WINNIPEG, MANITOBA (August 1, 2018) – Cody Anderson, a pastor at Faith Covenant Church, was more than a little nervous when he sent a link to the video of his reworked version of the hymn “As We Gather at Your Table” to the hymn’s writer, Carl Daw Jr.
Daw is the adjunct professor of hymnology at Boston University School of Theology and served as executive director of the Hymn Society in the United States and Canada for 13 years. “I wasn’t sure if he was going to berate me for getting in front of the text,” admits Anderson, who had received permission from Daw to use the words.
But Daw wrote back saying he “greatly appreciated” the piece, retitled “Behold the Banquet of Christ.”
“I feel that your additions are very sympathetic extensions of the original text,” Daw wrote. “Not surprisingly, your musical idiom is more contemporary than I am accustomed to in worship, but I recognize and am grateful for the way your music carries the text effectively rather than getting in its way or competing with it. Most of all I am glad that the message of what I wrote can be conveyed in this way to people who might never open a hymnal.” (“As We Gather at Your Table” is hymn No. 551 in The Covenant Hymnal: A Worship Book.)
Those words were a relief and encouragement to Anderson. Making hymns more accessible to a new audience was one of his goals when he recorded his new worship CD, Hymn and Chorus. In addition to Daw’s hymn, the album includes five original songs written by Anderson, who leads worship at his church, and four hymns that already are in the public domain.
The CD title is drawn from the idea for the new arrangements. A lot of hymns have multiple verses but no responsive chorus, and Anderson thought worshipers who are unused to singing traditional works would be drawn to the reworked versions. “The title exemplifies that the verses and choruses don’t have to be against each other,” Anderson says.
“I wasn’t trying to wrestle anyone’s lyrics or make old sounds into something that was better,” Anderson says. “Actually, I wanted to bring the old songs into a fuller context so more churches would sing them. I wanted to bring out some of the depth of the old lyric. The way that writing has changed, and the way our minds are now, we struggle to think deeper lyrically. This is a way to help us think deeper.”
“I’m not looking to start an independent music career. I wrote these songs in the church for the church.”
Even the album’s cover and a brief accompanying lyric booklet pay homage to history. The cover is a photo of the front of his grandfather’s Swedish hymnal that was published in 1890. The pages of the lyric booklet were also taken from the hymnal.
“We tried to keep it as faithful as possible,” Anderson says. “Even on the front cover, we had to pay extra to get foil stamping, which is what you would do on a hymnal back in the day. It was a neat way to add some of that Swedish Covenant history.”
Much of the music has a folk-country or roots vibe. “When I first started playing music in church, I absolutely loathed country music,” Anderson says, laughing. “Now I can’t get out of it. It’s a genre that’s underutilized in worship.”
Anderson says he would be thrilled for churches to use the songs in worship. “I’m not looking to start an independent music career. I wrote these songs in the church for the church.”
The closing “Benediction,” which Anderson says has become one of the pieces for which he has received the most comments, is a response to situations in the church. “I wanted to do a version of that benediction for a long time,” he says. “When I wrote that, I was in the prayer room at church. And it was a week when several of the people in church were dealing with some very heavy situations. I used it as a way to speak a blessing to those folks.”
Anderson says he has sold out of most of the CDs, but people can still purchase the digital album from his website or wherever digital music is sold. Listeners can also stream it on sites like Spotify and Apple Music.