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Zion Still Sings! celebrates music across generations


Cynthia Wilson leads singing to celebrate the new songbook Zion Still Sings! For Every Generation, unveiled Jan. 18. A UMNS photo by Linda Green. 









A UMNS Report by Linda Green*

Jan.31, 2007 | NASHVILLE, Tenn. (UMNS)

A quarter of a century ago, The United Methodist Church was introduced to a songbook celebrating the musical heritage of the African American church.

Songs of Zion reflected black heritage and traditions and the contemporary black experience during a time when the denomination's hymnal carried only one hymn composed by an African American and five spirituals labeled American folk hymns.

Sales expectations were low when printed in 1981, but a healthy reception by United Methodists and the ecumenical church led the United Methodist Publishing House, through its Abingdon Press, to reprint the book, which is still available and in use today.

Now a little more than 25 years later, the Publishing House has produced Zion Still Sings! For Every Generation, a follow-up resource that captures the changing musical dynamics of African American worship and song. The new congregational hymn collection emphasizes new contemporary songs of praise and worship.


The Rev. Myron McCoy 

The book was unveiled Jan. 18 as members of United Methodist congregations across Nashville joined staff members of the Publishing House in a song-filled celebration.

Scheduled for release in May, Zion Still Sings! seeks "to bridge from the content of Songs of Zion into the present age," said Myron McCoy, the songbook's general editor. It will "enrich and enliven the whole body of Christ."

The book will sell for $12, with an accompaniment edition priced at $55. It contains 250 songs - 80 percent of which is new music copyrighted since 1981 - and includes specially commissioned pieces.

According to the songbook's editorial committee, this is among the first collections to include contemporary black church music from genres never before included in Christian songbooks. It pulls from African American spirituals, black gospel, traditional hymns, 21st century hymns, urban rap and hip hop.

The songbook's title "reflects a belief that congregational singing is not a relic of the past but an essential element of vital worship even today and tomorrow," said McCoy, who is also president of United Methodist-related Saint Paul School of Theology in Kansas City, Mo.


Pamela Reed praises God while singing
at the celebration. A UMNS photo
by Linda Green.

The book is an "offering for not just the black church but the whole United Methodist Church, the whole Christian church," said the Rev. Gennifer Brooks, an assistant professor at United Methodist-related Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary in Evanston, Ill.

The resource is a reminder that the music of the church "must speak to the seasoned saints and the positional youngest confessors of the faith, both now and in the future," McCoy added.

All generations, Brooks said, are called to sing the songs of Zion, which tell stories of faith and "tell of the freedom we have in Christ, not just from the past but who God is for now and who God promises to be forever."

Developed by musicians, pastors, educators and worship leaders, Zion Still Sings! carries worshipers and seekers "from a place where God has redeemed us and brought us into freedom" - and takes us on a musical journey to today, Brooks said.

The Rev. William B. McClain, a professor at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington and the coordinator of original Songs of Zion project, said the new songbook aims to "intentionally reach the unchurched and the de-churched."


Marilyn Thornton sings a selection from the new songbook Zion Still Sings! For Every Generation. A UMNS photo
by Linda Green.

At the unveiling, the book's music editor, Marilyn Thornton, joined Cynthia Wilson, minister of music at Ray of Hope Church in Atlanta, to lead the musical celebration.

Thornton, who is editor for African American resources at the Publishing House, said that while the collection is rooted in the history, culture and practice of African American churches, it will connect the whole church by promoting understanding of the black experience. It also opens the door to people who have felt disenfranchised from church life.

Rap music, which has not been included in Christian songbooks to date, is part of Zion Still Sings! to expand the reach of the worship experience. "Christian rap is a method of pulling in those people who are currently unconnected to Christian practice. It is helping them to see that the message can be delivered in a way they can understand, touches where they are in life," Thornton said.

"We wanted to be inclusive of all the generations."

Diane Maloney, the music director at Seay Hubbard United Methodist Church in Nashville, said the songbook is going to be a "great addition to the repertoire of my church's music." The songs "reflect a vibrancy that crosses generations and will reach all people," she said.

The book will be available through Cokesbury Bookstores or online at www.abingdonpress.com.

*Green is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in Nashville, Tenn.

News media contact: Linda Green, (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

Video Highlights

The Rev. Cynthia Wilson: "It's a continuum."

The Rev. Myron McCoy: "The church must continue to reinvent itself."

The Rev. Gennifer Brooks: "The songs of Zion are not just about the past."

Sample music: "Glory, Glory, Hallelujah"

related articles

New songbook will offer contemporary, diverse mix

Songs of Zion opened doors for 'songs of soul and soil'

African-American songbook 'preparing heart and soul' for worship


Cokesbury: Songs of Zion

United Methodist Publishing House

The Africana Worship Book

21st Century Africana Liturgy Resources

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