World War I Centenary

The 4 August 2014 will see vigil services held across the country to mark the centenary of the beginning of World War One. Material is available from Starters for Sunday to help those planning services and here we offer some musical ideas to complement that. Unless otherwise stated, numbers refer to the Church Hymnary 4th edition (also published as “Hymns of Glory, Songs of Praise”) and for those who don’t have a copy to hand an index can be found here.

The outline for the service gives us a number of different starting points in terms of readings and themes. While the list below can give you a guide, your choices will also be shaped by which of these you choose to focus on. Once you have decided this there are good scriptural and thematic indices in the hymnbook which can give you further ideas. When planning this service it is also important to note the distinction with Remembrance Sunday.

“The Vigil is an occasion when we reflect on the catastrophe of the War. It is suggested that it is primarily a lament or an occasion on which we ask God to forgive us for our pride and our reliance on violence to resolve the difficulties between the nations. In this, the Vigil on 4 August 2014 is different from Remembrance Sunday, on which we primarily reflect on the sacrifice of those who gave their lives.”

This should be a primary consideration when choosing hymns as even if the rest of the service is different, the same choice of hymns will leave your congregation subconsciously drawing parallels.

It is of course important on occasions such as this to have a core of well known hymns and the suggested Old Testament readings all have metrical versions which could be used either instead of or to complement readings. However, it is important not to be scared of introducing new or less well known songs. We are very often wary of this at services when there may be a significant proportion of the congregation who are not regular churchgoers. In actual fact these can often be the best times to try something different as one or two new songs which give a different angle to the theme can give the congregation the sense that they are part of a living tradition rather than visiting an ecclesiastical museum. The most important thing is to prepare the congregation well, either teaching the tune before the service, giving a full introduction, or having the first verse sung by a soloist or choir.

28.  Thy mercy, Lord, is in the heavens (Psalm 36)
36, 37.  God is our refuge and our strength (Psalm 46)
159.  Lord, for the years
161.  O God, our help in ages past
192.  All my hope on God is founded
217.  God of day and God of darkness
290.  The race that long in darkness pined (Isaiah 9:2-7)
303.  It came upon the midnight clear
330.  The tyrant issues his decree (Matthew 2:16-18)
341.  Blest are they, the poor in spirit (Matthew 5:3-12)
456.  Christ is the world’s true light
473.  ‘Thy kingdom come!’ - on bended knee
528.  Make me a channel of your peace
580.  Abide with me
694.  Brother, sister, let me serve you
706.  For the healing of the nations
707.  Healing river of the Spirit
708.  O Lord, the clouds are gathering
710.  ‘I have a dream’, a man once said
712.  What shall we pray for those who died
713.  Come, all who look to God today

Short songs which could be used as chants
275.  Come now, O Prince of peace
754.  Be still and know
755.  Be still and know
776.  Kyrie eleison (Lord, have mercy)
777.  Kyrie eleison (Lord, have mercy)
781.  Lord, have mercy
784. Come light, light of God

Songs from other sources
In a world where people walk in darkness. Lyrics, tune can be found in Common Praise and Ancient and Modern: Hymns and Songs.

This is my song, O God of all the nations. Lyrics, tune (Finlandia) can be found in CH4. There is a great arrangement by Marty Haugen with an extra verse by Susan Briehl available from GIA.

We turn to you, O God of every nation. Lyrics, tune (Intercessor) can be found in CH4.

For those who are looking for materials for choirs, the Royal School of Church Music have produced a resource for their Young Voices Festivals which is this year based around the WWI centenary. The book is entitled “We will remember them” and at only £25 for a book and accompanying CD (which gives you a licence to photocopy material for your singers) may prove a worthwhile investment. While it is intended for use at the services they hold across the country and is written from the perspective of younger choirs in Anglican churches there is much in here which may be of more general use. It contains a mixture of anthems, hymns, prayers, readings and poems. The anthems are well written for younger singers and could be adapted for church choirs looking for attractive arrangements in unison or simple parts (often canonic). They cover a range of styles and difficulties so there is something here to suit every choir. Perhaps the main problem with using these in church choirs rather than youth choirs would be the range, with F and G at the top of the treble clef being easier notes for younger singers to reach than an average amateur soprano. However, there is nothing that could not be solved by some judicious transposition of the accompaniment down a second or a third.