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That’s right…these are carols (new texts set to familiar Christmas Carol tunes) for the Covid-19 pandemic.

*UPDATED 4-2-2020

Introduction & Guidelines

In this time of fear, anxiety, and isolation, the concept of caroling might seem trite, ridiculous, or even inappropriate. We’ll let history decide which of the three it might be. But for my family, it was a way to connect with our congregation members, make music together, and ultimately bring hope and a little bright light into people’s lives as they struggle with social distancing and quarantines.

As is reflected on the last page of this free downloadable collection, if you decide to go #covidcaroling, make sure you follow all the federal, state, and local laws and guidelines. For the most recent CDC recommendations, click here. Here are a few basic guidelines from us assuming you are able to go out in a safe manner:

  • Only go caroling with those you’re already in isolation with. People like spouses, partners, children, and other immediate family members or people with whom you share a living space.
  • Instead of knocking or ringing a doorbell, you can call the people to get their attention.
  • People can open their windows instead of their doors if they’d like.
  • You can carol from your car if the street is close enough to their house.
  • If you do ring a doorbell or knock, move away before they answer the door. Also use hand sanitizer before and after you touch their doorbell or door.
  • Have fun! This is designed to bring a bit of happiness and frivolity into people’s lives.



*UPDATED 4-2-2020


Submit a carol!

All submissions are subject to approval by the Hymn Society staff. Any texts included in the collection will be credited with your name as the copyright and a blanket “permission to use during Covid-19 Pandemic” statement.

Email Center Director Brian Hehn with your submission using the subject line “Covid Carols Submission.”




The Church Is Dying

This morning I read yet another headline from a denominational news source to the effect of “9 things the church must change immediately so it doesn’t die.” The article was filled with claims of the church’s decline and our impending doom unless, of course, we made the urgent changes the author called for. I’m sure you’ve read similar articles over the last few years. At this point, I’ve stopped clicking on those headlines altogether, even if they hold strong suggestions or make good points.


I can’t be bothered

I can’t be bothered, and here’s why:

The church isn’t held together by what we do or don’t do. If that was the case, there wouldn’t be a church today. Seriously…have you read church history? It’s terrible. Have you read the Old Testament? The people of Israel screw things up pretty consistently. If you think the church is doing things today that are unrivaled in their bad-ness…please read more history and more scripture. The church isn’t held together by what we do or don’t do, it’s held together by the Spirit of God. Always moving, provoking, stirring in new and unexpected places: The Spirit is always at work in, around, and in spite of whatever evil we can throw at it. That is why the church still exists today. (Side-note: It’s also why I’m a big fan of Augustine’s concept of the church visible/invisible that was picked up by various Reformers).


Faith In God

If we’re worried about the church “dying,” that says more about our faith in God (or lack thereof) than in the long-term viability of the church. If you’re more concerned about preserving the church than you are following God’s call at any time, you’ve lost your way and you are part of the problem. Is God not loving enough to see the church into its next step? Is God not faithful enough to stick by us this time? I believe in a God who is more faithful, loving, and compassionate than I can possible imagine…so I just don’t have time or energy to worry about the church’s longevity.

Most of my believing and non-believing friends are interested in these things: living a life where they do a good job at their workplace, treating others with kindness and respect, finding experiences that brings them and their loved ones joy and fulfillment, and helping others in need. Here’s what most of my believing and non-believing friends are not interested in: joining a country club, doing mission work that creates more problems than it solves, ignoring or combating science in the name of scripture, feeling guilty for struggling with depression or anxiety, and being told that loving someone isn’t the right way to live. And that, my friends, is at the core of why many of my millennial friends won’t step foot inside of a church anymore. They are too busy living imperfect yet good and faithful lives to bother with the church as it currently stands. I don’t blame them.


