A good number of my liturgical compositions over the years have been “collaborations” with several, very talented, hymn text writers and poets; representing various Christian traditions. Here are 18 of my personal favorite contemporary text writers, who have not only served as the “inspiration” and grounding for so many of my own compositions, but who have been the same for many other liturgical composers as well. Obviously, everyone’s taste in terms of strong texts is subjective. Well, I am more than happy to share my “subjectivity” about these wonderful servants (many of them good friends of mine) in alphabetical order, who have been the creative spark behind words that I believe we have needed to pray and sing. (DH: 3.12.18)
Originally from England, Tony has lived in the US for many years, and as a former student of Bernard Huijbers, his music and texts reflect the same poetic punch that we get from Bernard’s partner for all those years, Huub Oosterhuis. After living in Oregon and Illinois for many years serving in parish ministry, he is now doing research near St. John’s Univeristy in Collegeville, Minnesota, to help create a permanent archive and home for the music of Huijbers and others from the Netherlands. Tony has been active also, in rendering more accurate translations of the “Dutch” school of composers, such as Huijbers, Lowenthal, and others. You can explore many of Tony’s creative approaches to composition, especially in terms of texts by going to his webpage for Jabulani Music. https://www.slmusic.org/vendor/jabulani/
Mary Louise Bringle
Mary Louise (Mel) Bringle is Professor of Philosophy and Religious Studies and chair of the Humanities Division at Brevard College (Brevard, NC). A teacher at heart and a theologian by training (with a Ph.D. from Emory University and an assortment of publications in pastoral theology), she began writing hymn texts in 1999. Since that time, she has won a number of international hymn writing competitions and been featured as an “emerging text writer” by The Hymn Society in the US and Canada. GIA has published two single-author collections of her hymns (Joy and Wonder, Love and Longing in 2002, and In Wind and Wonder in 2007), as well as anthems written in collaboration with composers like William Rowan, Sally Morris, and others. Her texts and translations are included in publications from numerous denominations, including Roman Catholic, Mennonite, Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, Episcopalian, United Church of Canada, and Church of Scotland. She is a former president of the Hymn Society in the United States and Canada, and was head of the hymnal committee for the recently released hymnal for the Presbyterian Church, Glory to God.
I have been thrilled to have set several of Mel’s texts to music. Some of those pieces are my musical settings of her texts, such as Pray through Us, Holy Spirit and We Will Rise Up and Follow. Many other well-known liturgical composers have utilized her texts such as Lori True (Who is the Alien?, Light a Candle, and We Wait with Wakeful Care), Tony Alonso, Marty Haugen and others.
A member of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America and a life-long resident of Minnesota, Herbert, who died in 2009, was a very creative and sometimes, controversial character in church music. His 60-some years of ministry began with pastorates in The American Lutheran Church (ALC), wrote more than 50 books and numerous hymns. Four of those hymns (including “Earth and All Stars”) are in the Synod’s Lutheran Worship hymnal, as well as hymnals by GIA and other publishers. Among musicians Dr. Brokering worked with were Dr. Carl Schalk, distinguished professor of music emeritus at Concordia University Chicago, and jazz musician Dave Brubeck. Together, he and Schalk wrote the hymn “Thine the Amen, Thine the Praise.” “Beloved Son,” a jazz cantata linked to the life of Jesus that he wrote with Brubeck, was recorded at Abbey Road studios in 2005, featuring the London Symphony Orchestra and the Dave Brubeck Quartet.
His texts always moved outside the usual envelope – and Earth and All Stars demonstrates this with his references to “loud boiling test tubes,” “loud humming cellos,” “athlete and band,” and “loud cheering people.” Personally, I love these images, so much so that I set this piece to music myself, under the title God Has Done Marvelous Things that also became the title piece for that 1997 collaboration I did with Leon Roberts.
