SECTIONALS BY SCHEDULE
Below are the breakout sessions, which we call “sectionals,” for our 2023 Annual Conference. These sessions are offered by a variety of presenters on a variety of topics.
Jump to a session:
Session I (Monday 3:15 pm)
The Land Cries Out in Song: Congregational Songs from the World Day of Prayer Movement
This Sectional will be streamed live for Digital Conference participants.
Women from diverse Christian traditions (including Protestant, Catholic and Orthodox) have been praying together continuously for almost a century. The first call for a World Day of Prayer came in 1927, and today, it is celebrated in over 150 countries on the first Friday of March.
Every year, women from a particular land create a powerful liturgy around a given theme. As a part of these liturgies, music is selected, and often new congregational songs are composed. Each liturgy is different, coming from lands such as Suriname (2018), Zimbabwe (2020), Taiwan (2023) and Cook Islands (2025). The service is translated into over 90 languages, allowing the world to draw close in prayer to the writer country each year.
The motto for World Day of Prayer is Informed Prayer and Prayerful Action, and women are encouraged to empathize with the struggles of others. Connecting across cultures and traditions, women are called by the writer country to act in solidarity for the liberation of all who are suffering.
In this sectional, we will explore the rich heritage of song that rises from this vibrant movement.
Where Have All the Critters Gone?
Mel Bringle, FHS
How many “critters” appear in “All Creatures of Our God and King” (William Draper’s translation of St. Francis’s “Canticle of the Creatures”)? The answer is revealing. The language we use, or fail to use, in singing about the rest of the creation both reflects and reinforces anthropocentric biases in our culture. This sectional surveys the representation of animals in the western hymn tradition, documenting significant silences, noting a few exceptions, and recognizing efforts by contemporary hymnwriters to participate in the liberatory role of returning animals to their rightful place in creation’s song.
A Bridge to Belonging and Becoming
Chris de Silva
As a campus music minister at a Catholic, Jesuit university, I continue to discern this question: How much do we promote/encourage or sometimes fail to promote/encourage belonging to God and to each other, believing in ourselves and in our dreams, and ultimately becoming citizens of this world and the world that is to come?
This sectional invites all to take a moment to reflect through song on the ways in which we might learn to work for justice by imagining what it means to create a belonging space for prayer and community building, to truly extend Christian welcome to the ones who most seek comfort and refuge. How can the church be a better safe place for not only LGBTQ+ Christians, but for all God’s diverse creation?
Framed by a simple three-word campus ministry mission message of belonging, believing and becoming, we are all challenged to think more deeply about intentional ministry that fosters the building or rebuilding of inclusive community as our changing church and the world emerge from a pandemic time.
Taking Requests: Hearing a Congregation’s Call
Have you ever considered taking requests from the congregation when planning music? Come and hear about a “stealth project” undertaken by Peter Hill in his own congregation that not only includes requests from church members but also a brief video questionnaire. At the conclusion of the season, requests are being gathered into a video diary that will be shared in hopes of connecting people to one another through music that they have in common.
As the Night Wind Blows
A new collection of texts of John Core, Edith Sinclair Downing, John A. Dalles, R. Frederick Crider, Jr. and Gracia Grindal, all set to new tunes by Patrick Michaels.
Never Silent in Your Praise
Delores Dufner, OSB, FHS
Featuring both newly-composed and traditional tunes, the latest collection of Delores Dufner’s texts will be an indispensable resource for church musicians and future hymnal editors. With themes deeply rooted in the cycles of the lectionary, Dufner’s Benedictine spirituality and hospitality shine through her hymns, providing singers of all denominations language for prayer and praise.
Session II (Tuesday 1:30 pm)
Those Hearts that We Have Treasured: Celebrating 100 years of Singing in the United Church of Canada
This Sectional will be streamed live for Digital Conference participants.
In 2025, the United Church of Canada (UCC) will celebrate 100 years. To mark this occasion, the church is creating a new hymnal resource, Then Let Us Sing! In celebration of this upcoming resource, this sectional will explore the contribution of two prominent UCC hymn text writers, R.B.Y. Scott and Sylvia Dunstan.
