Global Worship

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Last week I had a lot of fun playing a four-hand piano duet with my friend Christy. So, the next time I was at the music store picking up a Level 2 flute book for my sixth grade daughter, I pawed through the piano duet music. I found a gem titled My Father’s World arranged by Vicki Collinsworth. It has six familiar hymns each set to a style of music from a different part of the world (e.g. Celtic, Asian, Native American, etc.).

The music is well written and fun to play.  But I’ll be honest: what most attracted me to this book was its assertive posture toward global worship. It's obviously marketed and intended for North American churches, but any church that plays this music will be opening its doors to the sounds of another culture.

Is that what we want to do--open our doors to global songs and forms of worship? Should we be singing songs from other parts of the world, or should we be more directive to the North American members and seekers?

Last March, I led our Classis in worship and used the Global Songs for Worship from Faith Alive to sing songs from around the world. Among the delegates’ responses were these two opposite reactions:

  • “Why should I sing jibberish? I have no idea what those words mean and that tune sounds so foreign.”
  • “What a delight to form my mouth around the same syllables that my brothers and sisters are singing on the opposite side of the globe.”

I understand the fear of the first speaker and respect the warning that global worship shouldn't be a gimmick. However, I believe that the blessing of including songs and practices of worship from around the globe far outweigh the risks.

Today in my church we used a Spanish song to respond to a sermon on stewardship that cares for others. The words and musical style opened our hearts to think about people who are “crying with no peace of mind.”

Some months ago, when Egypt was embroiled in protests and demonstrations, we sang “Salaam,” from Global Songs for Worship as our prayer for peace. The Arabic word Salaam rises hauntingly in the chorus reminding North American worshipers that the cry for peace is coming from within some of the very places we think of as centers of violence.

Eight years ago as I was developing a creative style of worship services for another congregation, I suggested (I think I was actually joking at the time) that they take the offering the way that I remember offering time in Africa . . . everyone walked to the front to offer their produce and chickens on the altar. Except I suggested that we should leave out the part about produce and chickens and just put some money in the bowls.

What about you and your church . . . Do you have ideas for linking NA congregations to the broader family of God around the world in your worship? Does your church sing in various languages? In addition to music, what other ways have you thought of engaging international flavors into your worship? What cautions do you have about the practice of global worship? What resources do you use? 

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Fine post, Joy--I really resonate! Despite the risks, both a heart for the missional and a recognition of "the de-Europeanization of American Christianity" (Soong Chan Rah, The Next Evangelicalism) certainly urge us in a global worship direction at least some of the time. As a worship leader for 30 years, I found myself increasingly choosing multilingual repertoire from time to time and in this way seeking to infect our congregation with the thrill of being caught up in God's global mission. Last Pentecost Sunday I got to co-lead a mulitethnic worship ensemble for the Global Day of Prayer gathering here in Salt Lake City: it was magnificent! The simple African song "God is So Good," led by Sudanese friends on the team, never sounded so good as it did when we progressed through seven languages in singing it.

One reality certainly seems obvious to me: usually a song's expression in poetic meter and language and image sounds best in the orginal language in which it was written. For example, "Mi Salvador" just loses beauty and power, feeling flatter and more pedantic, when we sing the English translation.

Resources? One excellent repertoire is Taize music: it's simple, accessible, musically beautiful (especially if you use multiple instruments and play from the instrumental version of the books), and all designed as multilingual. Of course it's contemplative in style--great for candlelit services--so you can't use it for everything, but it's truly wonderful worship music for the globally cognizant (or those who need to be).