A well-known liturgical composer, one of the aspects of Rory’s writing that stands out for me and for so many, is amazing gift for crafting prophetic words to fill up our sung prayer. Take some time to look at some of his texts (too many to mention altogether), like Canticle of the Turning, Come to Me, Come to Us; The Servant Song; Up From the Earth; To You Who Bow; Safety Harbor, Every Morning in Your Eyes; Walk in the Reign, The Bread of Life, Trumpet in the Morning … the litany of powerful poetic settings keeps filling up. Rory is a life-long learner, always studying and probing the cutting edges of theology and spirituality, and his texts reflect this deep well, resulting in texts that can, yes, help us to pray, but also – that stretch our minds beyond the usual spiritual rooms that we walk around in. Rory has a great website and blog, where you can catch a lot of the background of his texts, as well as his music, and his unique and challenging insights into various aspects of scripture, theology, and the liturgical seasons:
Like Tony Barr, Tom also was very influenced by the compositional work of Bernard Huijbers and Huub Oosterhuis, and his elemental music wedded together with sharp, direct, and sometimes biting images, have challenged our minds and praying hearts – which is why, sadly, a lot of his music is not used on a regular basis. This music should be, in my opinion. We all know his song Ashes, but there is so much more to explore, songs like I Shall See God, Anthem, Lord, to Whom Shall We Go?, You Have Written Your Song, Your Word is Like Fire, All People Here Who Remember, I Will Not Die, Roll Away the Stone, The River Will Rise, Born Today, and so many more. His music is/was with OCP Publications, and I wish OCP would keep more of his work in print. We need to hear his voice. Tom has not been involved with liturgical music in recent years, presently serving as a teacher in the Portland, Oregon area.
The issue of language that is fair and just is still a crucial concern for those who worship in the vernacular. Especially in the United States, people passionately are committed to developing a language whose style and tone is as reverent as it is relevant. One of the leaders in this movement is Ruth Duck, professor of worship at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary in Evanston, Illinois. Her powerful texts have emerged as the major part of the cutting edge of language that speaks of God in universal terms and in poetry that is as poignant as it is stoic. GIA has published two collections of her texts, Dancing in the Universe and Welcome God’s Tomorrow, as well as many other books on the issues surrounding congregational worship. Before coming to Garrett in 1989, she served as pastor at United Church of Christ parishes in Illinois, Wisconsin, and Massachusetts. Her undergraduate work was done at Southwestern-at-Memphis University, which is now called Rhodes College. She holds two master’s degrees–one from Chicago Theological Seminary and one from the University of Notre Dame. Her doctorate in theology was earned at Boston University. Her academic credentials are weighty ones and balance beautifully with her pastoral experience dealing with the everyday tasks as the spiritual leader of a parish community.
Many of her texts have become quite popular and appear in various hymnals, such as Healing River of the Spirit, As a Fire is Meant for Burning, Moved by the Gospel, Let us Move; and Diverse in Culture, Nation Race. Both Rob Glover and Marty Haugen have provided contrasting settings of her text, Abundant Life, and Lori True’s rendering of Ruth’s Build Us a Table has become quite popular. I also have set several of her texts to music, my two favorites being In Christ Called to Worship and my folk-song version of I Will Give You Rest
The texts of Anglican Bishop Dudley-Smith were among the very first hymn texts that I came across, and that inspired me to bring them to music, especially, Song of the Stable (Chill of the Nightfall), and As Water to the Thirsty. As a hymn writer, he has published c. 400 hymn texts (no music, but many to well-known tunes) originally in four single-author collections, now out of print, but subsumed into a larger collected edition, in two parts, A House of Praise (1961-2001: 2003; 2002-2013: 2015) from the Oxford University Press. Many of his hymn text collections can be found from Hope Publishing. Many such hymns appear in published hymnals throughout the English-speaking world and in translation. He is an honorary vice-president of the Hymn Society of Great Britain and Ireland, a Fellow of the Hymn Society in the United States and Canada, and a Fellow of the Royal School of Church Music. In 2003 he was awarded an OBE ‘for services to hymnody’, and in 2009 an honorary Doctor of Divinity (DD) from the University of Durham.
Delores Dufner, OSB
Sister Delores Dufner, OSB, is a member of St. Benedict’s Monastery in St. Joseph, Minnesota, a Benedictine women’s community of about 320 members. She holds Master’s Degrees in Liturgical Music and Liturgical Studies, and is an active member of, and occasional presenter for, The Hymn Society in the United States and Canada, the National Association of Pastoral Musicians, and the Benedictine Musicians of the Americas. I first came to know Sister Delores while she was full-time director of the Office of Worship for the Diocese of St. Cloud, Minnesota from 1979-1989. She subsequently worked as a liturgical music consultant for the Diocese of Ballarat, Victoria in southeast Australia for fifteen months. Since then she has been writing hymn and motet texts which have a broad ecumenical appeal and are contracted or licensed by 34 publishers in the United States, Canada, Great Britain, and Australia. In 1994 Sing a New Church, a collection of forty-eight of her hymn texts set to public domain melodies, was published by Oregon Catholic Press. She has three collections of texts with GIA: The Glimmer of Glory in Song, And Every Breath, A Song; and most recently, Criers of Splendor.
