interior top image

2019 – Hopes, Dreams, and Introductions

As we worked toward the launch of The Center over a year ago, we developed a set of guiding stances for the work of The Center for Congregational Song. I’d like to highlight a few of those guiding stances that I think speak to what we hope to accomplish in 2019.

 

 

HOPES

We celebrate the width and depth of variety in the church’s song throughout history, recognizing that each genre, like each culture or each person, brings unique gifts and challenges to the church.

My hope is that in 2019 The Center for Congregational Song will be a cheerleader for the church’s song and all those who work to lead God’s people in song. There is so much to celebrate, but during this time of overwhelming pain and hate it is easy to forget God’s love for us. Our events, while tackling difficult subjects and not shying away from controversy, will be places of celebration of God’s good gift of song and singing together. Likewise, our blogs, podcasts, and other content will be in the spirit of celebrating the goodness that comes from viewpoint diversity and deep listening.

 

DREAMS

Collaboration and teamwork honors each other’s different gifts and therefore makes everyone stronger by building up partnerships, strengthening relationships, and amplifying each other’s ministries.

My dream for 2019 is that the relationships and partnerships we’ve been building over the last 15 months will bear unexpected and wonderfully creative fruit. As a part of our ecumenical work to build bridges, we have been working hard to learn who is also working to encourage, promote, and enliven congregational song in every denomination, piety, and genre. This year we’re ready to begin building those bridges and already have a couple programs planned that will bring diverse groups of people together to meet, collaborate, and create.

 

INTRODUCTIONS

At its best, singing together enables unity when perhaps spoken conversation is difficult or impossible.

Our original blog team [introductions here], made up of Rosa Ramirez, Adam Perez, Ginny Chilton, and myself conceptualized the content for the blog as a place where folk would be sure to find joy, optimism, humility, grace, and contextualization. The posts, like the blog team members, would represent a variety of viewpoints and skill-sets so that throughout the year you might encounter posts that speak directly to your own ministry challenges as well as open your eyes to the challenges and thoughts of others. With that in mind, we’ve expanded our blog team for 2019 to include three more voices. Each person brings a unique perspective that will continue to challenge and inspire us. We’re excited to welcome each of these new members to our team!

 

The Center for Congregational Song, Centered in Song, Blog, Church Music, Song

Felicia Patton is a lifelong Chicago native. Felicia received an undergraduate degree from North Park University followed by two graduate degrees from Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary. She was very active while at North Park, having served on worship teams, gospel choir, jazz choir, jazz band, and guitar ensemble. In her previous position, she was the director of traditional worship, where she directed three choirs. Felicia has continued to sing within the Chicago and surrounding areas as a solo artist and with her band, Chicago Soul Revue.

 

Center for Congregational Song, Centered in Song, Blog, Hampton, Atlanta, Church Music

Min. Rylan Harris is a graduate of Hampton University in Hampton, Virginia. While still active with the Hampton Minister’s Conference, he has recently moved to Atlanta, Georgia to pursue a Master of Religious Leadership with a concentration in Music and Worship at Candler School of Theology. He now serves as Minister of Worship & Arts at Ray of Hope Christian Church with Senior Pastor Rev. Dr. Cynthia L. Hale. Along with his passion for music ministry, he is a keyboardist, singer, and composer.

 

Center for Congregational Song, David Bjorlin, Centered in Song, Blog, Singing, Church

David Bjorlin is an ordained pastor in the Evangelical Covenant Church (ECC) and currently serves as the worship pastor at Resurrection Covenant Church in Chicago. In addition to his role as worship leader, David is a lecturer in worship at North Park University and a published hymnwriter. He holds a PhD in History and Hermeneutics (liturgical studies) from Boston University School of Theology. His academic interests include the history and practice of hymnody/congregational song, the connection between worship and ethics, and the incorporation of children in worship.

 

 

 

We hope you’ll join us in celebrating and collaborating. Here’s to a great 2019!

 

 

**This article was originally published by the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship. For the original article, click here.

Singing coritos {short songs} in Spanish and English is hospitable in worship. It also opens up worshipers to new understandings of God.

