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Musical Resources for Services Marking Transitions in Ministry

Phillip Morgan

Phillip Morgan is the director of music at Central Presbyterian Church in Louisville, Kentucky, and the music editor for the annual Lectionary Companion issue of Call to Worship.

Milestones and celebrations in ministry play an important role in the worship lives of church communities. Services of ordination and installation, services of commissioning and occasions marking the conclusion of ministry in a particular context are joyful times in the life of a religious community, and thoughtful liturgy aids the fulfillment of our chief end of praising and glorifying God forever. The 2018 Book of Common Worship provides such liturgies for these and other occasions for ministry in the church. I believe that music further enhances and heightens the experience of worship. In reflecting on the commentary and liturgy provided in the Book of Common Worship, I hope to offer some suggestions for accompanying those rich and meaningful liturgies with music.

The Directory for Worship offers these words on the Service of Ordination:

In Baptism each Christian is called to ministry in Christ’s name. God calls some persons from the midst of congregations to fulfill particular functions, so that the ministry of the whole people of God may flourish. In ordination the church sets apart with prayer and the laying on of hands those who have been called by God through the voice of the church to serve as deacons, ruling elders, and ministers of Word and Sacrament.1

Congregational song, as part of the gathered body’s prayer, plays a significant and memorable role in services of ordination and installation for those being ordained to ministry in the church and for those who gather to affirm their call and join in prayer for the newly ordained and/or installed. These are life-changing rituals, and the music we choose to accompany them continue to remind us of the moment when God’s call was fully answered in our lives. There is no shortage of hymns from which to choose in Glory to God. The Book of Common Worship suggests that the hymns and songs found in the “Dedication and Stewardship” and “Discipleship and Mission” sections of the hymnal are especially suitable for services of ordination and installation. The collection of sixty hymns found on pages 688–748 of the hymnal are both familiar and new, widely-encompassing in style, and represent a wide range of cultures and traditions. Still, with many so well-loved choices available to us in our denominational source for hymns, psalms, and spiritual songs, new congregational songs continue to emerge, and expanding that body of music in public worship can be so meaningful in the life of a congregation. Often, newly composed hymns are great gifts both to a congregation and those being ordained. In that spirit I offer as a resource three relatively new hymn texts.
“Called and Gifted for Christ’s Service” is a text written as a gift for friends of hymn writer David Bjorlin in 2017. The text, published in his collection Protest of Praise, is a beautiful reminder that we are all called to ministry and that some are called to particular service. Each stanza contains language evoking the spirit of community in our individual roles in ministry. The last stanza has especially moving poetry recalling traditions of ordination services—laying on of hands, kneeling, praying for the presence of the Holy Spirit, and receiving stoles. The text is paired with hymn to joy.

“Called and Gifted for Christ’s Service”
Meter: 8 7 8 7 D

Called and gifted for Christ’s service,
set apart by God’s design
to proclaim in word and witness
love—disruptive and divine.
Not to stand in prideful priv’lege,
or to sit in judgment’s seat;
but to kneel in simple kindness
humbly washing neighbors’ feet.

Called to tell God’s ceaseless story
written on the hallowed page,
ancient truths of love and justice
newly grasped in ev’ry age.
Words proclaiming Christ among us,
Word made flesh, salvation’s theme,
words creating worlds of wonder
where we live and move and dream.

Called to share the signs of heaven:
oil and water, wine and bread—
gifts of God’s own self that keep us
sealed and sated, washed and fed.
Common things and common people
here transfigured by God’s grace,
shaped into the Christ we worship,
formed as one in love’s embrace.

Called and claimed by word and symbol,
passed through hist’ry, hand to hand,
now receive the Spirit’s myst’ry:
gift both promise and demand.
Yoked to Christ and one another,
kneel before the Source of all.
Let us stand in adoration;
let us go and live our call.

“Called and Gifted for Christ’s Service”
Text by David Bjorlin, © 2020 GIA Publications, Inc.
Reproduced by permission of GIA Publications, Inc. Any further reproduction requires permission from the publisher.
For congregational reprint licensing, contact ONE LICENSE,

Mary Louise Bringle’s “From Our Mothers’ Wombs, You Know Us,” included in her 2007 collection In Wind and Wonder, was written for the 2005 ordination of Rev. Meg Flannagan, who has also contributed her ideas on music related to ministry in this issue as the “On Music” columnist. In the published collection Bringle offers this note:

I received a request from a young woman anticipating her entry into Christian ministry in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) for a hymn to be sung at her service of ordination—but one with an unusual leitmotif: a hymn that would honor all those who minister by virtue of the grace of their baptism, whether or not our denominational governing bodies will yet permit them to be ordained. The resulting text—which can also be used for the installation of church officers or the dedication of Sunday School teachers—honors the fact that once we are bathed in the waters of baptism, God has sealed each one of use for special service within the family of faith.2

The text, originally paired with a hymn also composed for the service, finds a new partner in the GIA collection with blaenwern, a Welsh hymn tune composed in 1905 by William P. Rowlands. The tune is most often associated in the United Kingdom with the text “Love Divine, All Loves Excelling.” Other tunes that seem suitable and may be more familiar to an American congregation are ABBOT’S LEIGHT and BEACH SPRING.