R.B.Y. Scott was a strong proponent of the Canadian Social Gospel movement, a scholar of the Hebrew Scriptures (he was among first chairs of the Department of Religion at Princeton), and a UCC minister, ordained in 1926, one year after the UCC was formed. We will sing some of his beloved and well know hymns like “O Day of God Draw Nigh,” but also some unpublished barnburners from the heart of anti-fascist passion that undergirded his hymn writing in the 1930s. Scott’s hymns also reflect his own scholarly foci, first in a prophetic mode, then with the shimmer of wisdom literature.
Sylvia Dunstan is a widely published and well-known hymn-writer; in 2023, GIA will be publishing a retrospective of her work marking the 30th anniversary of her death, with several psalm settings that have not yet been published. Dunstan, a UCC minister, a prison chaplain, a lesbian, and an activist, wrote hymn texts for her/our times. She died in 1993, at the age of 38 just five years after the UCC’s decision to allow all eligible members, regardless of sexual orientation to be considered for ordination. Her influence endures and her hymns still capture a theology and sensitivity that is pertinent, prophetic, and deeply pastoral.
Both hymn-writers, in different ways, embody the theology and ecclesiology of the United Church of Canada. Becca Whitla and friends will present their work and we will do a lot of singing, including of several previously unpublished works.
Enhancing Congregational Singing
This session will focus on practical tips and resources to enrich the experience of corporate worship through singing. It will be an “all skate” event with numerous opportunities for participants to actively engage through singing of both familiar and not-so-familiar congregational hymns and songs. Publisher resources (The Lorenz Corporation) will be available for distribution.
Do it Again: Chart topping worship songs and the industry behind them
What is the relationship between practitioners of contemporary praise and worship (CPW) and the industry that dominates the supply of CPW songs? Some recent scholars have attempted to understand the way contemporary praise and worship music expresses and forms congregations (Woods and Walrath, 2007; Ruth 2008; Ingalls, 2018; Packiam, 2020; etc.). While agreeing on the formational capacity of congregational song, none of these studies have addressed at length the discrete and powerful industry mechanisms that popularize songs and ultimately shape the way worship leaders make those repertory choices to begin with. Given that the familiarity of a song and its appearance on popularity charts is a strong indicator of how many worship leaders choose songs for congregational worship, it is critical that the industry-side mechanisms related to a song’s popularity are better understood. This paper presents the findings of the first phase of research in a larger project addressing the sources, use, and reception of contemporary praise and worship songs. In this paper, we identify the small number of contributors responsible for the majority of chart-topping songs between 2010 and 2020. Second, we explore the relationship between overall output by those contributors during the study period and the number of songs that ultimately appear on top charts. Methodologically, this paper employs a more inclusive and timelier model than is often used in CPW scholarship by compiling a comparative list of three of the most influential charts documenting song popularity (CCLI, Praise Charts, and Planning Center Online). What the data reveals is that the songs that ultimately rise to prominence come from fewer sources than ever, represent a very small minority of songs released by these groups, and that songs released as singles are more likely to rank on top charts.
“Neither of the East Nor the West”: Cultivating A More Spiritually Inclusive Worship
The future of the Church depends on creating and nurturing bonds with others. This includes the acknowledgment we are all of different experiences and walks of life, and we find ourselves at various points in our respective faith journeys. Embracing and encouraging spiritual diversity is key to ensuring not only the Church’s survival, but its flourishment. One way to embrace this diversity is through the inclusion of more interfaith and spiritually open hymn texts that provide a safe space for all to feel welcome to worship in the Church, as a house of God. This is increasingly a time to recognize how the Church can be a beacon for those who are exploring their beliefs in non-traditional ways and are seeking to belong to greater communities of faith who are making a difference in the world.
Hymn texts hold the power to both connect worshipers to each other and serve as vehicles for spiritual questioning and faith exploration. Drawing on my unique personal experience as a Muslim woman who has been working in a Baptist church for several years, I plan to discuss examples of successful interfaith hymn texts as well as present some new ideas of how to write with a more spiritually inclusive voice that challenges and broadens our notion of “the Church” as a community of faith, while uplifting us we navigate our own individual faith experiences. By increasing the use of interfaith and spiritually open language in worship, we can more easily recognize the connecting Divine Light in each of us. And in doing so, we can build upon the Church’s foundation as more than just a place of worship for already committed Christians, but as an inclusive space for all to worship, explore, and nurture connection, with others and with God.