Rosa Cándida Ramírez is pastor of compassionate ministries at First Nazarene Church of Pasadena (California) and worship pastor of La Fuente Ministries, Paz Naz’s intercultural, intergenerational bilingual ministry. Analisse Reyes teaches music at a bilingual charter school in downtown Los Angeles and has led worship in many churches. Ramírez and Reyes met at Fuller Theological Seminary. In this edited conversation, they talk about researching and transcribing coritos for a forthcoming bilingual hymnal for Protestants (developed by the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship and GIA Publications).

 

What is a corito?

RCR: I like Justo L. González’s definition in ¡Alabádle!: Hispanic Christian Worship: ”Fairly simple tunes, often with repetitive words, that the people sing by heart. Most of them are anonymous, and pass by word of mouth from one congregation to another. For that reason, the tune or the words of a particular corito may vary significantly from one place to another. They are often sung to the accompaniment of clapping hands, tambourines, and other instruments.”

AR: A corito is like a bridge among Spanish speakers from different generations, countries, and Christian traditions. I grew up in a Spanish-speaking Assembly of God church. When I was a teen, our family switched to a non-denominational Anglo church. Since enrolling at Fuller, I’ve led worship at a bilingual Lutheran church. In each place, Latinos sang coritos as a celebratory way to build the faith.

 

Who sings coritos?

RCR: They’re pretty widespread. No matter which denomination they affiliate with, many Latino churches have a high pneumatology. This emphasis on the work of the Holy Spirit seeps into worship in Baptist, Presbyterian, Nazarene, and charismatic Roman Catholic churches. I grew up singing “Ven, Ven, Ven, Espíritu Divino,” which asks the Holy Spirit to come and take over every part of our lives.

With 33 Spanish-speaking countries in the world, there are a plethora of expressions. Different cultures sing coritos to different rhythms, like salsa or merengue. Yet, if you visit a Latino church that still preserves its coritos heritage, then you find yourself at home. You can clap along or sing the lyrics you know.

 

Have you met people who think of coritos as too old-fashioned to belong in contemporary worship?

RCR: People who came here by choice often don’t feel a need for coritos. But I’ve talked with people who’ve been forced to leave their homeland and who say that singing coritos helps preserve the essence of their culture. My parents came from El Salvador. When we became Christians, our church taught us that singing coritos was a way to live into our Salvadoran roots. The words of many coritos come directly from the Psalms or Old and New Testament stories. Singing coritos to yourself is a way to pray during trials and tribulations. And for children of the diaspora, such as myself, we yearn for a culture or country that was never ours. That’s partly why I want to research and document our oral tradition.

In La Fuente, I think it’s fun to mix a corito with a hymn or a more contemporary song. I see people clapping harder, singing louder, and showing more emotion for coritos. Choosing a corito in worship is a beautiful gift of welcome and provides a powerful way for congregations to respond in worship.

 

Why and how did you get started together on this coritos project?

AR: Rosa and I both sang for the REVERE | RESTORE album of music written, performed, and produced by Fuller Seminary students and alumni. That project was directed by Edwin Willmington, a professor and composer on staff at Fuller’s Brehm Center for Theology, Worship, and the Arts. I’d been leading worship at a church that had a homemade songbook of coritos with chord charts. Rosa uses coritos in her congregation, and we started talking about finding, translating, transcribing, and teaching coritos.

Ed Willmington has been a mentor for us, and he connected us with Calvin Institute of Christian Worship’s bilingual Protestant hymnal project—Santo, santo, santo: Cantos para el pueblo de Dios / Holy, Holy, Holy: Songs for the People of God, which will come out in 2019Learning the bilingual hymnal team’s process has inspired much of our work as worship leaders and created resources that provide translations that are faithful to the original language.

 

Where did you find coritos to send on to the Worship Institute?

RCR: We reached out to our networks—mine in California and Analisse’s in Florida. We looked up YouTube videos and added them to a spreadsheet. We tried using a survey, but that doesn’t work as well with first generation immigrants. It’s better to build trust and have face-to-face interviews about coritos they love.

AR: We literally thought through all the coritos we could remember singing; we asked ourselves questions like, “What did I sing in my grandma’s church?” I grew up in Florida, my mom is second generation from Puerto Rico, and my dad is first generation from the Caribbean coast of Colombia. So most of my coritos came from the Caribbean. Rosa knows more coritos from Mexico and Central America.

