Words That Matter

The planning of worship always deserves our best efforts. When it comes to congregational music, we are blessed with an overwhelming abundance of hymns and songs for our people to sing. Lifting our voices together is one of most amazing and unifying activities in which we engage. Yet, too often, we choose from a very small pool of music for Sunday worship and miss the riches that are available.

As a pastor and worship planner, it may surprise you that I spend just as much time each week choosing what the congregation will sing as I do in researching and writing my sermon. The congregation’s song and voice are that important! While I’m blessed to have an excellent personal library of hymnals and songbooks, there are wonderful and comprehensive resources online that anyone can consult. For instance, www.hymnary.org is available to all of us and is a treasure trove of information about hymns and congregational song. Check it out!

In this blog posting I want to share a superb hymn text from one of our newer hymn writers. I’ve mentioned Jacque B. Jones before – she is currently the president of The Hymn Society in the United States and Canada (www.thehymnsociety.org). Her first book of hymn texts was published just this year, and debuted at the Hymn Society’s annual conference this past July, in Columbus, Ohio. Songs Unchanged, Yet Ever-Changing (GIA Publications, 2014) includes fifty texts on a variety of subjects, some of which have few (if any) previous hymns written about them: adult baptism, exploring our faith by asking questions, the story of Ruth and Naomi, how we regard our enemies, Mary Magdalene, and affordable housing, just to name a few.

So, one of my favorite hymns by Jacque (which convicts me every time I sing it) is “Hear This from a Homeless Stranger.” My congregation, First Baptist Church of Berkeley, meets at ABSW, right across the street from People’s Park, where several dozen homeless and marginalized people gather daily. It’s impossible to read these words or sing this hymn without picturing our neighbors. As you read this hymn, I invite you to be in prayer for all those who struggle to find warmth and shelter, who simply wish to be noticed by those who pass by.

Hear this from a homeless stranger, nameless face in shadowed crowd,
makeshift bed and scant possessions, nothing here to make me proud.
It’s so easy to ignore me, hasten steps and hurry by:
better not to glimpse my struggle, better not to hear my sigh.

There are times you pass my pallet on your way to sing and pray.
In the church you join with others thanking God for each fine day.
I can hear your joyful music from my joyless hiding place.
I am thankful just for shelter, gentle word, or knowing face.

I hear God deplores injustice, calls for change in thought and deed.
I thought Jesus lived compassion: reaching first to those in need.
Seeing me, you all fall silent, you who worship, pray, and sing.
You have vision. You have voices. You have influence to bring.

But you’ve places you must go to, you have people you must see;
busy lives and tending families, giving little thought to me.
Yet I wonder what would happen if our roles should rearrange:
you’d be sleeping on this threshold, I would be a voice for change.


Jacque B. Jones, 2005; © 2011, 2014 GIA Publications Inc.
Printed by permission, OneLicense #A-716222

Yes, we can sing about the homeless when we worship. We should! When we sing we embody our calling, our mission, and our values. Friends, let’s be singing about things that matter.

I invite you to contact me or to offer a comment here about expanding the congregation’s song.


Rev. Dr. Nancy E. Hall is Associate Professor of Ministry and Congregational Music and Director of Contextual Education at American Baptist Seminary of the West.


Celebrating our 2012-13 ABSW Student Interns

Beginning with summer 2012 and through the fall and spring semesters, Director of Contextual Education and Associate Professor of Ministry, Dr. Nancy Hall, has worked with ten student ministry interns during this academic year. Some have already completed their work; others will wrap up their assignments this month. These are students in both the Masters in Community Leadership and the Master of Divinity degree programs. All have done outstanding work in a wide variety of ministry sites, typical of ABSW’s commitment to diversity both in contextual education and throughout our curriculum.

IMG_3175 Nancy, Clanci, AntonClanci Cochran completed her two–semester MCL internship last August at City Year Sacramento, working as Regional Admissions Manager West Coast under the supervision of Anton Taylor, Regional Director, Diversity Recruitment West Coast. City Year, a nation-wide program, is an education-focused, nonprofit organization that unites young people of all backgrounds for a year of fulltime service to keep students in school and on track to graduation. [www.cityyear.org/sacramento.aspx ](Photo: Dr. Nancy Hall, Clanci, and Anton).


anitalatinAnita Latin focused her two-semester internship on the founding and building of her own non-profit organization in San Francisco, OVL Foundation. Initially, OVL will be reaching out via Abba House, providing transitional housing for single mothers ages 18 to 20. Other programs will be developed in the future. Anita’s internship supervisor was Rev. Dr. Brenda Goudeaux, co-founding pastor of Calvary Christian Center, Sacramento. Anita began her ABSW Doctor of Ministry program this past January. [www.ovlfoundation.org]