Sing the Good News
A collection of James Brumm texts based on both Old and New Testament texts. Brumm writes that these words are to be sung in worship to give voice to what people are thinking and feeling in situations he cannot even imagine, but situations that the Spirit knows all too well.
Unbound Hymns and Songs
David Bjorlin & Mel Bringle, FHS
GIA Publications’ online Unbound platform makes available a vast repository of hymns and songs for individual download. It features material previously available in bound collections, as well as newly-written songs by leading writers and composers. Following a brief introduction to the platform from GIA editor Adam Tice, writers Mary Louise Bringle, FHS, and David Bjorlin will share some of their favorite new pieces by a variety of artists.
Session III (Tuesday 3:15 pm)
Intro to More Voices (Winnipeg)
Lloyd MacLean, Bruce Harding & Alydia Smith
This Sectional will be streamed live for Digital Conference participants.
Our hope for this project is that we can provide digital access to all of our worship and music resources to our United Church congregations, those denominations with whom we are in communion (like the United Church of Christ), and others through our partners in this project, GIA Publications and Hope Publishing Company. We also are continuing our efforts to honour copyright in global song, by tracking down sources of material and compensating them for the use of their material through our global denominational partners. Our intention is to expand the use of global or world music in our congregations while “teaching all Christian congregations to sing together”, paraphrasing Swee Hong Lim from a recent interview. The timeline of our project stretches over the next 3-4 years, and we have a cross-continent committee of more than 20 people currently working on this project, with representation from the United Church of Canada, the United Church of Christ, the Presbyterian Church in Canada, and the Anglican Church in Canada.
All Along My Pilgrim Journey: the music of pilgrimage and the future church
Music has the ability to create the conditions necessary for forming communitas within disparate groups of people. As the post-modern church faces continued schism and struggles to find relevance in the 21st Century, a reexamination of the ways singing together facilitates a culture necessary for breaking down barriers within ecclesial structures, and its ability to create a shared understanding is merited. Drawing on the work of Anthropologists Victor and Edith Turner and Musicologist Philip V. Bohlman, rediscovering music as a strategy for creating shared meaning, as opposed to liturgical entertainment, may encourage congregations to reconsider everything from their liturgical practices to their polity structures. As demonstrated through the music of pilgrimage, community music-making becomes an everyday experience whereby individuals define the sacred together, as opposed to traditional ecclesial hierarchical structures. Utilizing a pilgrimage theology, music becomes a didactic resource for the reformation of the church. The Iona Community and the ecumenical community at Taizé offer unique insights into this process. Through their prodigious publishing efforts and worship experiences in Scotland and France, these communities have provided resources for community music and pilgrimage dialogue in localized contexts. However, as Turner and Turner point out, the shared experience of communitas is individualized— no one person, group, or organization can fully define this outcome. Only the individual, together with the group they are a part of, can assign meaning. With this understanding, no single musical or liturgical approach will be appropriate in all contexts. For this reason, the church’s music must adapt, moving beyond stylistic considerations, to a place where each musical selection is imbued with meaning for the worshipping community. Facilitating such a process in the local congregation may threaten the status quo while also becoming the ultimate tool for revitalization in the post-modern era.
Hymnody and Hip-Hop: Singing the Lord’s Song in a Strange Land
Gerald Lee Ricks & Bartholomew Orr II
Based on Psalm 137, this course will survey and engage the question, “How can we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?” Like the Israelites, many of our churches are sitting by the rivers of Babylon reminiscing our “Jerusalem days.” We are searching for ways to engage our new hybrid communities. We are lamenting our pre-pandemic worship culture centered around robust congregational singing.
This sectional will explore, demonstrate, and share lingo that merges hymnody and hip-hop as a “global culture” that gives voice to our way forward. The facilitators will share creative musical possibilities for hymn arranging that speaks the language of hip-hop culture (global culture–not just Black culture) and translates into the foreign and various landscapes in which we now experience God. Participants will sing and survey hymn arrangements and participate in the creative process alongside the facilitators.