 

What were the main tasks of your project?

AR: Rosa did most of the interviews, and I did most of the notation of melodies. In deciding which to send on to the Worship Institute, we had to think through the theology of each corito. In many cases, we had to choose among different versions of a corito. We sent Spanish lyrics and literal English translations. Where possible, we submitted two YouTube examples per corito and also made voice recordings of some coritos.

 

When will your coritos project be finished?

RCR: Although we finished our project with the Worship Institute, I think this will be a lifelong interest for me. I still have many recorded interviews to transcribe, and I want to do more interviews. Listening to people’s stories about wars and border crossings is hard, but it’s beautiful to see how singing coritos helps them express God’s presence in their lives.

AR: We have enough material to create future projects, such as an anthology of stories behind specific coritos. It would be cool to preserve oral tradition this way. At Fuller, I’m getting a master’s degree in theology and the arts, and I hope to design a bilingual worship resource app. Preparing for bilingual worship can be tedious, because if you’re teaching a song that’s only been handed down orally, you have to make chord charts and translate between English and Spanish. The app would do those things so music leaders wouldn’t have to.

 

Why do you care so much about preserving coritos?

AR: My biggest thing is developing and curating church music resources that are faithful to the language, culture, and integrity of the song. I grew up singing “Que Bueno Llegó La Navidad,” which identifies Christ with Christmas and says that whoever has Christ has joy. It’s a favorite to sing during what Caribbeans call las parrandas and other Latinos call las posadas. It’s like Christmas caroling. Groups of singers and musicians walk from house to house, knock on the door, sing, and get invited in to share food.

Also, especially in California and Florida, it’s strengthening to acknowledge how bilingual our Latino churches are. Using both languages in worship sends the message that when we come to church, we are all equal.

RCR: I want to explore how coritos shape our spiritual understanding and imagination about how God is present with us. Corito lyrics often identify the singers with the people of Israel, as if the singers were crossing the desert in the Exodus story or marching around Jericho seven times or seeing Jesus heal people.

 

Why should churches that aren’t mainly Latino consider singing coritos?

RCR: During a Paz Naz intercultural Pentecost service, a vocalist asked me to accompany on piano what she was singing in Armenian. As I played by ear, I realized I knew the song as “Me alegraré (en el Señor).” Afterwards I asked her to translate the Armenian lyrics into English and realized they matched completely with the Spanish lyrics I knew. The only difference is that the Armenians clap where the Latinos say, “Hey!” In both cases, this short song uses phrases from Psalm 23 to talk about being glad in the Lord. It resonates in cultures that live with pain, suffering, and exile. I’d love to know how and when that corito came to be sung in Armenian.

Different languages have different cultural values and understandings of God. I yearn for worship leaders to show hospitality by investing time to learn from a completely different culture, because this opens up a wider understanding of God. God in Spanish is Dios. Seeing through the lyrics of a corito—sung by someone who is poor, marginalized, a refugee, or undocumented—gives us a unique understanding of who God is. Dios is the one who stays with us despite life’s difficulties. Singing coritos helps us cling to hope that Dios is going to come through for us.

 

LEARN MORE

Scroll down to read Rosa Cándida Ramírez’ blog post about how singing a corito helped people pray with and for fellow Christians struggling with immigration status issues. Explore different cultural understandings of God and worship in Sandra Van Opstal’s book The Next Worship: Glorifying God in a Diverse World. This article explores diversity among Latino Protestants.

**This article was originally published by the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship. For the original article, go to: https://worship.calvin.edu/resources/resource-library/rosa-c-ndida-ram-rez-and-analisse-reyes-on-singing-coritos

 

Author – Rosa Cándida Ramírez is the Worship Pastor of La Fuente Ministries, an intercultural, intergenerational bilingual ministry in Pasadena, California.

 

The following are lessons that I have learned while leading bilingual worship.

 

 

1. Give up the idea of comfort.

Leading worship bilingually is hard. It takes a LOT of work to plan worship services that reflect one culture, let alone two. Doing this work has required that I give up what makes me comfortable. Sometimes, it means that for the sake of including the narratives and worship expressions of my sisters and brothers, prepping for service might take me twice as long. It also means that as a worship leader, I must also be twice as prepared in leading the worship team/choir/ensemble in understanding the “ins and outs” of a bilingual service, as they themselves can be in the midst of an unfamiliar terrain.