I Can’t Wait

So if the church as we know it is dying, I can’t wait. I can’t wait for the church as I know it to die. At first that statement might sound shocking (in fact…the first time I said it out loud I shocked myself)…especially from someone who is currently making a living serving the broader church and serving in a local church each week. But as I heard growing up every Sunday morning for so many years as the opening statement of worship: Our hope is in the Lord who made heaven and earth. My hope is in a savior who became fully human and knows what it feels like to be hungry, tired, frustrated, lonely, and sad…a God incarnate, a God with us.

This Advent, I’m not afraid of the church dying. When it does, that just means the miracle of the incarnation can more clearly shine through and inspire us once again. This Advent my soul is inspired by God’s reminder to “fear not, for I am with you” (Isaiah 41), God’s call for us to “sing a new song” (Psalm 96), and God’s promise to “make all things new” (Isaiah 43/Revelation 21). I’m just glad God allows me to be a part of that work.


Softly and tenderly Jesus is calling,
calling for you and for me;
see, on the portals he’s waiting and watching,
watching for you and for me.

Come home, come home;
you who are weary come home;
earnestly, tenderly, Jesus is calling,
calling, O sinner, come home!

Why should we tarry when Jesus is pleading,
pleading for you and for me?
Why should we linger and heed not his mercies,
mercies for you and for me? [Refrain]

Time is now fleeting, the moments are passing,
passing from you and from me;
shadows are gathering, deathbeds are coming,
coming for you and for me. [Refrain]

O for the wonderful love he has promised,
promised for you and for me!
Though we have sinned, he has mercy and pardon,
pardon for you and for me. [Refrain]

[hymn by Will L. Thompson, 1880]



Author Brian Hehn is the director of The Center for Congregational Song.


Here’s the next question that I sometimes get from you church musicians and pastors out there. This one is about copyright. I’m sure many of you will relate to the question posed.




The Question

Dear Brian,

I am looking for an answer to why I might need both a CCLI license and One license? I have tried asking representatives from each organization what they cover, and both have been very vague in what all is covered and how I can discover that, but both have been pretty insistent that they cover more and are the license I need. The church is looking at tightening the budget and is questioning my paying for both. Any insight is appreciated.

Thank you!

Your friendly church musician


The Answer

Dear friendly church musician,

Thanks for reaching out. Your question is not uncommon. The world of music copyright can often be confusing, vague, and frustrating. Depending on what your church sings (and how they sing), the answer to your question will be different. From my understanding and experience, CCLI and OneLicense do not have very much overlap of what songs they cover. However, 99% of what most churches typically use on a Sunday morning will be covered by one or the other.

Here are some questions you’ll need to answer before knowing what is the best way forward:

  1. Do you print music or words in a bulletin, project them onto a screen, and/or stream online? If yes, keep going. If no (like “we only sing music from our hymnals in the pews”), then you most likely do not need either license.
  2. Was the music OR words you use in your bulletins/screens/recordings generally written after the 1920s? If no, you’re using all “public domain” music and you don’t need a license. If yes, you’re using music that is most likely copyrighted and you’ll need a license to print/project/record it.
  3. What music do you typically print, project, or record? This is where it gets dicey about which license you need.
    • If you use CCLI top 100 music (and things that generally sound like those songs from companies like Capital, Integrity, Hillsong, Bethel, Elevation, etc…), you’ll need a CCLI license. For a list of publishers covered by CCLI, click here.
    • If you use music that is more “hymn-like” or is specifically Roman Catholic (and things that generally sound like those songs from publishers like Hope, GIA, OCP, etc…), you’ll most likely need a OneLicense. For a list of publishers covered by OneLicense, click here.
    • If you use both types of music, unfortunately you’ll most likely need both licenses.
    • **There are tons of different kinds of music and sources** So if you use music from other places around the world or from individual artists who aren’t widely published, things begin to get a bit more nebulous and often needs to be taken on a case-by-base basis. The larger exceptions to this are if you use music published by Taize or the Iona Community, both of which are administered by GIA Publications in the U.S. and would be covered via the OneLicense.
  4. If your music usage is not a clear-cut as the questions above, you’ll need to look at the individual songs and copyright holders to see which license(s) you’ll need. After sharing what you typically sing/do on a Sunday service, I can pretty quickly advise you on how to move forward.
  5. Finally, thank you for caring enough about the artists and companies that make this music available to do the right thing. Paying license fees and reporting your usage is how the artists ultimately get paid for their work. Your effort is appreciated and needed.