“From Our Mothers’ Wombs, You Know Us”. Text by Mary Louise Bringle, © 2006 GIA Publications, Inc.
Reproduced by permission of GIA Publications, Inc. Any further reproduction requires
permission from the publisher.
For congregational reprint licensing, contact ONE LICENSE,

Written in 2021 as part of denominational resources for the Year of Leader Formation, David Gambrell’s “Each Christian Has a Calling” is a wonderful new option for services of ordination and installation. The first and last stanzas sing broadly of all Christians’ call, while the middle three stanzas speak to the specific vocation of deacons, elders, and minsters of Word and Sacrament, in that order. Further enhancing this idea of collective ministry with individual calling is how Gambrell sets the tune musically with each stanza in unison and a refrain of “Together, as Christ’s body . . .” sung after each stanza in harmony. He accomplishes this in his newly composed CALLING, a 6/8 tune that has both a natural rhythm drawn from the text and a tune that provides melodic interest but also feels harmonically intuitive, making it easily singable by most congregations. Gambrell also offers a version of the text set to the more commonly known tune VALET WILL ICH DIR GEBEN, which will be familiar to most congregations as “All Glory, Laud, and Honor.”

“Each Christian Has a Calling”/ calling
Text and Music by David Gambrell, © 2020
Reproduced by permission of the author and composer. For further reproduction, contact

Services of Commissioning are ordinarily part of a complete Service for the Lord’s Day. As such, these occasions and services of ordination and installation might be an opportunity for a choir to provide an anthem or soloist to offer a vocal solo with a text focused on ministry. Below are lists of suggestions for both. All suggestions for vocal solo are available in multiple keys and suitable for any voice.

Suggestions for Choral Anthems

  • “I Thank My God,” J. Aaron McDermid, MorningStar Music Publishers, SATB, piano
  • “In the Year That King Uzziah Died,” David McKay Williams, Alfred Publishing, SATB, organ
  • “Many Gifts, One Spirit,” Allen Pote, Theodore Presser Co., SATB, piano
  • “Beloved God’s Chosen,” Robert Hobby, MorningStar Music Publishers, two part mixed, piano, flute
  • “How Lovely Are the Messengers,” Saint Paul, Felix Mendelssohn, public domain, SATB, keyboard
  • “Come, Holy Spirit, God and Lord,” Aaron David Miller, Augsburg Fortress, unison, piano

Suggestions for Vocal Solos

  • “Here I Am, Lord,” arr. Craig Courtney, Sacred Solos of Craig Courtney, Beckenhorst, voice, piano, flute
  • “Guide My Feet,” arr. Jacqueline Hairston, Classical Vocal Reprints, voice, piano
  • “The Lord Is My Light,” Francis Allitsen, G. Schirmer, voice, organ
  • “Be Thou My Vision,” arr. Tom Trenney, . . . still all my song shall be, MorningStar Music, voice, piano, violin

The Book of Common Worship also includes liturgies for celebrating moments of transition in the life of a congregation with services for Recognition of a Pastor’s Retirement and Recognition and Thanksgiving for Faithful Service. At the time of a pastor’s retirement a hymn, psalm, or spiritual song may precede the brief liturgy included in the BCW. David Gambrell and Vini Frizzo’s hymn “Give Thanks for Women of Great Faith” is an excellent choice for such an occasion. It is a rare and wonderful text that celebrates women in ministry. The third stanza, although specific in its use of “women” in the text, has a broader message to break down the barriers to God’s call to those who have been excluded. The tune is strong and sturdy and although newly composed feels warm and familiar. The march-like rhythm and melodic contour, with open intervals enforcing the stability of the D major, capture the spirit of celebration in the text’s repeated “Give thanks.”

“Give Thanks for Women of Great Faith”/ CAMPBELL
Text by David Gambrell, © 2020
Music by Carlo Vincetti Frizzo, © 2020
Reproduced by permission of the author and composer. For further reproduction contact and

An appropriate text for both Recognition of a Pastor’s Retirement and Recognition and Thanksgiving for Faithful Service is “For All Who Craft Their Words with Skill,” also included in David Bjorlin’s Protest of Praise. The text, set to the shape note tune RESIGNATION, contains stanzas appropriate for various ministries in the church, giving thanks to God for those who share gifts that encompass the full scope of preaching, music, liturgy, and the arts. Each stanza beautifully conveys that many tasks of vocation are in service of our ministry, and for the gift and skill of those who do them we should give thanks. As a church musician, I am moved by the third stanza that there is gratitude for all the preparation that goes into sharing our gifts with congregations.

