, social justice, racial diversity and such.  We thought BookNotes readers (some who mostly pray for us and like to hear about our work, others who buy books) might like a brief report of what we were selling there.  Maybe some of these treasures might be of use in your work.  If not, maybe you know a church musician you could forward this to.

There were several excellent church musicians helping with the program, and it was a good reminder of how in traditional churches the organist and/or choir director plays a significant role in planning the worship and consequently, the spiritual and theological formation of the congregation.  Good relations between all involved are a must.   Kudos to the Episcopal gang for showing collegial approaches, making a case for pastors and musicians and staff to be working together.  And to JB for his remarkable keyboard work!

Marilyn Haskel was a presenter, a staff person for Church Publishing, an Episcopal publishing enterprise in New York city.  I was happy to meet her (and delighted for her passion and good teaching) as she has helped bring to publication some very interesting music products.  I don’t write much about this sort of stuff on our blog, but we have these items in stock and occasionally consult with traditional church musicians.  (Wanna order your next cantata music through us? Bulletins? Candles?  Call us!)

music of the heart.jpgMusic By Heart: Paperless Songs for Evening Worship (Church Publishing) $27.00 is a great spiral bound songbook that is loaded with the musical arrangements and lyrics for a great number of songs that can be sung in various places in a typical Protestant liturgy.  (Actually, these are appropriate for Roman worship as well.)  These are songs that are easily learned, chants, choruses, Psalms and spiritual refrains (some in rounds, some in call and response style, all that do not need paper or screens.)  Several of these are written for this songbook, but others have been around a while—stuff from Taize, Iona, Wild Goose and the like.  I’ve participated in Eucharistic services at conferences or retreats and these gentle refrains are used while walking up to receive the elements, and it is has been very moving.  Highly recommended for those that like easy-to-learn, contemplative, Taize-type tunes.

Marilyn also walked us through the use of several of the songs from a remarkable hymnal supplement, a small song-book called Voices Found: Women in the Church’s Song (Church Publishing; $16.00.)  This is a collection of mostly contemporary hymns written by women, often about the faith experience of women, highlighting themes of the nurture and care of God, or songs about women in the Bible. There is a useful index listing songs by different saints and mystics, and selections suitable for different occasions, including through-out the typical church year.  There is an accompaniment edition, too, ($45.00) which is spiral bound (so it will stay open for the keyboardist) and includes some teaching stuff for leaders about the hymns, the song-writers, the theology of the texts.  I think churches that care about lifting up the views and voices of all of the community of faith would find this helpful and would do well to have it around. 

We also got to meet the estimable Dr. James (Jimmy) Abbington who teaches music at Candler (the Divinity school at Emory.)  Abbington knows black gospel choir material as well as anybody, and has written resources about the role of music in the historic black churches.  I like both his newest, Let the Church Sing On! Reflections on Black Sacred Music let the church sing.jpg(GIA;$17.95) and an older classic, Let Mt. Zion Rejoice! Music in the African American Church (Judson; $15.00.)  For years we have also stocked the fabulous African American Heritage Hymnal (GIA; $16.00) and we’ve discovered that there are three sets of double CDs that go with them, which Abbington directed. This is a full sized, major hardback hymnal and is known for the great care (through notations, even) to show how these traditional sacred songs have actually been sung in the African American churches.  Jimmy Abbington was the senior editor of this labor of love and it was a privilege to hear him lecture and teach us about this amazing body of music. 

Abbington also worked us through some of his New Wine in Old Wineskins (GIA; $9.95), a collection of newer lyrics (from Brian Wren, Carl Daw, Sylvia Dunstan, Ruth Duck, Jane Parker Huber, John Bell and others known in the progressive wing of mainline churches) crafted to the “old wineskins” of standard tunes (Hyfrydol, Duke Street, Abbot’s Leigh, etc.)  This is a lot of fun to do, offers new visions of faith for these times, with lyrics that are often, in my view, exceptionally profound, Biblically-wise and theologically helpful.

Most readers of our blog know we love old hymns, and the recent folk-rock projects recordingiga-cover.jpg them in new alt-country tunes, like those of Red Mountain Church and of course Idelible Grace (whose new, very acoustic CD, By Thy Mercy, we now have.) These in this New Wine.. songbook are the opposite—traditional hymn meledies but all new lyrics.  Hats off to Jimmy A. for making this kind of resource available.

I had the opportunity to promote a lot of books at this retreat; I love standing up and doing little blurbs, announcements and plugs for authors I like and new books that I thought they’d like.  Thanks to all who listened.

