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Why and how should we sing interculturally?

This article originally appeared as a part of the Mennonite Church USA series on Voices Together, a new worship and song collection coming fall 2020 from MennoMedia, in partnership with Mennonite Church USA and Mennonite Church Canada.

By Katie Graber

The Voices Together collection will include songs and worship resources in over 40 languages. This diversity represents over two dozen languages used in Mennonite congregations in North America, plus many more by Anabaptist and other Christian groups worldwide. It includes languages no longer spoken today, such as Latin and ancient Greek, that represent the history of the Church.

There are many reasons, both material and symbolic, to include all these languages. Voices Together is primarily an English collection, but it will also resource bilingual and multilingual congregations, as well as regional and national gatherings where native speakers of a variety of languages gather. Even if a congregation only speaks English, they likely have relationships with people around the world through relatives, friends, service and mission workers, or sister churches. English-speaking congregations can celebrate those connections, observe world events, and learn about other cultures through worship in many languages.

Intercultural worship is a tangible sign that guests and members do not need to speak or worship in a particular way in order to belong.

It is worship in which different cultures are experienced, exchanged, engaged and, most importantly, respected. Holding intercultural worship as an expression of relationship rather than a novelty prioritizes hospitality, solidarity, and mutuality (for more on this, see Sandra Van Opstal, The Next Worship). Worship planners are encouraged to consider power dynamics when they incorporate songs and worship resources from cultures other than their own. There is no universally correct method, so planners and leaders should consider the specifics of their local communities. The Voices Together Worship Leader Edition will include further suggestions about how to incorporate multiple languages and address issues of cultures in worship; many resources are also available online (such as this article, “A Guide to Understanding and Avoiding Cultural Appropriation”). When predominantly European-American congregations choose to worship interculturally, developing an awareness of cultural appropriation will allow them to approach these concerns with humility, sincerity and sometimes repentance.

In order to gather songs beyond English and beyond European or Euro-American styles, the Mennonite Worship and Song Committee reached out to Mennonite and Anabaptist contacts across North America and around the world to ask about heart songs from many musical traditions. With the help of several additional volunteers, we also screened dozens of print songbooks: Mennonite World Conference songbooks since 1978, other denominational hymnals, and many more collections. Here is a selected list of sources:

Agape: Songs of Hope and Reconciliation, ed. Maggie Hamilton and Paivi Jussila (Lutheran World Federation, 2003)

African American Heritage Hymnal, ed. Delores Carpenter, Nolan E. Williams, Jr., et al (GIA Publications, 2001)

Chant Anabaptiste website (

Flor y Canto (3rd ed., Oregon Catholic Press, 2011)

For Everyone Born: Global Songs for an Emerging Church, ed. Jorge Lockward and Christopher Heckert (General Board of Global Ministries, 2008)

Gesangbuch der Mennoniten, ed. Ferdinand Friesen (Haus der Musik, Weisbaden, 2007)

Gesangbuch der Mennoniten (Faith and Life Press, 1965)

Global Praise vols. 1-3, ed S. T. Kimbrough, Jr. & Carlton R. Young (General Board of Global Ministries, 1996, 2000, and 2004)

Global Songs for Worship, ed. Greg Scheer and Norma de Waal Malefyt (Calvin Institute of Christian Worship and Faith Alive, 2010)

Global Songs, Local Voices: Songs of Faith and Liberation from around the World (Augsburg Fortress, 1995)

Global Songs 2: Bread for the Journey (Augsburg Fortress, 1997)

Halle, Halle: We Sing The World Round, ed. C. Michael Hawn (Choristers Guild, 1999)

Hosanna! Ecumenical Songs for Justice and Peace, ed. Andrew Donaldson (World Council of Churches, 2015)

Hymns from the Four Winds: A Collection of Asian American Hymns, ed. I-to Loh (Nashville: Abington, 1983)

Jesus Woodlą́ą́jí Sin: Navajo Hymns of Faith (Navajo Hymnal Conference, Inc., 1979)

Lead Me, Guide Me, ed. Robert J. Batastini et. al. (GIA Publications, 1987 and 2012)

Let the Asian Church Rejoice, ed.Loh, I-to, Mary Y. T. Gan, and Judith Laoyan-Mosomos (Methodist School of Music and Trinity Theological College, 2015)

Lift Every Voice and Sing II, ed. Horace Clarence Boyer (Church Publishing Inc., New York, 1993)

New Wine in Old Wineskins, 2 vols., ed. James Abbington (GIA Publications, 2007 and 2010)

Njalo (Always) A Collection of 16 Hymns in the African Tradition, by Patrick Matsikenyiri, ed. Dan Damon (Abingdon, 2006)

One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism: An African American Ecumenical Hymnal, ed. James Abbington et al (GIA Publications, 2018)

Oramos Cantando / We Pray in Song: A Bilingual Roman Catholic Hymnal, ed. Ronald Krisman, Robert Batastini, et al. (GIA Publications, 2014)

Santo, Santo, Santo / Holy, Holy, Holy, ed. Rebecca Snippe and María Cornou (GIA Publications, 2018)

Sing Freedom, ed. Margaret Hamilton (Novello, 1993)

Sing the Circle Wide, Inshallah Choir (Waterloo Lutheran Seminary, 2017)

Sound the Bamboo A Hymnal of World Music Gathered from the Christian Churches of Asia (Christian Conference of Asia, GIA Publications, 2000)

Tenzi Za Rohoni: Spiritual Songs, A Swahili Songbook (Musoma Press, Tanzania, 1968)

Thuma Mina: International Ecumenical Hymnbook, ed. Dieter Trautwein et al. (Basileia Verlag, 1995)

Tsese-Ma’heone-Nemeototse: Cheyenne Spiritual Songs, ed. David Graber (Northern Cheyenne Mennonite Churches, 1984)

Total Praise (GIA 2011)

Zion Still Sings, ed. Woodie W. White (Abingdon Press, 2007)


Katie Graber is an ethnomusicologist who studies race and ethnicity in a variety of contexts including Mennonite music, American music and European opera. She has taught classes on Western music history and world music, and she accompanies Suzuki recitals and school choirs. She leads singing at her church in Columbus, Ohio, and chairs the Intercultural Worship committee for the Voices Together project.

Posted on: January 30th, 2020 by Voices Together Hymnal