August 2, 2015 by Worship, Community, Formation
Christians sing many things in worship. Sometimes we sing our faith. Sometimes we sing our hope. Sometimes we sing our story. Sometimes we try to sing our mission, our discipleship. For those who prepare worship, I am convinced that songs of mission and discipleship offer the greatest challenge, and demand the greatest precision.
This morning at St All’s we sang Bring Forth the Kingdom, a contemporary song of discipleship by Marty Haugen, an alive-and-kicking, American writer of hymns and liturgical music.
Bring Forth the Kingdom is led by a cantor, who sings words which address the congregation, telling them who they are. Here’s the first verse:
Cantor: You are salt for the earth, O people
People: Salt for the Kingdom of God
Cantor: Share the flavour of life, O people
People: Life in the Kingdom of God
All (Chorus): Bring forth the Kingdom of mercy; Bring forth the Kingdom of peace; Bring forth the Kingdom of Justice, Bring forth the City of God.
There are another three verses, and you can hear the whole lot on YouTube, here. Not that listening to it is the point – it is a song to be sung, together, by a faithful and hopeful crowd.
This song of discipleship obviously aims to bring together and form those who sing it. There is expectation and hope: the words of each verse describe the ‘people’ to themselves (as salt, light, seeds, pilgrim people’) before setting those people a task. The challenge – to bring forth the kingdom – is one that the people sing together, in response.
As a song that aims to form us, it will work well only if it’s used well. The person who prepares the service and chooses this song must try to choose it, and use it, in a way that rings true for those gathered.
Three questions help us to do that faithfully.
1. Who should lead the song?
‘You are the salt for the earth, O people’ – the words of Bring Forth the Kingdom have a very definite, direct address, from cantor, to people. Who in the church can address the people with such certainty, declaring their role to them? Who carries the authority to say such things: who carries the trust of the congregation? We may feel this is the task of the priest or minister, but perhaps they are not confident to sing alone… what if someone from choir or worship team takes on the task? The question of who can lead this is an important one, but it’s also a local question about the nature of the local church, about relationships there, and it can only be answered locally.
2. What sort of a congregation or church could sing this faithfully?
The song has a conviction that the mission of God must be shared by God’s faithful people. Could any congregation sing this song? We might think a congregation must be some way along a journey to understanding justice before it can benefit from singing this song. Would a church with no sense of its own mission, of no tradition of taking the good news out, whether in nurture, evangelism or outreach, hear only discordant notes?
3. At what point in the service should it be used?
This is a more technical kind of question, but it’s still interesting and important. Songs of mission and discipleship are often used as ‘sending out’ songs, reminding us that all we have received during worship is to lead us out into the world to live and work to God’s praise and glory.
But this song also has something of the gathering about it, too. It addresses and unifies the people. The word ‘bring’ is repeated throughout – a word of collection, not dispersion. And the song speaks insistently of the Kingdom, which some would associate with the church – so perhaps it makes sense to sing it in preparation for a time of being church, rather than as that time draws to a close.
One little song, but so much to think about! The person who deploys this song must decide how it will work for the church’s journey, for the dynamics within the congregation, and how it will work within the shape of the service.
Who’d be a liturgist?