Sister Delores has received more than thirty commissions to write hymn and motet texts for special occasions and needs. In June of 2002 she was one of four recipients of the Spirit and Truth Award granted by the Notre Dame Center for Pastoral Liturgy in recognition of her leadership and vision in the ongoing renewal of Catholic liturgy. On July 29, 2005, she will receive the Fr. Lawrence Heiman Citation for outstanding contributions in the area of church music and liturgy at the Summer Commencement Exercises in Rensselaer, Indiana. If the only text she ever created was Sing A New Church, that would been enough – but we have so much more from her creative hand. We are blest.
Born in 1955, Sylvia Dunstan attributed her love of song to her grandparents, who kept song alive in the family and entrusted Sylvia’s formal musical education to one of the nuns at the local convent. Sylvia began writing songs in the early seventies and soon after met Sister Miriam Theresa Winter, who encouraged her to write songs based on Scripture. Sylvia eventually realized that her talents did not lie with the music and concentrated instead on the lyrics. She was further shepherded and encouraged by Alan Barthel. Her bachelor’s degree was earned from York University, and she received graduate degrees in theology and divinity from Emmanuel College, Toronto. In 1980, she was ordained by the Hamilton Conference of the United Church of Canada. During her career she served as a minister, a prison chaplain, and editor of a Canadian worship resource journal, Gathering.
In the summer of 1990 she was invited to lead the annual conference of the Hymn Society in the U.S. and Canada in a session exploring her hymnody. That exposure led to the publication of In Search of Hope and Grace. A smaller collection Where the Promise Shines was published after her death in 1994. Many of her hymn texts have been set by contemporary composers. For me personally, her texts have truly inspired tunes from my hand, including settings that I have matched with Song of the Temptation, The Tomb Is Empty, Song of the Transfiguration, and several others. Sylvia died on July 25, 1993, almost four months after being diagnosed with liver cancer. She left behind a ministry that combined a compassionate concern for the needy and distraught with a consuming love of liturgy.
I am sure that almost everyone reading these words know of Michael’s tremendous contributions to liturgical music, and while gifted at crafting exquisite melodies, his texts touch the heart as well. There are too many pieces to mention, but some of the outstanding texts of his that come to mind for me include Song of the Lord’s Supper, A Christmas Carol (Stars Flung Like Diamonds) and his two recent major contributions to hymn texts to echo the three-year lectionary cycle, Withing Our Hearts Be Born and We Contemplate the Mystery, both published by OCP Publications. More for this series are being developed, and the praying Church will continue to be enriched by this huge project. Michael’s texts reveal his genius at articulating theology, spirituality, scripture and preaching into a single whole.
Shirley Erena Murray
I have employed Shirley’s texts quite often over the years, my personal favorites being Child of Joy and Peace, The Music of Creation, and Welcome as a Child of God. Born in Invercargill, New Zealand in 1931, her texts have appeared in more than 100 collections worldwide and have been translated into several languages. She has been an editor with the New Zealand Hymnbook Trust and received international acclaim for her writing, including being made a Fellow of the Royal School of Church Music (2006) and becoming a Member of the NZ Order of Merit (2001) for services to the community through hymn writing. She is the first citizen to be so honored. Most recently, she has been honored by the Hymn Society in the United States and Canada at its July 2009 annual conference by being named a Fellow of the Society in recognition of her contributions as a hymn writer to the international community of congregational song. Also, in 2009, she was awarded the title of Honorary Doctor of Literature (D.Litt.) from the University of Otago.
Shirley has been the Erik Routley Fellow (PCUSA) in 1996 and her hymns have been included in the worship of the World Council of Churches’ Assemblies. Many of my colleagues have been intoxicated by her texts as well, the most well-known probably being Lori True’s exuberant setting of A Place at the Table. Her hymns and carols (published by Hope Publishing) address a wide spectrum of themes ranging from the seasons of the Church year to human rights, care of creation, women’s concerns and above all, peace. Methodist by upbringing, and ecumenical by persuasion, she has spent most of her life as a Presbyterian. She is married to a former Moderator of the Presbyterian Church of NZ, the Very Rev. John Stewart Murray. They have three sons and six grandchildren, and now live in active retirement at Raumati Beach, near Wellington.
Oosterhuis was a Dutch theologian and poet. He is mainly known for his contribution to Christian music and liturgy in the Dutch language, used in both Protestant and Roman Catholic churches, although a few songs have been censored in some dioceses. He was the author of over 60 books and at the time of over 700 hymns, songs, Psalms (often in an own interpretation), and prayers.
