WCC Assembly worship was a journey around the world in music
By Mary Stamp
Music in the daily morning worship services during the World Council of Churches (WCC) Assembly in early September moved hearts, hands and feet, transforming people of different races, cultures, doctrines, theologies, polities and traditions as they gathered from around the world.
Music was joyful, traditional, somber, confessional, lamenting, praising, pensive, celebrative, ethereal, spirited, mellow, fervent, repetitive, pentecostal, hopeful, melodic and thankful. It inspired clapping, dancing, swaying, hand waving and stillness.
A Russian Orthodox participant was amazed hearing music different from his tradition.
An African woman enjoyed sharing "music we sing in African churches."
A woman from South India appreciated hearing music from diverse cultures and seeing faces of people from all over the world.
Jonathan Hehn of the University of Notre Dame, who was part of the worship planning team, said, "The more diversity we represent in our liturgies and music, the more we represent the depth and breadth of creation."
Because the Assembly was in Germany, the first hymn was "Nun danket alle Gott"—"Now Thank We All Our God."
Words in the opening worship recognized: "We gather to pray in unity of the Spirit, to talk and listen, to share and build. We gather to sing God's glory and to be blessed by God's love."
Music was accompanied by organ, piano, guitar, mandolin, ukulele, violin; trombones and brass; snare, conga and djembe drums; maracas, shakers, scrapers and other rhythmic instruments.
Some songs, hymns and chants were traditional, and some were written for the assembly by the international music team, combining words from one language with a tune from another culture.
Many were traditional liturgical songs like the Kyrie Eleison (Lord Have Mercy) response to a confessional prayer or a Hallelujah or Alleluia before the reading of a Gospel lesson.
A Cuban composer offered in Spanish, "Senor, ten piedad de nosotros"—"Lord have mercy on us."
Syrian Orthodox, Jamaican, Japanese, Ukrainian Orthodox, Haitian, Coptic, Indonesian and Zimbabwean "Hallelujahs" were sung in varied tunes and tones.
Several refrains and songs praised "Holy God" in Finnish, "Pyhä Jumala;" in Estonian, "Püha, Issand" and in Romanian, "Sfinte Dumnezeule."
A Spanish refrain to a Colombian tune was "La fe el amor et la esperanza de un mundo mejor"—"With faith and love and hope, we shall fight for a better world."
Micah 6:8 words, "Act justly, love mercy, walk humbly with our God," were set to a Scottish tune.
A Swedish tune was used for the English words of the official theme song: "Christ's love moves the world to reconciliation and unity."
There were also traditional hymns. "In Christ There Is No East Nor West" was set to a tune by a composer from Singapore who lives in Canada.
Another hymn common at Assemblies was "All Creatures of Our God and King" to the traditional 1623 German tune.
"Hear our prayer for one another, Lord make us one," was set to a Jamaican tune.
A Zulu freedom song from South Africa, "Hamba-nathi mkhululi wethu" which means "Come walk with us, the journey is long," was sung over and over at the end of two services.
A song from previous assemblies from the Xhosa people of South Africa was "Ma-si-thi: Amen, si-ya-ku-du-mi sa"—"Sing amen we praise your name, O Lord."
English words sung to an Antiguan tune were also repeated: "Lord, what a time to celebrate, hear our joyous roar."
So was the African-American song, "Jesus is my Savior, I shall not be moved."
From the South Pacific came a Tongan song and dance, "'Ofa fungani e" (the embrace of God) "Me'a 'ofa 'ae 'Otua" (is given to us). "Tau laka peki mu'a fiefie 'ia Kalaisi" (together in Christ we move.)
A Namibian song, "Ohole ya Jesus ikumwifi," said Jesus' love is incredibly amazing.
Worshipers joined in a Jamaican song, "Kom mek wi worship Im, Kom mek we daans an sing. Giv Tangs an priez tu di king of kings."
Words of other songs in English, Thai, Egyptian and Spanish were: "Open up my eyes so that I may see." "Come let us worship God." "In my distress, I cry to you, O God," and "My love colors outside the lines."
A refrain, "The garden of the world, the paradise we share, the greening of all life is dying in our care," was interspersed in a confessional prayer that began: "Have mercy on those who have to leave their homes due to climate change and its consequences, while others refuse to change their excessive lifestyles."
In Hawaiian, worshipers sang, "Ka mana'o 'I 'O o ko kakou Akua," which means "Faithful, faithful is our God."
The Aaronic closing blessing—"may the Lord bless and keep you"—was sung to an indigenous Sami melody.
At each worship service, as is a tradition at World Council of Churches gatherings, each person said the Lord's Prayer in their own language.
This is a taste of the words and songs available in the worship book, "Oasis of Peace," that is available online at oikoumene.org under assembly resources.
Assembly videos, including the morning worship services are online at youtube.com/c/worldcouncilofchurches/videos.