For more information on basic copyright information for churches, here are a few good articles:


Good luck!



***DISCLAIMER – This article is offered as a (hopefully) helpful resource for those seeking to navigate the legalities of church music copyright. The advice offered here is not legal advice and the author nor The Hymn Society in the United States and Canada cannot be held legally responsible for any decisions any individual or church makes concerning copyright law.***



Blogger Brian Hehn is the Director of The Center for Congregational Song, adjunct professor of worship at Wingate University, and Director of Music at Light Street Presbyterian Church in Baltimore, MD.



Common Quotes

“We should sing songs & hymns with good theology”

“5 ways to get your congregation singing”

“This song has good theology”

“This song has bad theology”

“This is a traditional hymn”

“This is a contemporary song”

Have you heard any of those quotes? I sure have. I hear versions of these quotes over and over again. There are endless articles and promotional materials that use these quotes. Do you have questions? We have answers. In fact, the answers are simple.



It’s Rarely Simple

It’s rarely simple. I’ve still got a lot of life ahead of me, but what I can tell you I’ve learned so far is that when people claim to have a simple answer, they’re most likely skipping over or ignoring a lot of nuance and complexities. Another thing I’ve learned from those I most admire and respect is that anyone who takes scripture seriously will quickly find out that keeping faith in God and learning to live in this world as a faithful follower is not simple. It’s complex.

The complexities of faith, ministry, and congregational song are why I love the work of The Center for Congregational Song so much. We know we’re part of something much larger than ourselves. There is so much wisdom that comes from so many different places because the God we believe in is bigger than we can imagine, and God’s family is complicated. That is why you’ll rarely see something from The Center for Congregational Song that tries to boil down what we do and who we are into something simple. What we do is not simple; it’s complex, and it’s difficult.


Partnerships & Resources

When there are so many possible people and organizations to partner and work with, it’s often hard to know where to pour our energy. When considering partnerships or what resources to share and/or promote, many times it comes down to this phrase from our Guiding Stances: do they have “strong, thoughtful convictions, and yet approach their work with humility and collegiality?” The answer to this question can manifest itself in many ways, but it rarely leads to a place where there is a simple “how-to” list. Instead, we find that questions are best answered through conversation. Conversations are contextualized by story-telling and nuanced by relationship and community. Answers are affirmed through ritualized worship experiences, living together as a faith community, and the passage of time.

The complexities of faith, ministry, and congregational song are why I love the work of The Center for Congregational Song so much.

I think that is why I bristle when I hear phrases like “We sing hymns and songs with good theology.” There are missing parts of that sentence as well as an entirely missing follow-up sentence. What you really meant to say is “We chose these particular hymns and songs because the words have theology which we’ve discerned reflects our community of faith. We chose these particular hymns and songs because the words reflect who we believe God is calling us to be.” But that’s not click-bait, is it?


One of the joys of my position as the Director of The Center for Congregational Song is to be asked interesting questions from people who are working week in and week out to get their congregations singing. This series of blogs will take some of the questions I’ve been asked and post the answers publicly.




Hi Brian,

Hope all is well!

I’m at a new church now! Woot! It isn’t technically a new church plant, but we are starting from the ground up. The numbers are at an all-time low, but the remaining few in the congregation are excited about the future and re-making their congregation into one that is vital and active in their community. It’s a Presbyterian (USA) congregation in a major metropolitan suburb.

