For many years I have had an interest in the music of the global church. I guess this probably started in 1983 with a visit to the Methodist Church of Southern Africa as part of a youth exchange team. Visiting a church, I heard a choir rehearsing for a choir competition and was absolutely bowled over by the rhythm and harmony. A couple of the songs that I learned in South African churches all those years ago have stayed with me and I still use them from time to time in worship.
In the late 1980s while a member of Lambeth Methodist Mission (Now Lambeth Mission and St Mary’s) we formed a music group called Euangelion. Our repertoire included many songs from different parts of the world, some published, others collected from members of the congregation. Looking back, I think we were fairly pioneering. To put things in context, Hymns and Psalms (published 1983) was still a relatively new book. Although it had a few songs from the world church (‘The right hand of God’ was one of our favourites) we felt that its very limited selection meant that it already needed to be supplemented.
How things have changed in twenty-five years! Our new hymnbook Singing the Faith has some forty songs whose words or tunes, or both, have their origin in the World Church. Africa – particularly South Africa – is very well represented and there are a surprising number of songs from Latin America as well.
On Sunday evening I led Café Worship on the theme of world church music. I told some stories about some of the songs and how they came to us – if I get the chance I’ll post some on the blog. Accompanied by sufficient percussion instruments for everybody we enjoyed learning and singing a dozen or so songs from around the world.
We had fun singing together. But there was something deeper and more serious going on which is expressed in the following quotation from Dr S. T. Kimbrough, a United Methodist scholar and singer who has been a great advocate of global song:
If Christians, who now exist among hundreds of cultures and languages, want to relate to one another, they will have to sing each other’s songs—make music together. Music is the God-given language that gives the fullest expression to prayer, joy, suffering, and praise of the Creator. Followers of Christ will find that sharing their songs will strengthen their relationships, for they can sing about what they often find difficult to talk about. They can reach deep into one another’s souls with language, rhythm, melody, and perhaps harmony. (Music and Mission: Toward a Theology and Practice of Global Song p.3)
To which I want to say ‘Amen’. Or rather, sing Amen.