Here are a few that we celebrated that fit the theme quite well:

begbie.jpgResounding Truth: Christian Wisdom in the World of Music Jeremy Begbie (Baker Academic) $22.99  This is, bar none, the best book on a serious theology of music.  It discusses music of various sorts, and isn’t about church music only, but it is a major contribution to our thinking about culture, the arts, music and faith.   John Witvliet of the Calvin Institute of Worship says
it is “charged with energy and insight” and “the best musical thinking about theology and the best theological thinking about music.”  Amazingly profound, highly recommended.

To Serve as Jesus Did: A Ministerial Model for Worship Teams and Leaders  Marty Haugen (GIA) $9.95  A thin book, thick with insight and practical pastoral theology.  Haugen is a liturgical composer  (think St. Louis Jesuits) who was raised Lutheran and now is working in the UCC.  He is a contemporary hymn writer who in this lovely book gives mature spiritual inspiration for how those leading the liturgy call the assembly to prayer and prayerfulness.  This is a good and creative bit of Biblical study based on the life of Jesus as servant and how to help the faithful community remember and re-member.  Regardless of our particular callings, Jesus is the ne plus ultra, the final model, for ministry.

images.jpgThe Liturgical Year Joan Chittister (Nelson) $17.95  One of the latest in the acclaimed “Ancient Practices” series, this not only explains the church calendar, it invites us to indwell it, to be shaped by it, to be a part of this way of seeing time.  A Benedictine sister with great passions for social justice, this is one of the best books of its kind.  We stock most of Sr Joan’s books and think this may be one of her best ever.  We are glad for this whole series, that we have written about before, with authors like Dan Allander, Robert Benson, Brian McLaren.  Lovely, important, rich prose for the people of God.

images-1.jpgThe Sacred Meal  Nora Gallagher (Nelson) $17.95  Another brand new one in this “Ancient Practices” series, and it is truly excellent. I read these two quotes from the back jacket, which struck me as so powerful, and which spoke volumes about the grace and calibre of these titles:

This is the book I have been waiting for—to give to seekers who are wary of pious language, to believer who have dozed off in their pews, to pastors who want to know how to speak in fresh ways of old truths, to anyone who asks why I am still a Christian.  This is the book I’ve been waiting to give, but it is also the book I’ve been waiting to read.  (Barbara Brown Taylor)

Nora Gallagher is a writer I would follow anywhere, but it is a particular thrill to follow her to the Lord’s Table; I know of no contemporary writer whose insights about the Eucharist match hers.  (Lauren Winner)

accomapny them.jpgAccompany Them With Singing: The Christian Funeral  Thomas Long (Westminster/John Knox) $24.95  Surprisingly, there are not that many good books on the theology of funerals, and I know from experience—don’t you?—that a good funeral, or a bad one, can make a world of difference in ones processing of grief.  I’ve been to some lately that have been, uh, less than well thought through and less than well served, and it made me sad.  Here is pastoral wisdom, good thinking, helpful theory, doxological care.

Listen to this, by a writerly hero, the renowned author of two breath-taking books on being an undertaker, Tom Lynch:

“To a culture accustomed to ‘obsequies-lite’ Dr. Long prescribes a full-bodied liturgical and community theater—funerals equipped for the heavy lifting of Christianity—acting out our faith and humanity, bearing our dead to the brink of real and eternal life.  Accompany Them With Singing is an indispensable and luminous guide for clergy, families, funeral directors—all home-going pilgrims—on how we ought to cope with death by dealing with our dead.  I think it will be the text of record for the next fifty years.”

I don’t know about you, but as a fellow home-going pilgrim, I want to read a book with a blurb like that on the back!  Read other Thomas Lynch books if you like–and you should!— but certainly, get this one by Long.  Give it to your pastor.  Give it to your funeral director.  It has interfaith application, even, to share it widely.  It is a book we’re happy to recommend from one of our best main-line preachers.

There was more, so much more.  Resources for church musicians, books for pastors, books about worship and congregational revitalization.  Stay in touch.  More to come.

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4 thoughts on “Resounding Truth: Music, liturgical renewal, parish life with the Episopalians

  1. I wrote about BiFrost when it first came out—-the word is Icelandic, I think, which Tolkien used, and is the bridge that spans heaven and earth. They are eccentric, folksie with some very serious instrumentation, part Sufian Stevens and part Arvo Part done in old time radio style. They are appreciated by those who like less pop arrangements, more low-fi authentic. I don’t know what that even means, except to say it is remarkably interesting, odd, moving, done by artsy folk who think worship is important. The new Christmas one is stunning, mostly traditional carols, with a long closing piece “Salvation is Created” inspired by the piece by Tchaikovsky.

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