One of the first things we need to do is establish a worship culture. What will our worship look and sound like? So here are a few things I’m curious about:

  1. How to hire a new music director. We have an interim right now, but we need a new music person who knows congregational singing, percussion….ways to layer and texture music.
  2. Now that I’m settled in here and driving this liturgical ship, I want to resource myself around music. I worked with a wonderful church musician at my previous church, so I didn’t need to think about resources for music. He brought them to the table. I’m the only staff person right now, so I’m looking for music resources for a small congregation–like 35 people right now. Congregational singing type stuff that doesn’t all fit into Western, colonized music sound yet we are predominately white.
  3. Choir! Shoot me with this. The church’s choir used to be 40 people, blah, blah, blah it was awesome. Now we have 4-5 solid people. What to do!? How to do it!? What are the shapes music leadership can take in a small church?


Pastor Jane



Hey Pastor Jane, thanks for reaching out. Here are my preliminary thoughts and I look forward to having coffee with you to talk more in depth about all of these questions…


Three things to look for in a good candidate:
  1. Are they musically talented and relatively well-trained? If not, even the best ideas can’t be brought to life. They need to have some musical “chops” to accomplish solid liturgy and music-making, especially since there’s a small staff and congregation.
  2. Are they sensitive to liturgical context? They don’t have to have a liturgy degree, but do they understand how a worship service flows? Do they have a basic knowledge or experience with the general liturgical calendar and seasons? For instance, when choosing a song for communion, would they know it’s a good idea to look for texts that either specifically mention communion or have references to bread, grapes, wine, or covenant?
  3. Do they place the congregation’s voice as the #1 priority? If the choir (or any instrument) is more important than the congregation’s voice, their priorities are whack and will cause problems. If their focus is on the congregation, then they’ll really minister rather than fall into the trap of providing great “performances.” Here’s an article on that topic in particular:


Liturgical Music Library

If I were to purchase a simple liturgical music library for you…a “small-church music starter kit,” here’s what I would send you:


Small Choir Resources

Small choir resources are tough, especially when people are still working off the old model of “we used to be…”. I think this is where placing the congregation’s voice as #1 is really helpful. It changes the choir’s “job” from singing a solo anthem every week to supporting the congregation’s music-making. I think we do a disservice to ourselves, our choir members, and our congregation to expect a small volunteer group of singers to sing a published anthem every week with enough musicality and precision that it truly edifies the congregation and singers. But, if we re-frame the choir’s role as supporting the congregation, here’s what can happen:

  • “We should sing and anthem every week” –turns into– “Every week we help the congregation sing better”
  • “We have to sing this even though it’s a little rough” –turns into– “We feel confident about this piece, so now we’ll share it with the congregation”
  • Weekly rehearsal plunking notes –turns into– Faith formation through the study of our weekly hymnody & learning a few anthems for special occasions
  • Identity as a choir member –turns into– identity as a congregational music leader

This can look many different ways (because each congregation is unique), but here are some opportunities for a small choir to serve a congregation:

  • The choir introduces new hymns by singing the first stanza, singing the verses with congregation on the refrain, or by sitting behind the congregation (instead of in front) on Sundays where a new hymn is being introduced.
  • Instead of expecting the choir to sing an anthem every week, the weekly role of the choir is to sing the psalm every week. This could be an anthem, something from a psalter, or a verse-refrain congregational psalm setting where the choir acts as the cantor to sing the verses.
  • Choir members take turns announcing and leading hymns throughout a service, so the leadership of the congregation’s song is continually shared.
  • Following the worship service, choir members take communion and sing a few selections for/with home-bound congregants once a month.



The three questions you asked are wonderful ones and something that many pastors and search committees grapple with on a regular basis. What I hope you’ll find grounds all my answers is this: hiring, working with, and resourcing a church musician and/or worship leader should be framed as a discernment process. Who, what, and where is God calling your congregation to be? How can a candidate help lead the congregation there? Who, what, and where is God calling your choir to be? How can a candidate help lead the choir there? Discernment takes prayer, community involvement, and imagination.


Good Luck!



One of the joys of my position as the Director of The Center for Congregational Song is to be asked interesting questions from people who are working week in and week out to get their congregations singing. This series of blogs will take some of the questions I’ve been asked and post the answers publicly.


