Dear friends in Christ,
In some ways this month’s letter is a follow-up to previous letters that touched on the
increasingly global dimensions of the Lutheran church as well as the ongoing refugee and immigration crisis. It’s also an introduction to what we’ll be singing in worship this Sunday and
for several weeks to come.
This Sunday is Pentecost, which among many other things celebrates a fresh start for God’s
people of every nation and language. We often include readings in languages other than English, which we will do again this year. We offer several translations of the Lord’s Prayer and invite everyone to pray in a language they know well (or not so well). This year we will also be changing our liturgical music for a season, as we have in some seasons in the past, to
incorporate music and text from other parts of the world.
As worship planners we are always trying to strike a balance between tradition and innovation,
comfort and challenge. Learning new tunes and singing in a language that is not our native tongue can challenge some of us beyond our comfort zones. This is not altogether a bad thing. At the same time, we want everyone still to be able to attend to the central things of worship:God’s word and sacraments, the assembly gathered and sent out again. So we’ve included some
things that will be new to most of us, as well as some things that may be familiar to those who have worshipped at Immanuel or in other Lutheran congregations in recent years. We worship leaders will do our best to help us learn what is new.
In the words of the Lutheran World Federation’s Nairobi Statement (see the full statement with
study resources here), worship is always transcultural (some things are the same everywhere); contextual (varying according to the local situation); counter-cultural (challenging that which is contrary to the gospel in a given culture); and cross-cultural (making possible sharing between cultures). We are never perfect, but the music and text we will use in coming weeks seeks to be particularly attentive to these dynamics.
Whether this liturgical setting is something you like or not, I invite all of us to consider what it means for us to sing this breadth of text and music. It will remind us that praise and prayer to God cannot be expressed fully in one language or musical tradition. It will remind us that we are a part of a global church with diverse expressions, views, and cultures. It will remind us that not everyone in our assembly speaks English as a first language and that they join in singing in English the vast majority of time. In the moments of challenge or discomfort, I hope that will be its own prayer in solidarity with the many people who are forced from their native land to live as refugees or immigrants in places that are unfamiliar in language and culture.
Here’s some additional information about some of the things we’ll be singing:
-The hymn of praise is “Uyaimose,” written by pastor and church musician Alexander Gondo in
Zimbabwe. We’ll learn one phrase in Shona and sing the remaining words in English. The melody repeats with slight variations.
-The gospel acclamation uses the Hebrew word we already know (“Hallelujah”), in a musical
setting from Palestine. This melody also repeats with slight variations. Though global focus has shifted to Syria and Iraq, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is ongoing with 1.5 million Palestinian refugees in designated UN refugee camps.
-At the sharing of the peace we will sing a traditional Arabic greeting set to music by an
American composer. Many Muslims as well as Arabic-speaking people of other faiths (including Christianity) use “as-salaamu lakum” or something similar as a greeting of “peace to you.” As we sing in Arabic, we might be aware of the need to challenge the assumption that exists at times in our own cultural context that Arabic is strictly associated with Islam or, worse,
-In recognition that several Congolese refugee families have been resettled in the last few months in Northampton, our offering hymn will be Congolese, which we will sing in Ngala. The words and melody repeat quite a bit in this one as well.
-The Holy, Holy, Holy will be the Swedish “You are Holy” (sung in English). Per Harling, who wrote both text and tune, claims to be influenced by Lutheran “harmonies and melodic inflections” and “the American/British rock music movement…with a deep appreciation for Latin American music,” demonstrating the richness of cross-cultural worship.
-The Lamb of God can be sung in either English or Spanish and is part of a bi-lingual setting in
our hymnal. The Lamb of God was written by an American pastor with the traditional Spanish translation of the text. Whether you sing in English or Spanish, perhaps consider the prayer for God’s forgiveness, mercy, and peace in relationship to the many people from Latin America who seek safety and refuge from violence and poverty.
That may sound like a lot to catch on to, but we’ll have several opportunities to learn it together,
and plenty of time to give thanks for the global church in all its many forms.