BHLeeByung-Hwoon Lee arrived from Korea in 2011 and completed his MCL internship in December 2012, serving at Oakland Korean United Methodist Church. He ministered to the young adult group and also worked on writing a centennial history of the congregation. Rev. Kang−Won Lee is the senior pastor of the church and served as Hwoon’s supervisor. Hwoon began ABSW Doctor of Ministry degree coursework this January.


paulettePaulette Anthony undertook an extended unit of Clinical Pastoral Education from October to February at UCSF Medical Center in San Francisco for her MCL internship. She provided spiritual care to families, patients, and staff in adult intensive care, oncology, and general medicine. Her ACPE Associate Supervisor was Allison Kestenbaum.



Ron ColeRon Cole served during the fall semester with Dr. Ronald Burris, pastor of Temple Baptist Church in Richmond. He has continued his MCL internship year this spring by ministering with the visitation team to sick and shut-ins at Allen Temple Baptist Church, working with supervisors Rev. Olu Bereola and Rev. Jessie Land.


sanol leeSandol Lee serves as an associate minister at Contra Costa Korean Presbyterian Church, conducting weekday early morning services, leading the singles ministry, and working with the praise band. He will complete his MCL internship this spring, under the supervision of Rev. Jason Jeon, senior pastor of the church.


Eun-Jeong LeeEun–Jeong Lee is enjoying the first semester of her MCL internship at Logos Church in Fremont by leading the music program and starting prayer groups. Her supervising pastor is Rev. Seung Ku Jung.



Three Master of Divinity students will complete their Middler Colloquium coursework and internships this month.
Photo: Elder Virgil Childs and ABSW Students Elder Loretta Belton (front), Rev. John Adams and Rev. Yvonne Adcock (back)

John Adams is the Supply Pastor at Elmhurst Presbyterian Church in Oakland, carrying out a full range of ministerial duties during his internship year. He is being supervised by Rev. Sonia Coleman (MDiv 2009).  As John began his pastorate he was also mentored by the late Rev. Dr. R. Thomas Coleman, who passed away in October.

Yvonne Adcock’s internship site has been Balsam House in Oakland, a non–profit residential home for women in transition that Yvonne founded and runs. Her supervisor this year has been Ms. Barbara McDavid of Parks Chapel AME, Oakland.

Loretta Belton, an elder in the Seventh Day Adventist Church, has served her internship this year at Market Street SDA Church in Oakland. Her supervisor is the pastor of the church, Elder Virgil Childs, who also serves as Coordinator of African American Ministries for the Northern California Conference of Seventh-Day Adventists.

Contextual education is at the heart of ABSW’s innovative curriculum. As one group of students completes their year of supervised internship, junior year students at ABSW are working with Dr. Hall this spring to finalize their MDiv and MCL placements for 2013–14.

The Shape of Music in Worship

HymnodyRev. Dr. Nancy Hall, Associate Professor of Ministry and Director of Contextual Education

We are now well into the 2013 spring semester at ABSW and the seminary is filled with students taking an array of both core curriculum and elective classes. My course, “How Hymns Shape Worship and Faith,” has students from five GTU schools as well as ABSW. In this seminar-style course we are studying the history of hymnody in Christian worship, various forms and styles of hymns, current directions in new hymns, and how the texts of our congregational song serve as a foundation for Christian education and corporate theology. Among other assignments, each student will give a class presentation and paper of a teaching event built on hymns.

Students in my class are using as a textbook A Survey of Christian Hymnody, by David W. Music and Milburn Price, and Somebody’s Calling My Name, by Wyatt Tee Walker. The history of sacred music has always included some form of “the people’s song,” although there were eras when singing praise to God became more the domain of priests and professional musicians. Happily, the congregation’s voice has never been completely stilled, and the post-Reformation era saw a burgeoning of hymnody that has been flourishing for almost 500 years.

Questions continue to be raised about the style and content of texts and tunes — this is nothing new in the world of church music. In our class we’re reading and giving reviews of articles concerned with how music is shaping current worship practices and influencing people’s experience of the Divine. These articles give us the opportunity to hear what theologians, musicians, and church leaders are observing about trends in congregational song.

The heart of our time together, however, is the students’ weekly assignment to bring a hymn or song of their choosing to class and share a brief reflection about what the lyrics and the music mean to them, along with addressing these questions: “What is the theological message this hymn or song offers? How would you exegete this text?”

