Search for a Hymn or Song Text: “Death, Dying, and Song”

The Hymn Society in the United States and Canada is conducting a competition for a theologically rich hymn or song text for congregational singing that engages the themes of death and dying. The search is for a text, whether written for an existing or a new musical setting. The writer of the winning entry will receive a $500 prize. Deadline for submissions is May 15, 2020.

This search is inspired by a call for new texts by Mary Louise Bringle at the 2019 Annual Conference during her plenary address, “Final Breath: Death, Dying, and Song.” In her presentation, Bringle notes the need for new texts that engage themes that have emerged through dialogue with natural and social sciences. Writers are encouraged to read the complete text of this address, which was published in The Hymn, Volume 70, No. 4 (Autumn 2019). You may also find at the end of this document a summary of Bringle’s major points as she issued a call for new texts.

While we encourage writers of texts to engage with the themes identified by Mary Louise Bringle in her presentation, we will also accept texts on death and dying based on other perspectives.


1. The text should be written in an accessible poetic style that lends itself to singing. It should be contemporary and inclusive and avoid the use of binary language.

2. If the text is written in a traditional hymnic meter, a suggested tune should be indicated. Melodies of both existing and new tunes must be within the singing capabilities of an average congregation.

3. A new musical setting may be in either a traditional hymnic style or in a contemporary musical idiom using a verse, chorus, and optional bridge structure and suitable for accompaniment by piano, guitar, drum, and bass (or comparable instrumentation).

3. There is no limit to the number of entries that may be submitted by each writer. Each entry must be accompanied by an entry form and a $7.00 fee (in US funds; checks made payable to The Hymn Society).

4. Each text (and music) should be submitted as a PDF document that can be printed on 8.5″ x 11″ paper. Texts intended for setting to traditional hymn tunes need to be submitted only in words. Texts with a new tune in a traditional hymnic style may be submitted either with the text interlined or printed in block form. Those involving musical settings in a contemporary idiom need to be submitted in two forms: (a) the words and music provided to the congregation and (b) the words and music provided to the musicians.

5. Engraved manuscripts are not required, but hand-notated manuscripts must be clean and legible. Illegible entries will not be considered.

6. To preserve anonymity, the name of author and/or composer should appear only on the entry form provided with these guidelines and not on the hymn copies submitted for judging.

7. The text (and music), entry form, and appropriate fees must be received no later than May 15, 2020 in order to be considered.

8. All entries must be previously unpublished and should not be simultaneously submitted for consideration in any other contest or for publication in any collection. All entries become the property of The Hymn Society in the United States and Canada for the duration of the competition (until July 16, 2020).

9. The Hymn Society will offer a prize of $500 for the winning entry. The author/composer of the winning entry may choose (1) to accept the prize money and transfer the copyright  for the words and/or music to The Hymn Society, or (2) decline the prize money and continue to own the copyright to the words and/or music.

10. If different persons have created the text and the musical setting, the prize will be divided evenly between the author and the composer.

11. The Hymn Society reserves the right not to award a prize if no entry is deemed meritorious and to award a prize to a submitted text without doing so for the tune submitted with it.

12. The winning entry will be published in the Autumn 2020 issue of The Hymn.

13. The text (and music) should be sent as an email attachment to The entry form and appropriate fees should be mailed to the following address:

Hymn Search 2020
The Hymn Society in the US and Canada
5 Thomas Circle NW, 4th floor
Washington, DC 20005-4153

Download Entry Form

“Final Breath: Death, Dying, and Song”
Summary Points

The following points are excerpted from an address by Mary Louise Bringle, identifying themes for which she called on writers to create new hymn texts.

Death of Nature
• lament human contributions to nature’s suffering (and stir us to change our ways);
• honor death as part of the cycle of life (and not the wages of sin);
• acknowledge God’s compassionate presence with suffering creatures (not just humans);
• celebrate “deep incarnation and “deep resurrection,” God’s indwelling and redemption of all flesh.

Death of Worlds
• First, if entropy is indeed part of the plan, then there is something to be said for rest, for that economy of letting go in which our bodies teach us that we must exhale in order to prepare for the next inhalation.
• Second, once our theological understanding of deep incarnation and deep resurrection has de-centered human beings as the exclusive focus of God’s concern, we are able to acknowledge that creation went on for billions of years before we came on the scene, and will continue for billions of years after our eventual extinction.
• Third, this immensity of God invites us to widen the scope of our own loving, to (as Catherine Vincie puts it) “expand our imaginations to include in the communion of Christ those of other faith traditions and those who are not believers, as well as the community of Earth and the billions of galaxies that fill our skies.”

Death of Persons
• avoid other-worldly escapism;
• honor God’s role in preserving/reconstructing personal wholeness; and
• acknowledge the possibility of continuing growth and change even after death.