Written by Gregg Brekke
Nearly three years after the idea for a new praise and worship song book was presented, the creative journey is finally realized. The Sing! Prayer and Praise song book will have its official debut at General Synod 27.
The long process to produce Sing! Prayer and Praise began in the fall of 2006 when the Worship and Education Team of Local Church Ministries began the "Praise and Worship Music Project." The project included a praise song songwriting competition as a means of developing new musical content and the creation of the Praise Song Advisory Team (PSAT), a diverse group of musicians, theologians and worship leaders from around the UCC.
"There has been a need and desire for praise and worship music that effectively represents and speaks to the covenantal values of the UCC for a long time," said the Rev. Scott Ressman, minister for worship, music and liturgical arts at the national setting of the UCC and Sing! Prayer and Praise editor. "When we launched this project, there was such a huge and positive response that we knew the process would need to be handled with the utmost care and attention to detail, while delivering the final product in a relatively short period of time."
The outpouring of support included the submission of hundreds of new and previously recorded praise and worship songs, many written by UCC musicians. These songs were sorted, reviewed, evaluated and approved before the actual construction of the song book began; a responsibility that fell to Ressman and PSAT.
Throughout 2007 and 2008, the 11 members of PSAT came together for numerous meetings to define praise and worship music, what it would mean to the UCC and what purpose the song book would serve. These meetings proved vital to team members as they each sorted through hundreds of songs.
"We received submissions that ran the gamut, from amateur lyricists to professional composers," said Ressman. "Some submissions were just words written on a piece of paper and others were fully arranged CDs with sheet music that offered multiple verses and instrumental variations, so we really had our hands full."
Each member of PSAT has an impressive and detailed musical or theological background, lending their talents and expertise in music education and performance to private schools, higher education institutions, choruses, orchestras and UCC churches around the world. Their ability to understand both the musical and spiritual content of each song was essential to the development and construction of the songbook.
"We spent a lot of time on each submission, thinking about the theology behind the lyrics and the images they invoked," said Branden Grimmett, PSAT member. "Each time we gathered, we sang through hundreds of songs and evaluated each one based upon its melody, sing-ability, uniqueness and several other characteristics."
As the song book's creative process increased, the UCC Musicians National Network, Inc. (UCCMNN), along with four other UCC ministries, hosted a four-day national workshop this past August, in preparation for Sing! Prayer and Praise. The workshop invited musicians, worship leaders and planners, liturgical artists and pastors to come and worship together, learn from their peers, attend plenary sessions and experience the art of praise music.
"We were called on behalf of the whole UCC to work together to create this praise song book that has a basis of theological inclusivity that the UCC is proud of," said Kekapa Lee, PSAT member. "This was a huge work, but done with the energy, commitment, talent and discernment of a group of individuals, on behalf of the whole Church."
Final songs were selected by October and Ressman was able to contact those songwriters and composers whose entries would be included into Sing! Prayer and Praise. "The amount and layers of detail-rich work that have gone into this project was daunting, but well worth it," said Ressman, who is also working on Sing! Prayer and Praise for Accompaniment, which will debut at General Synod as well.
Ressman and several PSAT members will follow the success of the UCCMNN workshop in August by conducting two workshop sessions at General Synod. Attendees will get the first look at the Sing! Prayer and Praise song and accompaniment books, review numerous songs and arrangements, interact with fellow UCC musicians and worship leaders, and most importantly, continue to ask questions about how to successfully integrate these songs into new and previously established worship programs.
"We're hoping that the General Synod workshops will start where the UCCMNN workshops left off," said Ressman. "God has been so good to us during these past few years and the musicians have already embraced the song book; now it's time to show them, and the entire UCC, the results of a good deal of theological sweat and even a few tears."
Sing! Prayer and Praise is currently available for pre-order online at uccresources.com for $15.00 each. Customers who order five or more song books by July 31, 2009, will receive 25 percent off phone orders at UCC Resources (800/537.3394) and not ordered online.