I remember leading a rehearsal, and after we wrapped up one song, my guitarist stopped, looked up at me and simply said “Bilingual worship is hard.” I smiled and chuckled. “Yes, it is,” I replied. It was in that moment that although we were both committed to the work, we both acknowledged and normalized how hard it was. It was also in that moment that I realized that I had not prepped my team ahead of time to think through the dynamics of leading in bilingual worship because I didn’t anticipate how hard it was going to be. I learned that for my team it was necessary for me to acknowledge and normalize the complexities that they trusted me to lead them through. For if the team was struggling, how much more would the congregation struggle?

 

2. Experiment

There is no “one way” to lead bilingual worship. If anything, experiment. See what works for your congregation.

At my church, it took us quite a while to figure out the balance required for us to faithfully worship bilingually. Worship today looks completely different than it did four years ago. In 2014, lyrics to any given song were only projected in one language, whereas now lyrics are projected in two languages so that all can understand and follow along with the song. As a creative person, I didn’t realize how much my enthusiasm got in the way of my being pastoral on Sunday mornings when I would introduce a new song that at least half the congregation wasn’t familiar with. Instead of saying or thinking “Oh, the rest of the congregation will eventually get it,” I began to take note of what language the congregation was more comfortable in singing out loud, and what rhythms people were actually able to follow along with a clap. I also began to ask myself the following questions: Who is excluded when we sing songs that are completely in English? Who is excluded when we sing songs that are completely in Spanish? How will I introduce a particular rhythm or melody line that no one is familiar with? What words do I need to introduce to the congregation before we sing a song so that they aren’t stumbling through the words?

My guitarist stopped, looked up at me and simply said, ‘Bilingual worship is hard.’

3. Listen intently.

In singing songs that come from other cultures, you (and your congregation or community) are embodying a way in which worship is lived out from a particular language and/or culture. Before leading bilingually, I needed to both learn and then model what it meant for me to live an intercultural life; to sit and listen to my sisters and brothers, and sit in between the tension of two different languages that have different cultural values and understandings of God.

Remember that singing songs in a different language or from a different culture means that you cannot limit your interaction with said language or culture to the four minutes that you sing through the song. If a song originates from a particular country, make friends or partner with people from said country, be an informed worship leader/pastor/director, read about what is happening in the country and have your congregation learn, pray and connect with what the people from that country are going through. I encourage you to go further and look around in your neighborhoods and begin to listen intently to the realities and tensions that our brothers and sisters from different cultures are experiencing in our own backyards?

During this season of Lent, partner and have conversations. Take note and ask what grief, lament and the season of Lent means in the two languages that you are trying to bring together. Singing and worshipping God in different languages is powerful, but as the saying goes, “with great power comes great responsibility.” As a worship leader/pastor/director, make sure to enhance your toolkit by reading books like “The Next Worship: Glorifying God in a Diverse World,” by Sandra Maria Van Opstal, and “Churches, Cultures and Leadership: A Practical Theology of Congregations and Ethnicities” by Dr. Mark Branson and Dr. Juan F. Martinez.

 

All in all, leading worship amidst two cultures, languages and traditions allows the body of Christ to experience different expressions of God. Thanks be to God for the gift of diversity and the gift of bilingualism.

 

Blog Author – Rosa Cándida Ramírez

Author – Rosa Cándida Ramírez is the Worship Pastor of La Fuente Ministries, an intercultural, intergenerational bilingual ministry in Pasadena, California.

On Monday, October 16, 2017, at 12:00 pm I openly wept while leading worship.  At the steps of Fuller Theological Seminary’s Payton Hall, I was crying in front of a group of approximately forty people. We stood together worshipping in the open air, as the California midday sunlight shone upon us. The sight at Payton Hall was unlike any other; there were no seats, no microphones, and no screen or projectors to show lyrics. All we had was a guitar, our voices, the Spirit of God, and one another. This group of people with different schedules, different cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds had gathered from different classrooms and came from different departments across campus. This coming together of a body of people was convened for two corporate practices: prayer and to worship. It was a beautiful sight to see. God’s presence was felt in such a palpable way. We were convened by Jennifer Hernandez, a beloved sister, and friend who is DACAmented.[1] She had boldly called upon her friends, her coworkers, her spiritual familia (family) and community to pray and worship in solidarity with her fellow DACAmented, undocumented, and extended immigrant family members.