The Question

Dear Brian,

I have a deep desire to write songs. But I can’t…it’s not my gift. But here’s what I want: modern justice songs. New songs that are today’s equivalent of “We Are Called” (Marty Haugen), “Beatitudes,” or “They’ll Know We Are Christians” or some of the great justice hymns. I’m fully aware that those songs are great and classic hymns and are important to our tradition (Roman Catholic). But I want to create a new genre. Not hymns, but praise songs (focused on God) that somehow still speak to the communal nature of our church. There are a few of these out there, but not nearly enough. Are there groups or artists out there who are working on this?


Joe Youth Minister


The Reply

Dear Joe,

First, thanks for your question! So many people are asking themselves the same thing. The church is always changing and learning. While we love the songs that speak to who we were and are, we’re also called to create hymns and songs that speak to who God is calling us to be. Like you referenced by mentioning Marty Haugen, many members of The Hymn Society (as well as others) who write mainly strophic hymnody have been writing songs and hymns with these topics in mind for decades. Authors that come to particularly to mind are Shirley Erena Murray, Adam Tice, Dan Damon, Carolyn Winfrey Gillette, Ruth Duck, and many more…there are too many to name here. However, since you asked about a “new genre” and specifically mentioned “praise songs,” I’m thinking that you’re wondering about music written for praise-bands but which have socially-progressive texts.

Below is a list of artists, groups, and other things to look at concerning social-justice oriented music that comes from or is designed for a more praise-band oriented style. When listing an group or artist, I’ve tried to link to a specific song that I think is a nice representation of their work/style. I hope this is helpful. Feel free to reach out anytime with other questions.


The Convergence Music Project

is a conglomeration of artists, many from the United Church of Christ and other socially-progressive denominations, who are writing theological liberal and/or social-justice oriented music. There are lot of great artists in that group, so make sure to look through their full catalog, but today I’ll point you to The Many, especially their song “These Bodies”


Mark Miller

while often published as looking like traditional music, is often a go-to for me because I’ve found it works equally well with an organ/piano/choir set-up as it does with a praise-band. You can learn about Mark and his music here:


Common Hymnal

is a group of mostly evangelical, Anglican, and Reformed singer/song-writers who are moderate to liberal socially/theologically, but still rooted in their more conservative traditions. Where do they turn? This is a group trying to nurture each other’s musical and spiritual lives in a safe place where the CCM marketplace and/or their denominational bodies won’t stifle them. One of my favs from this group is Dee Wilson, whose song “Rose Pedals” is a powerful witness:


Wendell Kimbrough

is an Anglican worship leader. Because of his focus on the Psalms, much of his music has a social-justice flare. Check out:


Sandra McCracken

is a nashville singer/song-writer who is writing some great music. Because of her focus on the psalms and her own personal journey, many of her songs are justice-oriented. Check out:


The Porters Gate Worship Project

is a group The Center for Congregational Song recently collaborated who are writing some justice-oriented music. A new album will be coming this Fall. Their first album on “work songs” is pretty cool: The group includes a few of the people already mentioned above.


Liz Vice and Others

A recent collaboration between a few artists and theologians gave birth to a new song called “Away From the Manger,” which you can see here:


Urban Doxology

is a song-writing and worship-leading group centered around race reconciliation in Richmond, Virginia. Their songs are genre-bending goodness while staying rooted in Black Church styles and experiences.


Matt Maher

has a recent Advent/Christmas album (which I find problematic in a few places) that includes this gem with a very singable refrain of “There’s hope for everyone” after each line meaning this could easily be sung as a call-and-response:


Andrew Peterson

writes music that is not always congregationally focused, but sometimes it is. This is one of my favs from him, focusing on fighting inner voices that say our bodies and efforts aren’t good enough to be loved by God:


Have fun with exploring all that! I hope at least a few things will be new to you and maybe something will be helpful?


Join Director of The Center for Congregational Song and a variety of Athens and Atlanta based artists in a hymn-singing and improvisatory concert. It’s free and open to the public. The first half of the event will be a sharing session of hymns and congregational songs from a variety genres. The second half of the concert will be in the style of “circle-singing,” which is a style of vocal improvisation that includes the entire audience under the leadership of Brian Hehn and some friends.