In 1954, inspired by Che Guevara who said that churches have the potential to transform the social structure of society, Oosterhuis combined his priesthood with political activism. In 1965, Oosterhuis became one of the major supporters of ecumenism, following the modernist interpretation of the Second Vatican Council. He started out to rewrite the liturgy and make it acceptable to all. Some of his changes were considered controversial within the Roman Catholic Church especially writing the prayer for agnostics: “Heer, als U bestaat, kom dan onder ons” (“Lord, if You exist, come amongst us”). His political views, conflicts regarding the liturgy and unorthodox views regarding priestly celibacy led to Oosterhuis being dismissed from the Jesuit order in 1969.[He left the Catholic Church and functioned as an Independent Catholic priest, in charge of a church in Amsterdam, for about forty years. He is probably best known for his work in the sixties and seventies when his liturgical texts were put to music by his fellow former Jesuit Bernard Huijbers (1922–2003), with collaborative song-prayers such as Hold Me in Life, When From Our Exile, Even Then, Our Help, Song of All Seed, and Why Stand Staring?
Fred Pratt Green
The name of the Rev. F. Pratt Green is one of the best-known of the contemporary school of hymnwriters in the British Isles. His name and writings appear in practically every new hymnal and “hymn supplement” wherever English is spoken and sung. And now they are appearing in American hymnals, poetry magazines, and anthologies. Mr. Green was born in Liverpool, England, in 1903. Ordained in the British Methodist ministry, he has been pastor and district superintendent in Brighton and York, and now served in Norwich. There he continued to write new hymns “that fill the gap between the hymns of the first part of this century and the ‘far-out’ compositions that have crowded into some churches in the last decade or more.”
Green’s text, At Evening, was the first contemporary hymn text that I ever set to music. Another favorite of mine, where the words still haunt me every time I sing it, is my hymn setting of his He Healed the Darkness of My Mind. But he is most assuredly known most, for his iconic text – a sort of anthem for all involved with liturgical music, When in Our Music God is Gloried.
Well-known for his hymn text, Lord, You Gave the Great Commission, Rowthorn is a Welsh retired Anglican bishop and hymnographer. His early career was spent in parish ministry in the Diocese of Southwark and the Diocese of Oxford of the Church of England. He then moved to the United States where he worked at two seminaries: Union Theological Seminary in New York City, and Berkeley Divinity School in New Haven, Connecticut. He was elected a bishop in the Episcopal Church, serving as a suffragan bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Connecticut from 1987 to 1994, and as Bishop in Charge of the Convocation of Episcopal Churches in Europe from 1994 to 2001.
He has published two collections of hymn texts, and while I have set to music only one of his texts – it is one of my favorites: Creating God.
Adam M. L. Tice
Tice was born in western Pennsylvania, and grew up in Alabama, Oregon, and Indiana. After graduating from high school in Elkhart, Indiana, Adam studied at Goshen College, a Mennonite liberal arts school. He majored in music with an emphasis on composition and completed a minor in Bible and religion, graduating in 2002. Adam took his first course at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary in the fall of 2003, which led to the writing of his initial hymn text. Four years later (including a year-long interlude as a full time marionette puppeteer) Adam graduated with a Master of the Arts in Christian Formation with an emphasis on worship.
In 2004 Adam was named a Lovelace Scholar by the Hymn Society of the United States and Canada. From 2007 to 2010 he served as a member of the Society’s Executive Committee. He began a term as Editor of the Society’s journal in 2018. Adam served as Associate Pastor of Hyattsville Mennonite Church in Hyattsville, Maryland, (just outside of Washington, DC) from 2007 to 2012, and is ordained for ministry in Mennonite Church USA. He regularly leads workshops, presents, and leads singing at conferences and events locally and nationally. In 2016 he was named text editor for the Mennonite Worship and Song Committee. In addition to his church-related work, he is music director of the male-voice choral ensemble, The Open Fifths.
Adam’s hymns appear in many recent hymnals and supplements, as well as in numerous choral settings. Several have been translated into Spanish, Japanese, Dutch, and Swedish. I have set music to many of his texts, including: God Grant This Suffering Soul Release, In Simple Signs, Christ is There, Love is the Song, and most recently, What Can I Leave Behind. Other liturgical composers who have been drawn to Adam’s texts include Lori True, Tony Alonso, Marty Haugen, Sally Ann Morris, Benjamin Brody, and Dan Kantor.
Tom Troeger has written twenty books in the fields of preaching, poetry, hymnody and worship, is a frequent contributor to journals dedicated to these topics, and is a monthly columnist for Lectionary Homiletics and The American Organist. His most recent books include Wonder Reborn: Preaching on Hymns, Music and Poetry; God, You Made All Things for Singing: Hymn texts, anthems, and poems for a new millennium; So that All Might Know: Preaching that Engages the Whole Congregation (with Edward Everding); Preaching While the Church Is Under Reconstruction; Above the Moon Earth Rises: Hymn Texts, Anthems and Poems for a New Creation. A creator of provocative texts, he is arguably most recognized as the text writer of the hymn, Silence! Frenzied, Unclean Spirit.