“For All Who Craft Their Words with Skill”
Meter: CMD

For all who craft their words with skill
to make your story heard,
for those who study, write, and preach:
we thank you, Christ our Word.
And we rejoice in those whose speech
extends the Spirit’s breath
to build a shelter for the lost
and summon life from death.

For all who host the holy meals
to keep the faithful fed,
for those who bless and break and share:
we thank you, Christ our Bread.
And we rejoice in those whose feasts
defy each fence and wall,
where hunger is the only fee
and room is made for all.

For all who lead your hymns of praise
to make weak voices strong,
for those who practice, tune and sing:
we thank you, Christ our Song.
And we rejoice in those whose ears
are trained by love and care
to help all find their note of hope
in seasons of despair.

For all who live the words they preach,
and practice what they sing,
for all whose lives are raised to you—
a living offering,
for all who hear your holy call and will not be deterred,
we thank you Christ, the source of life:
our Song, our Bread, our Word.

“For All Who Craft Their Words with Skill” Text by David Bjorlin, © 2020 GIA Publications, Inc.
Reproduced by permission of GIA Publications, Inc. Any further reproduction requires
permission from the publisher.
For congregational reprint licensing, contact ONE LICENSE,

Just as there are moments of joy in ministry remembered by congregations, there are also moments of transition that are more difficult to navigate and manage. A gift of the Book of Common Worship is its reminder that our worshiping lives can guide us through these valleys as much as our corporate prayers of jubilation are central to celebration. The BCW includes services for Dissolution of a Pastoral Call and Dissolving a Congregation. Although I have never had occasion to use either, I am thankful that they are there when we need them. In the same way we know that music can provide us great comfort in Services to the Witness of the Resurrection, I think music, especially congregational singing, can provide the same comfort and assurance of God’s promise to us when our circumstances may seem very uncertain.

The service for Dissolution of a Pastoral Call, tucked between Thanksgiving for Faithful Service and Recognition of a Pastor’s Retirement, is a short liturgy in three parts. In a litany led alternately by presbytery or session representatives, those present pray for God’s saving presence, ask for the mercy of God, and give thanks for the journey together. Following the litany is the dissolution with questions to the congregation and concluding prayers. Before departing, those gathered receive the final Blessing and Charge.

The opening worship rubric says that this liturgy should follow the concluding hymn, psalm, or spiritual song. The words of the prayer of dissolution remind us that God’s love for us is strong and unbreakable. Although a relationship may seem to be severed in this act, nothing in life or in death can separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus. Hymns such as “O Love That Wilt Not Let Me Go” (Glory to God, 833) or “Shall Tribulation or Distress” (GTG, 823) both remind us of this truth.

A moment of congregational song plays a pivotal role in the short order of worship for Dissolving a Congregation. After the declaration, a hymn is included with the following rubrics:

The moderator leads a procession from the building during the singing.

Furnishings, including the pulpit or lectern Bible, baptismal and communion vessels, and paraments may be carried out by clergy, elders, deacons, and members of the dissolved congregation and/ or other congregations present. All gather outside the building for the charge and blessing.3

Again, it would be appropriate to remember and affirm God’s promise to all generations. Options for congregational singing might include “God of Our Life” (GTG, 686) or “Great Is Thy Faithfulness” (GTG, 39). When I read the above rubric, my mind immediately imagines the procession accompanied by “Our God, Our Help in Ages Past” (GTG, 687), the well-loved paraphrase of Psalm 90 that generations of the faithful have sung to remind themselves God is indeed our help in all times and “our shelter from the stormy blast, and our eternal home.”

Effective congregational song for both of these services could also include texts that remind us the way that seems so final is not the ending. This reminder might be easiest to find in a text associated with the Easter season. Some hymns that may be appropriate found in the “Jesus Christ: Resurrection” section of Glory to God include “Day of Arising” (GTG 252), “Come, You Faithful, Raise the Strain” (GTG, 234), and “In the Bulb There Is a Flower” (GTG, 250). The latter, written by Natalie Sleeth and inspired by T. S. Elliot, concludes with this stanza:

In our end is our beginning, in our time, infinity;
in our doubt there is believing; in our life, eternity.
In our death, a resurrection; at the last, a victory,
unrevealed until its season, something God alone can see.4


  1. Directory for Worship, Book of Order (Louisville, KY: Office of the General Assembly, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), 2019), W-4.0401.
  2. Mary Louise Bringle, In Wind and Wonder, ©2007 GIA Publications, 34.
  3. Book of Common Worship (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2018), 555.
  4. “In the Bulb There Is a Flower,” Glory to God (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2013), 250. Words & music: Natalie Sleeth, © 1986 Hope Publishing Company, All rights reserved. Used by permission.
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