Over our semester together, we will sing dozens of hymns. Some will be hundreds of years old. Some will have been written very recently. My hope is that through our study and our sharing all of us — students and professor alike — will become more knowledgeable, more discerning, and more creative as leaders and planners of music in worship.

My friend Jacque B. Jones, president-elect of The Hymn Society in the United States and Canada (www.thehymnsociety.org) wrote a wonderful text that I see as descriptive of my course and my mission to teach seminary students about our rich and ever-evolving body of congregational song. Two lines from Jacque’s hymn:

God, whose song became creation, touch our lips with burning coals.

Free our hearts to sing your praises, while your music shapes our souls.

©2010 GIA Publications, Inc.

The “people’s song” is one of God’s great gifts to the church and to humanity. We are celebrating that gift this spring, at ABSW.

Small projects bear fruitful partnerships

Every week, the Reading Library established by FBCB is available to students, offering the texts required for the core curriculum at ABSW. This small project is truly a gift that will continue to bless generations of students!
Rev. Dr. Nancy Hall, Associate Professor of Ministry and Director of Contextual Education

In a blog posting last year I shared that in addition to my ABSW faculty position I am also the part-time pastor of First Baptist Church of Berkeley, located just four blocks from the seminary campus. ABSW and FBCB have enjoyed a long history of partnership, with the church having been a teaching congregation for ABSW ministers-in-training many times in our 122-year history.

Recently, FBC Berkeley was privileged to participate in another way of partnering with the seminary, and we are hoping that this kind of special support might be a model for other congregations to do something similar for our beloved school and its students.

In spring 2010 I was strongly encouraged by Rev. Dr. Marcia Patton (executive minister of the Evergreen Baptist Association — of which FBCB is a member congregation — and also a member of the ABSW Board of Trustees) to take part in a year-long training project, the Missional Church Learning Experience, sponsored by American Baptist Churches USA. With our congregation’s blessing, an MCLE team was formed and we attended four day-long training events in 2010-11, led by Rev. Glynis LaBarre, Transformation Strategist for the American Baptist Home Mission Societies. [Note: for more information about MCLE, go to: http://www.nationalministries.org/mcle/ ]

Our FBCB team’s mission (along with teams from several other Bay Area ABC churches, all part of the Evergreen Baptist Association) was to find a need within our immediate community that would result in an opportunity to reach out and build a partnership with a local community group, for the greater good.

After taking time to contact and consider a number of possible community partners, our team found that the most fruitful conversations were taking place with members of the ABSW Student Council. The students of ABSW make great personal sacrifices in order to pursue a theological education. One example: with all of ABSW’s courses held at night, many students arrive from their full-time jobs or other weekday commitments just in time to sit down for class, often without having the chance for an evening meal. Another example: after paying his or her tuition bill each semester, a student may not have sufficient funds remaining to purchase all of the required textbooks for each class.

The seminary provides as much tuition assistance to students as possible. But how could FBC Berkeley reach out and form a partnership with the students, to help address some of their other needs? Here’s what FBCB was able to do, after several consultations with members of the ABSW Student Council:

— We purchased one copy of each required fall 2011 semester textbook for the ABSW “core” curriculum courses. These books were placed on the fourth floor of Hobart Hall, becoming an on-campus “reading library,” available to all students.

— We restocked the ABSW food pantry with non-perishable items that students can use on an emergency basis, when funds run low.

— We donated to the Student Council a used two-drawer file cabinet from the FBCB church office to help the council keep its papers organized.

— We purchased and served food for one of ABSW’s regular Monday evening community meals (attended by faculty and students), concluding with an ice cream social, on September 26.

— We still have funds available to help “seed” the Student Council’s evening snack bar fund-raising project, when it gets underway for the fall 2011 semester.

None of the above projects required a huge amount of time, effort, or money. In FBCB’s case, we were helped by a grant from the MCLE program. But any church could undertake the hosting of a Monday evening supper at ABSW, or could help expand the “reading library” with copies of textbooks for courses in upcoming semesters. [Intrigued? E-mail me: nhall@absw.edu, and I’ll tell you how easy it is to support our ABSW students with outreach projects such as these!]

This opportunity to show American Baptist Seminary of the West how much we value its presence in our community brought our church and the school closer together. As is so often the case, we who undertake mission in the name of Jesus Christ are just as richly rewarded as those to whom we reach out.

So, here’s some good news from First Baptist Church of Berkeley and the campus of ABSW: small projects can bear fruitful partnerships! We give all praise to God for guiding us through this year of learning, praying, and planning. As a favorite gospel hymn proclaims: “We’ve come this far by faith, leaning on the Lord.”

