The role of community song
There is power in communally creating a song, our song - and something we might consider giving more time to, writes Tim Parkman
As Baptists we have always had an interesting relationship with singing, from our forebears who did not believe singing to be something that we should do, whereas today some may argue we do far too much.
Indeed, sung worship has been one of the greatest divisive issues in recent years, with many disagreements, splits and frustrations focused on how and what we sing.
The irony is that a lot of our understanding of God comes not from sermons, but from our songs and hymns. Many cannot remember the sermon was preached several weeks ago, but maybe can remember the words of a song often sung in church. This can shape our belief and understanding of who God is.
I know people who cannot sing certain lines in hymns or songs, or maybe who change them in order to make them more in line with their understanding of who God is and how God works in the world. The trouble is that, just like our Baptist forebears, we struggle with singing words that have been ‘humanly made’, most likely divinely inspired, but still created by a human.
Rather than saying that singing should be banned, I would want to suggest that there is a role for creating a community song. This would not replace our congregational singing, but would look to enhance it.
At the recent South West Baptist Association Ministers conference, people were asked to write down words or sentences God was speaking to them, or maybe phrases that stuck with them over our three days of together.
We then took all these words, put them together at the end of our conference, and created them into a song that was sung to a well known tune.
The song did not rhyme, it did not even scan particularly well, but it was a reflection of who we were at that moment, and the things we felt God was saying to us. You can see the song we created at the end of this article.
It was sung with great gusto and it felt as if we were singing about the place we were in, rather than someone else's words. Each person had the opportunity to add their part, and you could see in some of the faces when their particular line or word came up. It meant that we were truly singing something we believed and we didn’t need to change words or worry we were singing someone else's words: these were our words, our understanding of God that we sang.
I also did this with a local group of youth workers. I asked them not to use words such as ‘I’ or ‘my’, as this was a community song. They were not musical or poets, but that did not matter because making it rhyme or scan well was less important that expressing what they believed of God.
It has made me wonder if this is something we should be doing more of in our churches, communities, groups and maybe even our Assembly?
What would our Baptist community song look like? What would your community song look like? How often would it need to change? What would it say of God and would it express something of our community better than other songs we sing?
South West Baptist Ministers’ Conference Community Song
Lord, Our God, you send us to serve you,
Yet, why can it be so hard?
Climbing mountains, sharing heartache.
Where’s the lighter, easy part?
Yet we go, the grave is empty!
Each all parts of one tapestry.
Loving God; each other and neighbour,
Overflowing with your love.
Where’s the place for the outcast and migrant?
Where’s the place where all are refreshed?
Help us know that you are the granite,
the rock on which this world is built.
And we go, the grave is empty!
Past and present are in your hands.
Help us trust you for our future,
Every need met by your love.
We sang this to the tune Love Divine.
Picture: Worship at the recent Baptist Assembly (2016)
Tim Parkman is the Minister of Saltash Baptist Church, Cornwall