Date: Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Location: Seney-Stovall Chapel, Athens, GA

Time: 6:30PM to 8:30PM






Many of you may feel like this lady. Stressed…worried…nervous…tired. This is just a reminder that…

Holy Week, Christ, Musician












But seriously, folks. Strive for excellence. Make sure you’re prepared and have worked to do your best. But if someone misses a note, starts the wrong song, or the mics give feedback in the middle of something important, the Good News remains the same. Christ’s work of salvation occurs not just in spite of but because of our human failings. Christ has died, Christ is Risen, Christ will come again.



Blogger Brian Hehn is the director of The Center for Congregational Song.





For someone graduating high school who wants to serve as a music minister or worship leader, what would you recommend that they do for their education?



Let me first say that I don’t think there’s a single program out there that will fully prepare someone to successfully navigate being a church musician in the 21st century. What music ministers are being expected to do over the course of their careers in the 21st century church compared to what the current academy offers reveals a huge gap. Broadly speaking, universities and seminaries continue to train musicians in a 20th century model when the church has already moved on. Congregations have new, higher, and more diverse expectations of those they hire than ever before.

So here’s what I would recommend to a young student wanting to pursue a music-ministry career:



First, attend an undergraduate school as a music education major or a music performance major. Regardless of your future ministry settings, a knowledge of how to manage large groups (“classroom management” and “group dynamics”) and the skills to teach and empower the musicianship of others will certainly be at the core of your responsibilities. A music education degree is the best route to gain and refine those core skills. The other important skill your degree can give you is to become highly skilled at your instrument, which is where a performance degree might come in handy. Being a good performer (whether instrumental or choral) will serve you well in various ways, including understanding the powerful nature of musical performances to stir the human soul.

While doing your degree, make sure you are active in ministry in some way. Depending on your situation, that may look different. Campus ministry opportunities, “church hopping” to experience a broad diversity of worship styles and leadership, or joining a local congregation and/or taking an internship at a local church can all be ways to begin the journey into ministry.



Second, attend a seminary with an emphasis in worship and/or sacred music. Make sure the program you attend is intentional in connecting theological training with music-making in worship. Too often our university and seminary systems attempt to isolate or silo students into particular disciplines. This will rarely serve a 21st century music minister well. When touring programs and speaking with program directors, ask them how many courses are shared with MDiv or other theology majors. Ask them what types of interactions the sacred/church music students have with the students who will eventually be pastors. Sit in on a church music course. Do they talk about theology and worship as much as they do musical practice? Finally, does the advanced degree program give emphasis or opportunities for you to experience a variety of instrumentations, worship styles, and genres?



Finally, attend conferences and continuing educations opportunities that continue to stretch your understanding of church and church music. Don’t always attend conferences that speak to your wheelhouse. If you’re an organist, go to a multicultural worship conference that doesn’t include organ. If you’re a praise & worship leader who primarily uses guitar, go to an ACDA conference to hear great choral music. Etc…

Ultimately, the journey is yours, and my recommendations could never contain a universal answer. The church needs highly specialized musicians who are masters of one particular thing, so maybe you need to do three degrees in instrumental performance. But the majority of us will be expected to do so much more than just one thing. So listen to God’s call, do what you love, but make sure your education is preparing you to be adaptable to wherever your ministry journey might lead. Remember, our job descriptions always include that pesky phrase, “and other duties as assigned.”