Voices Found– a new hymn supplement by, for, and about women
The hymnal Voices Found, published in 2003, was a celebration of the ordination of women to the Episcopal church. The only authorized hymnal by the Episcopal church, the publication broke ground with composers expanding language for God, celebrating saints, mystics, and biblical women, and by including new hymns by women whose words speak to justice for the oppressed and marginalized. A new Call for Hymns has been issued to create an anniversary supplement. The new hymns (still to be selected) promise to bring exciting and much needed poetry and music to our congregational song. The sectional will unveil the new hymns and also talk about the uniqueness of Voices Found.
Superior Singing: How to inspire singers of all abilities to improve their craft + new hymn-based octavos
Scot Crandal & Trudy Vandehey
It’s probably safe to say that everyone wants to be a better singer, so why is it that improvement is often elusive? How can we improve our singing over time, and inspire others to do the same? Whether you’re a choir director, choir member, cantor, or soloist, learn how to easily apply (and teach) ten fundamentals of singing that will help any singer improve over time. In addition, the ten most popular, recently-published, hymn-based octavos from OCP will be provided as material for singing.
Celtic Psalms: Finding Common Language of Prayer in a Divided Land
Kiran Wimberly & Declan, Kelly, Ellen and Chloe McGrath
In the context of post-conflict Northern Ireland, religious communities remain relatively separated despite the peace agreement that has been in place for over two decades. Worship is an area where Protestants and Catholics, for understandable reasons, do not come together on a regular basis. However, Celtic Psalms music has offered a way to bring people together in song, across those community divides. The Psalms are a shared language of prayer, and the Celtic melodies capture the emotion of the ancient words and make them accessible to a variety of people. In our sectional, we would like to share our settings of the Psalms and encourage others to use them in their own communities to bring people together across the divides that might be present in their contexts, such as across denominational lines. Or, for example, people have let us know that they use our arrangements for interfaith worship with the Jewish congregations that meet in their buildings. This music can also act as an outreach to those who may not feel comfortable with traditional church but connect with the spirituality and deep emotion expressed within the Psalms set to Celtic melodies. In all these ways, we find a common language of prayer, we are liberated from the false divisions we place between ourselves and others, and we connect over our shared humanity before a God who listens to us and loves us all.
Session IV (Wednesday 1:30 pm)
Folk Masses following Vatican II and their historical significance within the indigenous rebellions of the mid 20th century
Adán Alejándro Fernández
This Sectional will be streamed live for Digital Conference participants.
My sectional will spend time looking at the different Masses in Mexico, Central America, and South America during the post-Vatican II decades. This includes the Misa Criolla, the Nicaraguan Peasant Mass, and Misa Inaica, and the Misa Panamerica. My sectional will focus on how the music localizes the text using vernacular style, language, and instruments. It will also discuss its relationship to the liberation movements of the 1960s and 1970s.
The Sound in the Ground
Every culture has a sound. No individual can lay claim to the creation of that sound. It simply seeps into the soil and then springs up in ways that represent the people of that land. One might call it “folk” or the music of the people. Most often folk music comes from the suffering communities of a place.
American folk music, for example, consists of sounds that came up from the plantations, down from the Appalachians, and echo throughout the reservations—the poor and oppressed black, mountain, and indigenous peoples. The music itself is a cry for liberation. Out of the depths come the only distinctly American sounds. Everything else, beautiful though it may be, is transplanted from another culture, such as Western European music.
“Transplanted” music—not native to a place—usually comes down from the top and can only be accessed by the upper classes. Think of how expensive it is, for example, to go to an opera or an orchestra. “Planted” music, on the other hand, usually comes up from the ground and is most immediately accessible to the poor and those who live the most down-to-earth lives. The sound in the ground also carries within it the most inherently joyful sounds of a place, because the greatest joy comes through the greatest suffering, as the Scriptures say.
So, how does this reality bear on our church music? Are we “letting” the music of the people arise within our congregations from the ground up, or are we forcing an experience (whether nostalgia or sensationalism) upon churchgoers from the top down? How do we tap into the “sound in the ground” with honor and respect for the communities from which they come and without appropriation? And could this endeavor bring liberation to the oppressed and repentance to the oppressor? Let’s see!
