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Kiwi writer gives green tone to hymn conference

By Paul Titus

The world's largest hymn conference will culminate with a festival of 'green' hymns organised by New Zealand Methodist hymn writer Rev Bill Wallace.
Rev Bill Wallace organised a festival of 'green' hymns for the annual conference of the Hymn Society in the United States and Canada (HSUSC).

Bill has been asked to create the closing hymn festival at this year's annual conference of The Hymn Society in the United States and Canada (HSUSC), which takes place July 13th to 17th in Berkeley, California. The conference attracts hymn writers, composers, academics and publishers from North America and around the world.

The theme of the closing festival is The Greening of Hymnody and it will explore how hymns promote positive or negative attitudes to the eco-system.

Bill says that the Christian response to the problem of global warming should be to examine the way we organize ourselves individually and as congregations. It should also lead us to examine our worship and theology.

"Hymns can promote destructive attitudes towards the universe if they depict human beings as separate from and superior to the eco-system.

"Christian worship often fails to be Trinitarian because it focuses solely on Jesus without acknowledging God the Creator and the Holy Spirit as the life-force in Creation.

"A renewed emphasis on the Spirit in the wider sense will help us to think of God as being found in the mystery which goes far beyond the human representation that we find in Jesus."

Bill believes that Christian mystical thinkers, such as St Francis and Meister Eckhart, can help us to see all living creatures as part of one great family rather than simply as its stewards.

"We need to remember that all Earth's living creatures are genetically linked and are part of one great food chain. In some sense this food chain is a Communion in which everything eats something else in order to survive and thus the world is full of sacrificial death."

Hymns selected for the festival include ones by Shirley Murray, Colin Gibson, and Bill himself.

Immediately following the conference, Bill's work Sacred Energy/Mass of the Universe will be performed with a new choral setting by Andrew Baldwin, composer in residence at the Anglican Cathedral in Wellington.

Bill says Sacred Energy encourages us to listen to what the universe has to say in the same way as Jesus urged people to consider what the fig tree and the flowers of the field had to say. It springs out of aspects of the modern scientific understanding of the mystery of the universe.

It springs out of aspects of the modern scientific understanding of the nature of the universe, such as the mystery of dark matter and dark holes in astronomy and the unpredictability of some aspects of atomic behaviour as revealed by quantum physics.

Bill will also lead a conference workshop on a new collection of his hymns, The Mystery Telling, Vol. 2, published by Selah, in the US.

Two other workshops at the HSUSC conference will have Kiwi themes. John and Gillian Thornley will present hymns and songs from the New Zealand Hymn Book Trust and Colin Gibson a historical survey of Hymnody in NZ and Australia.