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Celebrating The Faithful Project

Guest blogger Anneli Loepp Thiessen is an active song leader, researcher, classical musician, and music educator. She is pursuing a PhD in Interdisciplinary Music Research at the University of Ottawa where she received her Masters of Music in Piano Performance.


The Beginning

In the fall of 2019, a group of women songwriters, poets, speakers, and storytellers began gathering in Nashville. Among those gathered were some of the church’s leaders of worship music: Christy Nockels, Leslie Jordan, Sandra McCracken, and Ellie Holcomb, to name a few. These writers set out to build community while diving into stories of biblical women. They read the accounts of women from Scripture, and imagined the details that weren’t included in the stories until they embodied them as their own.

The gatherings came to be called the Faithful Project, resulting in a full length album, accompanying book, and live-streamed launch concert in Nashville, all of which have become available in the past few weeks. In the concert, the women embodied the fullness of God’s reign: many ages, races, abilities, sizes, and backgrounds worshipping with vigour, conviction, tenderness, and compassion. They enacted many roles, some of which are less common for women: percussionists, guitarists, bass players, and visual artists. Some in dresses and some in jeans, they were united in their love of God and their desire to enliven the stories of biblical women. 


The Book & Album

In her introduction to the book, Amy Grant writes,

If it is true that we are surrounded by a great cloud of unseen witnesses, I imagine several of our female ancestors elbowing their way to the front of the circle shouting, ‘Girls, you don’t know the half of it! But we tried.’

By focusing on the stories of biblical women, the songwriters brought new voices into our contemporary worship repertoire; although these women from scripture are not living, their voices are fresh. And embodied by the Faithful Project, they are a powerful testament to God’s faithfulness. 

Each song in the album is based on the story of a biblical woman, and chapters of the Faithful book offer corresponding reflections on these characters. The book describes the writing process, and the accompanying realization that while songwriters often write in groups, rarely are they groups of women. Further, it is even rarer for biblical scholars to be part of the process. The unique act of engaging poets, speakers, and writers in the songwriting process led to profound depth and clarity in the songs that emerged. 

While all of the songs on the album offer profound gifts to congregational singing, I want to highlight several with unique messages that I think are particularly accessible for congregations musically, textually, and instrumentally. 


Song – At This Very Time

The second song on the album, “At This Very Time,” based on the story of Jehosheba, from II Kings 11:2 and II Chronicles 22:11, is an assurance that nothing is too hard for God who is steadfast. As songwriter Sandra McCracken noted in the launch concert, it is a message we need to hear over and over again, every day. This upbeat song is a declaration of praise with a catchy instrumental riff that ties the song together. It is easy to move to this song: the chorus demands offbeat clapping or a strong percussive emphasis. As its placement in the album suggests, it works well as an opening song, gathering in God’s children to praise. 


Song – Holy Place

“Holy Place,” based on the story of Hannah, is a song about God’s devotion when life feels unfair. In her chapter on Hannah in the Faithful book, Ginny Owens describes some of the obstacles she faced when growing up blind, and the transformation that took place when she brought her challenges to God. She writes, “I began to change though my circumstances were the same. Like Hannah, my heart slowly rose above [the challenges] in a chorus of courage.” The song “Holy Place” calls worshippers closer to God, in a reminder of God’s constant presence, especially in times of struggle. The song is comfortably led by guitar, the chorus inviting vocal harmonies. I dare you not to smile as you sing or strum the phrase “Lead us by the hand,” it is abundantly catchy. 


Song – We Are One

“We Are One” is perhaps the album’s greatest offering to the church’s worship, offering a call for radical oneness. In her introduction to the song at the launch concert, Ellie Holcomb described how Jesus draws us together: “… I love what Jesus does. He breaks down the boundary lines, he goes across borders, and he brings us all together. And when we come together, in Christ, who brings us all together as one, telling all our different stories, we shine in a way that we could never shine on our own…” The chorus proclaims that “We are all sisters and brothers, at the feast of our Father’s love.” Holcomb notes that the song was designed to be accessible and easy to sing, goals that were achieved through a catchy melody and simple structure, with harmonies easily improvised. The invitational and uniting lyrics make it an appropriate choice for gathering or communion. 


Faithful Witnesses To The Resurrection

In the conclusion of the book, the Faithful team recalls that when Jesus rose from the dead, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, and he asked her to go and speak of what she had seen. They continue: “We don’t believe that Jesus has stopped asking women, His friends, to speak of what they have seen.” The refrain of the first song of the album, and the message of the whole project, is to go, and speak. As we explore the Faithful project and sing the songs from the album, may the girls and women of our communities be empowered, too, to go and speak: as songwriters, worship leaders, poets, sound technicians, instrumentalists, preachers, drummers, producers, and artists. We are one. 


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


Lots of Questions

As the director of The Center for Congregational Song, I’m often asked questions for which I don’t know the answer. There’s usually one of two reasons for me not knowing the answer. First, I’m only one person with limited knowledge and experience. The answer is out there and I just don’t know about it. One of the advantages of my position (and a benefit of serving an organization like The Hymn Society) is that when I don’t know an answer, I often know somebody who does! The other reason I might not know the answer to a question is that there isn’t a singular answer. Music ministry and congregational song is often so contextual and/or multifaceted that one person’s answer can be another person’s mistake. My simple hope for this series of columns entitled “Questions for the Director,” is that my answers will be helpful beyond the individual who originally asked.