The Courage of Resistance and the Love of Reconciliation: Contextualized Hymns in Taiwan Today
Taiwan is a multicultural country where at least 18 different ethnic groups coexist. Because the island was the destination of multiple waves of migration by the Han people from China as well as the cradle of the Austronesian peoples, we have a diverse range of languages and cultural traditions. Over the ages, other foreign monarchs have also ruled us. Bloody battles, wars, and agreements between ethnic groups and different rulers have all occurred on this land.
After 1945, the one-party dictatorship that has ruled Taiwan for more than 50 years, including 38 years of martial law. The Presbyterian Church in Taiwan was not only unafraid of oppressions during this process, but they were also actively promoting social justice, participating in democratic reforms, and helping the Indigenous people to change their names. As the Protestant denomination in Taiwan with the largest population and the longest history, the Presbyterian Church insists on manifesting God’s justice, and respecting human dignity. As a result, people may start to form a sense of self-identity and national consciousness, eventually evolving into a free and democratic “nation” in the twenty-first century.
This session intends to introduce several hymns from the latest publication of the 2009 Sèng-si (hymnal) by the Presbyterian Church in Taiwan. The texts in different languages and the diversified ethnic musical styles exhibit the faith and struggles of contemporary Taiwanese Christians on issues of political oppressions and ecology. They also demonstrate their effort in reconciliations with the land, with other ethnic groups, and with the government.
The Hymn Tunes of Healey Willan
Healey Willan, sometimes known as the “Dean of Canadian Composers” wrote widely for the Church and beyond. As the Hymn Society returns to Canadian soil for the 2023 conference, this sectional will explore Willan’s original hymn tunes. Beyond the “big three” known by most Canadians and some Americans, we will delve into his other published tunes, tunes he wrote particularly for children, and tunes which were never published. In each case, Willan wrote his tunes for specific texts, and this sectional will discover how his tunes and particular harmonic style supported and developed the texts for which they were written.
Look at the Light: new hymns, short songs, and arrangements by Dan Damon
Dan Damon, FHS
Dan Damon, FHS, continues to explore the edges of our spoken and sung faith. Join him in singing highlights from his new collection of hymns, short songs, and arrangements.
Introducing a New Hymnary: So Great a Cloud of Witnesses
The new collection, So Great a Cloud of Witnesses (Augsburg Fortress, 2022), includes 91 tunes composed by Paul Weber, who also wrote several of the texts. Other text writers include Madeleine L’Engle, Gracia Grindal, FHS, Jaroslav Vajda, FHS, and Rusty Edwards. Weber is both a pastor and a musician whose hymn writing is patterned after Luther’s conviction for spiritual songs that reflect a strong theological foundation, an esteem for the historic liturgy, and an understanding of the importance of congregational song for faith and worship. Skillfully written in traditional hymn style, this collection adds a wealth of new and creative music to the church’s song.
Session V (Wednesday 3:15 pm)
Contemporary Songs for Funerals
Bruce Benedict & Jonathan Gabhart
This Sectional will be streamed live for Digital Conference participants.
During this sectional we will explore songs and liturgical resources from a variety of traditions to use in funerals, cremations, and other end of life moments.
New Canadian Song: Celebration, Confession, Reflection
Andrew Donaldson, FHS & Jason Locke
Canadians sing about their “home and native land,” and “terre de nos aïeux” (land of our ancestors), and praise a country “glorious and free,” whose worth is steeped in faith (“ta valeur de foi trempée”). The anthem in both languages raises the urgent questions: Whose land? Whose language? Whose freedom?
The Christian faith of settler Canada has profoundly shaped our cultural landscape, and has troubled to greater or lesser degrees the ideas of ‘pioneering’ and ‘empire’ upon which the nation was founded. For millennia, Christians have prayed and sung the biblical visions of an earth which belongs to God and whose bounty and safekeeping is shared equally among its inhabitants. This vision of God’s world flips colonial notions of ‘pioneering’ and ‘empire’ on their head – a peaceable kindom which supplants conquest, power and glory with humility, justice and love for neighbour.