He is also a flutist and a poet whose work appears in the hymnals of most denominations and is frequently set as choral anthems. For three years Tom hosted the Season of Worship broadcast for Cokesbury, and he has led conferences and lectureships in worship and preaching throughout North America, as well as in Denmark, Holland, Australia, Japan, and Africa. Ordained in the Presbyterian Church in 1970 and in the Episcopal Church in 1999, he is dually aligned with both traditions. He has served as national chaplain to the American Guild of Organists and is a former president of the Academy of Homiletics (the North American guild of scholars in homiletics) and the immediate past president of Societas Homiletica (the international guild of scholars in homiletics). He was awarded an honorary D.D. degree from Virginia Theological Seminary. Professor Troeger is a fellow of Silliman College.
Rev. Dr. Jaroslav J. Vajda was born in Lorain, Ohio, on April 28, 1919. He studied at Concordia College in Fort Wayne, Indiana, and Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, Missouri, where he received the bachelor of arts degree in 1941 and the bachelor of divinity degree in 1944. After serving several Lutheran parishes, Pastor Vajda was named editor of Concordia Publishing House’s This Day magazine in 1963. From 1971 until his retirement in 1986, he served as book developer and editor at Concordia Publishing House.
Vajda came to prominence as a hymnwriter with his hymn “Now the Silence,” which first appeared in Worship Supplement (CPH, 1969). This has to be one of my favorite hymn texts of all time. His hymns and translations, biblically rooted and rich in imagery, number more than 200 and can be found in nearly 50 hymnals of various Christian denominations worldwide. In recognition of his significant contributions to the world of Christian hymnody, Vajda was named a Fellow of The Hymn Society in the United States and Canada. He also received an honorary doctorate degree from his alma mater, Concordia Seminary, in 2007. In 2001, Concordia Publishing House acquired the rights to Vajda’s hymns and translations in order to preserve this important body of work for many generations to come. The complete collection of his hymns, Sing Peace, Sing Gift of Peace, was published by Concordia Publishing House in 2003. His hymns and translations can also be found in Lutheran Worship (CPH, 1982), Hymnal Supplement 98 (CPH, 1998), and Lutheran Service Book (CPH, 2006). He passed away in 2008.
There are two wonderful collections of his texts available from Morning Star Music Publishers (Now the Joyful Celebration and So Much to Sing About). I have created music for two of his texts, a baptism song, This Child of Ours, and a Christmas proclamation, The Encounter (“Where Shepherds Lately Knelt”).
Brian is an internationally published hymn-poet and writer. Wren’s hymns appear in hymnals of all Christian traditions and have been influential in raising the awareness of theology in hymns. He has written a number of hymns, books, and articles focused around worship. His hymns are published and used around the world in a variety of hymnals. Wren has published seven hymn collections totaling 250 hymns, as well as collections of worship songs for congregations, which was created with his partner-in-marriage Rev. Susan Heafield. He was the runner up in the international Millennium Hymn Competition awarded in February at St Paul’s Cathedral, London, and his hymn Hidden Christ, Alive For Ever was sung at St Paul’s on January 9, 2000 as part of the Cathedral’s ‘Millennium gift to the nation.’
Brian has been a strong proponent of the view that hymns are poetry and theology, instead of simply music. He has stated, “a hymn is a poem, and a poem is a visual art form. The act of reading a hymn aloud helps to recover its poetry and its power to move us—the power of language, image, metaphor, and faith-expression.” It is through this power that he defined theology, in his book Praying Twice: The Music and Words of Congregational Song, as “done when anyone attempts, by artistic skill and creativity, the interplay of intellect and imagination, and/or the methods of reasoned enquiry, to grasp, know and understand the meaning of God’s creating, self-disclosing and liberating activity centered and uniquely focused in Jesus Christ.” A major part of Wren’s work has been with inclusive language as well. In 1978, he began to look more closely at “he-man language” and began using language inclusive of women and oppressed or subordinate groups in his hymns. He has since sought to challenge the church to adopt this inclusive mindset. He writes that the vocation of a poet in the church is to not only “to write poems of faith which people will pick up and sing,” but to also “speak truth by stepping beyond the church’s limits of comfort and convention.”
As a liturgical composer, I have found Brian’s text to truly speak to me, and I have several hymn settings that are of his texts, such as How Shall I Sing to God, Wonder of Wonders, Christ is Risen! Shout Hosanna; and most recently, Will You Come and See the Light?