Let us love one another, not with our lips or with our ears. So that when Christ comes, when Christ comes, he will find us prepared.

Together, we sang the words of a well-known corito (or small chorus)[2]:

Amémonos de corazón, no de labios ni de oídos.

Para cuando Cristo venga, para cuando Cristo venga, nos encuentre preparados

 

This corito roughly translates:

Let us love one another, not with our lips or with our ears.

So that when Christ comes, when Christ comes, he will find us prepared.

 

As a DACA recipient, Jennifer owned her story in the same way that Paul, Silas, Sarah, Joseph, Lydia and countless other sisters and brothers did before her, all of whom understood the realities of the immigrant, the sojourner and/or that of the bicultural experience.

 

As we sung together, the words of the corito came to life;

Amémonos de corazón, no de labios ni de oídos.

(Let us love one another, not with our lips or with our ears).

 

With our bodies, our presence and our voices, we were proclaiming Jennifer’s life, her story and the lives of DACAmented, undocumented, and extended immigrant brothers and sisters mattered. Our song united us. As the guitar strummed and with every breath that we took to sing, Jennifer’s pain became our pain. Her sorrow became our own.

Amémonos de corazón, no de labios ni de oídos.

(Let us love one another, not with our lips or with our ears).

We lean into the reality that Christ has already come, and are in expectation of God’s future work.

Gathered together, our song could have turned into a whine. Instead we stood together, lamented and reminded one another to praise the One who loves regardless of one’s immigration status. It was there at the steps of Payton Hall that we leaned into the reality that while our worship recognized pain and suffering, it was deep seated in the knowledge that God’s abundance met us in the midst of that suffering and was held in expectation of God’s future work.

Para cuando Cristo venga, para cuando Cristo venga, nos encuentre preparados

(So that when Christ comes, when Christ comes, he will find us prepared).

 

Today is Tuesday, November 21st, 2017. We are at the threshold of a new liturgical year, where we anticipate the “here and the-not-yet.” With the change in time and the change in season, we anticipate the highs and lows of what this coming holiday season can and will bring. Meanwhile, we prepare for the season of Advent that is just a few weeks away, when we lean into the reality that Christ has already come, and are in expectation of God’s future work. In the same manner, our immigrant brothers and sisters embody the realities that come with the “here and the-not-yet” while trying to live daily life amidst the fear of deportation.[3] Today, I follow the steps of my sister, Jennifer. I convene you, my dear sisters and brothers to denounce what is contrary to the gospel of Jesus Christ. I call upon you—friends, coworkers, spiritual familia (family) and community—to worship and to pray in solidarity. I ask that you call your senators and representatives for the passing of a clean DREAM Act.[4] I ask that you too sing the words of the corito with me and with Jennifer so that we too could be prepared for Christ’s coming.

 

Amémonos de corazón, no de labios ni de oídos.

Para cuando Cristo venga, para cuando Cristo venga, nos encuentre preparados

Let us love one another, not with our lips or with our ears.

So that when Christ comes, when Christ comes, he will find us prepared.

YouTube video of the corito here (words slightly altered, see endnote 2)

 

 

[1] “DACAmented,” term used to describe a recipient of “Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals,” also known as DACA. This executive action taken by President Barak Obama provided a protection from deportation to approximately 800,000 immigrants while at the same time granting temporary work permits to such individuals. This executive action was rescinded by the President Donald J. Trump in September 2017.

[2] For the purpose of this blog post, I will use the following functional definition of “corito” that  Dr. Justo L. González provides in his book titled, “¡Alabádle!: Hispanic Christian Worship”: ”Fairly simple tunes, often with repetitive words, that the people sing by heart. Most of them are anonymous, and pass by word of mouth from one congregation to another. For that reason, the tune or the words of a particular corito may vary significantly from one place to another. They are often sung to the accompaniment of clapping hands, tambourines, and other instruments.” González, Justo L.. Alabadle!: Hispanic Christian Worship (Kindle Locations 1737-1739). Kindle Edition.