Sing of Justice, Sing of Peace!

As the 2010-11 academic year begins at ABSW, I am overjoyed to be teaching a new class, “Leading Music for Worship.” With the weekly Monday night ABSW chapel as the “lab” for our coursework, my ten students and I plan the congregational singing for each worship service on campus. Given the diversity of our seminary, we strive to reflect that same diversity in the music we choose.

Our chapel is open to all who come (6:00 pm, each Monday when classes are in session) and it is a special gathering each week of students, faculty, staff, and community. Chapel Director and Assistant Professor of Worship, Jennifer Davidson, plans marvelous occasions that proclaim the Word and celebrate God’s presence in our midst.

With summer just behind us, I’d like to share here about the highlight of my season, when over three hundred hymn lovers, writers, composers, educators, and scholars gathered for five days at Samford University, in Birmingham, Alabama. The annual conference of The Hymn Society in the United States and Canada offered participants “opportunities to reflect on way that peacemaking and justice are interrelated.” Five hymn festivals, three major addresses, and over forty workshops gave voice to the longing for justice and freedom that has been – and continues to be – expressed through song, both in our land and across the globe.

Being in this historic environment, a central place in the struggle for US civil rights, the words of Martin Luther King, Jr., came alive once again: “We will reach the goal of freedom in Birmingham and all over the nation, because the goal of America is freedom.” (Letter from a Birmingham jail, 1963). Our Tuesday hymn festival at the conference week was held in Sixth Avenue Baptist Church, a leading congregation during the civil rights movement of the 1960s. There, Dr. James Abbington led us in an evening of “Unsung Hymns by Black and Unknown Bards,” stirring music that spanned over 150 years. Other hymn festivals during the week included “Free at Last: Spiritual Songs of Liberation,” “Crazy in Alabama: Longing for Justice in Story and Song,” (led by folksinger Kate Campbell), and an evening of Sacred Harp singing.

Our 2010 Hymn Society conference also featured exceptional plenaries. The Bay Area’s own Rev. Daniel C. Damon (pastor, hymn writer, composer) delivered an outstanding address, “A Cry for Justice in Hymnody.” Dan and his wife, Eileen Johnson, surveyed twenty current North American hymnals, representing a variety of Christian faith traditions. They “read the topical indexes in each of these books, and selected topics which related to justice for children, creation, the elderly, the poor and oppressed (human rights), persons of other faith traditions (interfaith), the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered) community, persons with disabilities, and women.” The individual hymn texts listed under each topic were cataloged in a database.

With this research as the backdrop, Dan challenged the conference attendees by raising this central question: “How are we currently singing about justice in our churches?” [Note: I am now at work on editing the Autumn 2010 issue of THE HYMN, the quarterly journal of The Hymn Society. Dan Damon’s address will be the lead article in this upcoming issue.]

There are so many wonderful experiences from the annual conference I could share. But let me just mention how The Hymn Society nurtures young scholars. At every annual conference there are at least six and sometimes as many as ten Lovelace Scholars present. Through a program started by and named for Austin C. Lovelace, an outstanding American church musician and composer, scholars apply for grants to attend the annual summer conference. It is a delight to have these college and graduate-school age attendees in our midst. They are already doing significant work in their studies of sacred music and hymnody, at schools throughout the continent.

In the last two years, The Hymn Society also began a program called the Emerging Scholars Forum. Each spring students are invited to submit papers to the Hymn Society’s research director on topics related to hymnody and congregational music. A three-person committee (including myself) reads each paper and chooses the three top submissions. Those writers are then invited to attend the summer conference and to present a summary of their scholarship in a workshop setting. The winning paper is considered for publication in THE HYMN. I am happy to report that this summer’s Emerging Scholars — three young women — each had exceptional papers to offer.

I’d like to point you to an exciting website by one of this year’s Emerging Scholars, Hilary Donaldson. At http://transformingeveryguest.blogspot.com/, Hilary offers “thoughts on worship, congregational song, and the life of the church from an unapologetic twenty-something Canadian Presbyterian.”

When I witness the eagerness of my own ABSW students for the task of music planning and leading, and when I have the privilege of meeting and knowing young hymn scholars from across the continent, my heart is gladdened for the future of sacred music and hymnody. Being an ABSW professor, as well as being deeply involved with The Hymn Society (www.thehymnsociety.org), gives me wonderful opportunities to live out the call that urges all of us to “sing of justice, sing of peace!”

-Dr. Nancy Hall