The Question

Dear Center Director,

We are currently working on a hymnal for our denomination and we have noticed that the list of contributors for the CCM/Praise-and-Worship music we’ve selected is overwhelmingly by white males. Can you point us to songs written for praise bands and or in the style of Contemporary Worship Music that are written by women?


The Answer

Dear Friend,

I’m so glad you’ve reached out and am encouraged by your intentionality as you develop your new hymnal. Representation matters! I’ve reached out to friends and colleagues to crowd-source my response below. I hope you find it helpful. Each artist/band is given a simple 1 to 2-sentence description. If I’m aware of a particular song that I think is particularly good for congregational singing or representative of their style, I’ve linked to it as an example of each artist’s work. But don’t let the first example stop you from exploring the rest that each artist has to offer. I offer this list (in no particular order) as a conversation starter, not as a definitive list.


  1. Audrey Assad – “Your Peace Will Make Us One” is a new text for an old standard, flipping the original on its head to celebrate the peace that Christ brings. Audrey is a Syrian-American Roman Catholic sing-song writer.
  2. The Many – A folk ensemble focusing on inclusivity, “All Belong Here” is a great communion song. Also, “These Bodies” is a unique and important song.
  3. Darlene Zschech – One of Hillsong Church’s main song writers and worship leaders for many years, she has written and co-written a huge number of songs. Her most popular song is certainly “Shout to the Lord” from 1994.
  4. Lisa Gungor – 1 of the two “gungors” who made up the popular band. One of their breakout songs, “Beautiful Things” continues to be one of their most influential and singable.
  5. Laura Story – Best known for her song “Blessings” which showed up on more than just Christian Radio Stations. She has many other songs that have congregational possibilities.
  6. Amy Grant – Known for songs like “El Shaddai,” I think one of her most useful congregational songs is “Thy Word” which is flexible in its instrumentation and easily transposable into a singable key.
  7. CeCe Winans – A well-known gospel artist. Just google her to finds lots of songs.
  8. Sandra McCracken – A Nashville-based singer/song-writer whose recent work has focused on psalm-singing and congregationally friend songs. Check out “Trinity Song” and “All Ye Regufees.”
  9. Liz Vice – A Christian artist who focuses more on secular concert venues, some of her songs non-the-less carry over into congregational repertoire. A recent collaboration created “Away from the Manger,” which is stunning.
  10. Casey J – A well-known gospel artist best known for her song “Fill Me Up.” A simple chorus and call-and-response lends itself to congregational participation.
  11. Karin Simmons – Her setting of “out of the depths” utilizes a Chopin Nocturne as the accompaniment. It feels modern and ancient simultaneously.
  12. The McMakens – A husband/wife duo with a soft folky style. A good example of their work is “Rend Your Hearts.”
  13. Rachel Wilhelm – Her most recent album “Songs of Lament” is an important addition to the praise-band oriented repertoire.
  14. Geraldine Latty – A soft-rock ballad focusing on God’s compassion, the chorus of “Lord, You Hear the Cry” is super singable.
  15. Bernadette Farrell – Well-known and well-published in the Roman Catholic world (OCP page here). This British song-writer has some must-sing songs that aren’t strophic hymns but still feel natural for those who sing that style. Similar to Marty Haugen, David Haas, etc…
  16. Jenna Martin – A Nashville based singer/song-writer who isn’t easy to find but who has some lovely songs. The one recommended to me was her Christmas song “O Come, Be Born Again.”
  17. Leslie Jordan of All Sons and Daughters – A former group based in Nashville who came out with some wonderful hits that are both catchy and congregational-friendly. I particular enjoy “All the Poor and Powerless” for use with congregations.
  18. Lynn DeShazo – One of Integrity Hosanna’s early-generation song writers. A good singable chorus by her can be found in her song “Mercy.”
  19. Deanna Witkowski – A jazz artist who loves congregational singing and re-vamping hymns. She recently won The Hymn Society’s annual hymn search with her setting of Psalm 100 “We Belong to God.”
  20. Andra Moran – Some simple but beautiful songs in a soft country-western style, I think one of her most congregational song is surprisingly “Lullaby,” which could be included in a night prayer or benediction section of a hymnal. A playlist of her most popular songs is here.
  21. Sandra Montes – The Spanish-Language Consultant for the Episcopal Church, her song “todo lo puedo hacer” made quite a splash recently at one of their denomination’s annual gatherings.
  22. Danielle Rose – One of her best songs is “Touch Him,” which is a lovely setting of one of the Gospel narratives, though it would be tough with a congregation. The chorus of “Pursue Me” is very singable, however. So checking out her catalogue may be fruitful.
  23. Kiran Young Wimberly & The McGraths – Their collections of “Celtic Psalms” are traditional Irish tunes set to psalm texts. One of my personal favorites that works really well with congregations is “Sing to the Lord.”
  24. Sally Ann Morris – Published through GIA, her work floats between classic strophic hymn settings that would feel at home on the organ and driving songs with refrains that need a band to bring it to life. One of my favorite selections is “If Jesus Is Come” from the collection Stars Like Grace and is begging for an awesome band-driven arrangement.
  25. Mary the Mother of Jesus – The Psalms are great. New songs are great. But one of the most important and most sung songs of all-time was written by a woman. Make sure to include a setting of the Magnificat some time this year, and take that time to thank God for women poets, composers, and prophets!