The point is not the song (your average congregation is not a top-notch choir) but rather the Giver of song, who in his kindness and wisdom has given us music, and by whose gift we share in Creation’s song of praise. In this month’s Common Ground, we’re asking: What is this singing life of the Church? Why do Christians sing? And what does it mean to sing in the midst of suffering?
Wryly observant, funny and grateful, Mark Edgecombe’s “All my life singing” opens the way. His personal essay takes it all in: family song, rugby chants, singing in public, Elvis’s “Mystery Train” and the dawn chorus. André Muller is more direct: “Why do Christians Sing?”, he asks, hazarding the obvious question. His answer is worth a read. In our Field Notes interview Jannah Dennison speaks with Ryan Lang about how he came to write “Songs in the Night”, a thesis exploring the song of God’s people across the centuries. It’s fascinating conversation with a thoughtful, humble and joyful man. Alongside of these, Hannah Chapman tells the story of “E Pā to Hau”, a mōteatea (lament) of Ngāti Apakura still treasured today by Tūwharetoa.
Plans for this issue of Common Ground were already well underway before Northland and Auckland were inundated by flooding, a catastrophe soon compounded by Cyclone Gabrielle, which has caused so much destruction across Te Ika-a-Māui. Further afield, Turkey and Syria have been devastated by hugely violent quakes. To write about singing and the song of the Church at this time might seem thoughtless at best; until, that is, we recall that the song of God’s people has always been found in the darkest of places. So much has been true even this past week, where God’s people have turned to song and worship in the midst of Gabrielle’s aftermath. So much is affirmed by all our writers.
Nevertheless, we have also decided the impact of recent events called for special attention. In April last year, Sonya Lewthwaite wrote a lead article on how, when we’re faced with the overwhelming pain of others and of the world, God calls us to share in Christ’s intercession, into “the difficult and privileged work of prayer”. Now, on the first anniversary of Russia’s ongoing war on Ukraine, we republish her article here as “The pain of others and the call to prayer”. As you join with God’s people in song, lament, and in prayer, may her words be an encouragement and help.
Finally, it’s with sadness and gratitude that I note this issue is Olivia Witney’s last edition of Common Ground. Liv has played a key role in delivering this magazine, along with our other publications. As she leaves Venn for a new season, I want to thank her for all she has done to develop and produce new print and digital resources, including this magazine.
Ngā mihi nui,
Dr John Dennison,
Editor, Common Ground.