Author – Brian Hehn is the Director of The Center for Congregational Song

When the “other” sings the Gospel

As someone who is a life-long church musician but who cut(s) his teeth on Ben Folds Five, the Goo Goo Dolls, Nirvana, Ray Charles, The Beatles, and other secular pop/rock artists, I quickly became fascinated with the idea of sacred and secular. What makes a song sacred and what makes it secular? Can a sacred song be turned evil? Can a secular song be holy? I got to really dig into this topic during seminary when I began my formal theological training and was presented with various definitions of what the word “theology” means (thanks, Dr. Rebekah Miles of Perkins School of Theology!). This topic has continued to be one of my favorite subjects to dwell upon. Over the last decade I’ve realized how many things in my life have informed how I approach the topic, and that’s probably why I find it such a fascinating exercise to grapple with. Here are a few moments/ideas/circumstances that might help illustrate where I’m coming from:



  • I grew up Presbyterian (USA) and was formed through the catechism class during which we were introduced to the Westminster Shorter Catechism. The first question (and my favorite) is “What is the chief end of man?” The answer is “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.”
    • The answer to this question was ingrained in me early in my life. And, I think, it’s the reason why I quickly see the holy in children playing in sprinklers on a hot summer’s day…or how sacred it can be to just laugh together with a group of friends. Enjoyment is a part of our highest calling to be a holy people.


  • My dad is a physician. He heals people (and/or keeps them healthy) for a living. In his medical practice, he doesn’t do that through anointing or prayer. Rather, he heals people using science.
    • As I grew up and learned about what he did, I also learned about why he was a physician. It quickly became clear that his job was a holy thing informed and guided by his faith in a God who wants humanity to be whole and healthy…not just in spirit, but in body and mind as well. His job was a sacred one, but not because he was talking about Jesus or God, but because he was living out his calling.


  • My favorite Broadway production is Les Misérables. I grew up listening to it, singing it, and learning how to play its songs on piano. It was one of the first shows I ever saw in a big theatre, and it was even quoted at my wedding. It’s not a sacred play…it’s not about God. It’s set during one of the French Revolutions and centers around the protagonist, an ex-convict turned mayor turned adopted father.
    • While the play is certainly not a “sacred” play, it begins and ends with some stunningly sacred moments. Near the beginning, when Jean Valjean has yet to get on his feet, he steals from a priest. Instead of sending him back to jail, the priest sends him away with more silver than what had been stolen and a blessing to make a better life for himself. . Then, one of the last lines sung in the entire production is the phrase “to love another person is to see the face of God.” Forgiveness (from the priest) makes the entire plotline possible by giving Jean Valjean a chance to live out in the world. Love of his neighbor transforms Jean Valjean into the loving father and hero of the story.



When I combine these life experiences with scripture, the line between secular and sacred continues to shift, morph, and sometimes even disappear.

The book of Esther

  • The book of Esther, found in the Hebrew Bible (Christian Old Testament), is obviously “sacred,” right? It’s a part of scripture, for goodness sake! When I learned that God is never mentioned, I found that fact curious and instructive.

Mark, Chapter 7 – The Syrophoenician Woman

  • In Mark 7 (and Matthew 15) we find the story of a Gentile (Syrophoenician) woman challenging Jesus when he would not heal her daughter. She was not Jewish, but because of her deep faith in Jesus, her daughter was healed. At that moment, it didn’t matter what religion she was. It only mattered that she believed Jesus could heal and bring wholeness.

Matthew 8 – “Lord, I am not worthy”

  • I currently serve a Roman Catholic parish. It strikes me that every time they prepare to take communion, the  last words used by the assembly are “Lord, I am not worthy to come under your roof; but only speak the word, and your servant will be healed”- an adaption from Matthew 8:8. The words are those of a Roman Centurion – once again, not one of Jesus’ disciples and not a Jew. He was an outsider, and yet his words are included in the Gospel and are now spoken weekly by millions of Christians around the world.


Bridging the Gap

So, here are some songs that bridge the gap of secular and sacred for me. Some mention God, others don’t. They don’t come from the church, but they do come from a place or speak of a place that I find sacred. 


Bob Marley – One Love

One love, one heart, let’s get together and feel all right

Regina Spektor – Laughing With

No one’s laughing at God, we’re all laughing with God


Ben Folds – The Luckiest

I love you more then have ever found the way to say to you

Belinda Carlisle – Heaven Is A Place On Earth

In this world we’re just beginning to understand the miracle of living


Les Misérables – Epilogue

To love another person is to see the face of God