In this session we will sing some newer Canadian songs, and hymns of faith, both unpublished and published, in a variety of genres and languages, to celebrate the aspirational “true north, strong and free,” and confess, question, and reflect on challenges facing its peoples.
Creative Hymn Accompaniments
Marty Wheeler Burnett
Dr. Marty Wheeler Burnett introduces her newly published collection of alternate harmonizations of familiar hymn tunes. Developed and tested over years of parish music ministry, Burnett enlivens congregational singing with organ arrangements that keep the melody predominant while adding invigorating, fresh harmonies. Copies of the new collection will be available from Selah Publishing Company.
Black, White, Latinx: Racial Divides in Worship Practices
Marcell Silva Steuernagel & Fernando Berwig Silva
This sectional will present the findings of a Calvin Vital Worship Grant project conducted in 2022 in the DFW area. At the intersection of the history of the South with its fraught tension between white settlers and Black slaves and its proximity to Latin America, DFW is a church-wealthy region in the United States, in which local congregations range from small church plants to dozens of megachurches. As such, the region offers a unique perspective into worship practices that seek to bridge a racial divide that still seems to pervade worship in many congregations. The study performed ethnographic research in a set of congregations that have undertaken to examine and re-shape their worship practices and community engagement in order to integrate these three groups in a variety of ways. The case studies are from distinct traditions.
This sectional presents the findings of the research team. In each case, the research group performed participant observation, and conducted semi-open interviews with leadership and participants from each congregation. The project also included two “learning days” that facilitated conversations between congregational leaders and resulted in a collection of considerations and best practices to be shared across networks of worship arts and church musicians in North America. In this way, the study contributed to ongoing scholarly conversations about the challenges of integrative worship practices that seek to span racial divides and heal historical, theological, and ideological divisions between these groups. The research team looks forward to sharing these findings with Hymn Society Conference attendees in 2023.
Enough for All, New Hymn Texts of Richard Leach
Richard Leach & David P. Schaap
This new collection from Selah Publishing Co., Inc., features Richard Leach’s recently written texts along with texts previously published with tunes but not included in a text collection: it is the third in a series of volumes of his collected texts which began with Tuned for Your Sake and continued with Banquet Without Walls. These texts are written from a 21st century poet’s perspective, yet Leach’s goal is that his work’s deep grounding in Bible passages keeps it from being ephemeral. These hymns are written for the church’s ongoing pilgrimage, with its difficulties and joys. The book is a text collection; the sectional will be singing.
Lament Songs as Communal/Liturgical Voice for Suffering: A contextual Korean exploration of Han in music of Park
Deborah (Hyun Hee) Park
This presentation will examine the power of lament to express Han and suffering during challenging times in which faith communities are compelled to respond. It explores the significant role of lament songs in liturgy as a communal way to voice suffering and to mobilize collective will in engaging ethical action for the common good. In this way lament can be a powerful force moving beyond despair and toward hope.
First, liturgical language of lament in music is a vehicle for expressing and communicating sorrow, anger, and real human struggles that faith communities are dealing with in challenging times. Engaging biblical traditions of lament and repentance may thus help us to grieve openly and honestly with one another. Second, this presentation will develop a contextual aesthetic approach that highlights Korean musical forms which communicate the experience of Han, showing that Korean traditional musical forms can be employed in worship as lament, which can create community and mobilize action. Finally, to illustrate, I will show how Han is manifested in a lament song of Chai Hoon Park, Father of Korean church music, in which pain, suffering and resentment are demonstrated both musically and lyrically.
Open Your Hymnal and Teach
This session provides an overview of hymns as instructional tools for teaching the language of music in classroom and church settings. Drawing upon the historical significance of hymns in music education, and the presenter’s personal research, a cogent argument will be made for the use of hymns in the teaching of musical literacy. The research will demonstrate that hymns are still used in the music education process and are part of a well-rounded musical education.
The Center for Congregational Song: The First 5 Years, and The Next…
Join Center Director Brian Hehn for a retrospective of the work of The Center for Congregational Song over its first five years, and then dream a little bit about where the next five will bring us.