[3] https://www.nytimes.com/2017/02/22/us/immigrants-deportation-fears.html

[4] In the pursuit of a “clean” Dream Act (S.1615/H.R.3440), supporters are asking for the government to no “use that legislation as a vehicle for increased spending to increase border enforcement, expand immigrant detention, further militarize border communities, or build a wall on the southern border” (https://www.fcnl.org/updates/pass-a-clean-dream-act-1105).

 

Rosa Cándida Ramírez is the Worship Pastor of La Fuente Ministries, an intercultural, intergenerational bilingual ministry in Pasadena, California.

 

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

The Beginning

Negativity. Pessimism. Insults. Arrogance. Blame. Simplifications…These are many of the characteristics that are easy to find when browsing the internet, scrolling through social media, listening to the news, and even walking the hallways of our churches. But when I read the Gospels, when I look to inspirational leaders who make a difference in this world, and when I interact with many of my colleagues and friends, I find:
Joy. Optimism. Praises. Humility. Grace. Contextualization.

The Center for Congregational Song (CCS) is a new endeavor that I pray will make a difference in our churches and our communities. But that difference cannot and will not be made through negativity. Why? Because there is too much to celebrate and too much good work to be done. There is so much inspiration out there; so many people who are serving faithfully and striving diligently to enliven the voice of God’s people. As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. prophetically said, “darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that.” Our song must be a light. When people struggle with the darkness of despair or depression, our song must be like David’s healing music for King Saul. When our communities are invaded by the darkness of oppression or fear, we must join Jesus as he sings with his disciples in the upper room.

I hope that you’ll join us in this work. Join us by continuing to lead God’s people in song. Join us by sharing the good resources you have found with us so that we can connect others. Join us by telling your colleagues and friends about us. Whether you become a consumer, contributor, or cheerleader, we want you to become a part of The Center’s work.

As you explore all our initiatives and resources, it’s important to know that our work is guided by a series of “guiding stances.” These stances have been carefully crafted by The Center Director’s Advisory Group as well as The Hymn Society’s Executive Leadership. To read about these guiding stances, you can click here.
This blog begins with a core team of writers in place and ready to write. Each contributor comes from a different background, different tradition, and has a different skill-set. So what you’ll get by following this blog is a variety of ideas from a variety of viewpoints, and we view that as a strength. So let me introduce you to our core team:


Rosa Cándida Ramírez is the Worship Pastor of La Fuente Ministries, an intercultural, intergenerational bilingual ministry in Pasadena, California. As a second generation Latina, she is passionate about the role of language and culture in worship, and the creation of bilingual worship resources. During her time as a student, she worked with Fuller Theological Seminary’s All-Seminary Chapel in helping create intercultural worship and is currently working as a consultant with the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship.


Ginny Chilton is Music Minister at Church of the Ascension in Norfolk, Virginia, where she serves as organist, choirmaster, and elementary music teacher. She enjoys the variety that comes with working in a church: organ music, worship planning, choir directing, children’s music, handbells, etc. Before moving to Virginia, she had been in Boston where she completed two master’s degrees at Boston University: a master’s of sacred music and a master’s of divinity.


Adam Perez is a doctoral student in liturgical studies and music at Duke Divinity School in Durham, NC. A native of Miami, FL, Adam earned a B.A. in music education from Trinity Christian College (Palos Heights, IL) and a M.A. in religion and music from Yale Divinity School and the Yale Institute of Sacred Music. He has been involved in planning and leading worship in a wide variety of settings and styles, most recently as the Interim Minister of Music at All Saints’ United Methodist Church in Morrisville, North Carolina. Adam is passionate about vital corporate worship and is committed to helping communities and their leaders engage in worship with wisdom and hospitality.


Me! I am the director of The Center for Congregational Song and I love my job. Getting to spend intentional time seeking out and meeting people across the U.S. and Canada who are passionate about the church’s song and then connecting others to their work is a large part of what I do. I live and breathe congregational song and am beyond blessed to learn from and with musicians and pastors in a variety of contexts and denominations. I’m excited about what this blog and the entire Center for Congregational Song can and will do in the coming years to help encourage, promote, and enliven congregational song.