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.
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
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” https://www.convergencemp.com/artist/the-many/these-bodies.html
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: http://www.markamillermusic.com/
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: https://commonhymnal.com/exchange/rose-petals-story
is an Anglican worship leader. Because of his focus on the Psalms, much of his music has a social-justice flare. Check out: https://wendellk.bandcamp.com/album/come-to-me
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: https://sandramccracken.bandcamp.com/track/all-ye-refugees
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: https://www.portersgateworship.com/ 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: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ThaVvxuFCP8&feature=share
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. http://www.urbandoxology.com/
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: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X-ThP8qEio4
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: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sYiM-sOC6nE
Have fun with exploring all that! I hope at least a few things will be new to you and maybe something will be helpful?