A Christmas Song Story with Folk Hymnal
By Bailey Gillespie
There’s a catchy acronym in the business world called BHAG that stands for Big, Hairy, Audacious Goal. The abbreviation represents a large-scale goal that the whole company or organization can work toward together. Whether you work for a Fortune 500 company or not, it seems appropriate that everyone should have one of these in their life—a “George Bailey lassos the moon” sort of dream (to quote It’s a Wonderful Life) that seizes you, along with your common sense. Usually, these sorts of things can’t be carried out alone and call for an exercise in teamwork and community.
An Experiment in Collaboration
Such was the origin story of Folk Hymnal. When a Charlotte-based visioneer named Tim Briggs dreamed of writing and releasing songs for the local Church, he also humbly embraced his musical limitations. Instead of abandoning the dream, he seized the opportunity to rally together a community of people to help bring his vision to life.
“Over the years,” Briggs explains, “my love for music and, more specifically, congregationally-sung music has grown. As I began exploring songwriting, I found myself writing music that I wanted to share but struggling to know-how. Quite frankly, I don’t have the requisite skill set to be a recording artist or a worship leader. With that in mind, I began exploring creative ways to release my music out into the world. I started to ask myself, ‘What if I had my artist friends, who are far more talented than me, help bring these songs to life?’ The result was the creation of Folk Hymnal—a guild of church worship leaders creating theologically rich songs in an accessible and attractive way.”
This theme of banding together is also evident in the lyrics of “New Song,” the third track on their 2018 EP, Incarnation Songs:
Christ has come, Christ has come
Rings those bells, beat that drum
Joy to the world, His plan all along
It’s time we sing a new song.
Co-written with Taylor Leonhardt, the collective pronouns “we” and “us” in the lyrics demonstrate the interconnectedness of the Church. It evokes an image of our calling to proclaim the birth of Christ with the unity of a band of bell-ringers and drum-beaters. We can sing alone, yes, just like Briggs in his living room. Or we can come together and form a joyful noise bigger than the sum of our parts. “We hosted Taylor at our home for a house concert,” says Briggs. “I explained to her this dream of Folk Hymnal and asked if she would be willing to co-write and contribute a song to the first EP, Incarnation Songs, and she graciously agreed. I sent the song to Taylor, and she greatly improved upon my work.” You’ll probably have a hard time not swaying in your seat or tapping your feet to the song’s lilting syncopation. The song features a simple assortment of instruments that give it a folksy flair—including acoustic and electric guitar, banjo, bass, and percussion—and it works as both congregational worship and a special Christmas song at the beginning or end of a service.
Singing a New Song
All that said, there is the elephant in the living room. Looking over history’s catalog of Advent and Christmas songs, there’s no shortage of songs for the Church. The Incarnation story is an old one. What does this mean for believers who live in a world where Ecclesiastes infers that the days of writing a ‘new song’ are all in the past?
Briggs describes how many of the Psalms command us to sing a new song. “For example,” he says, “Psalm 96, 98, and 149. Psalm 40 famously begins, ‘I waited patiently for the Lord; he inclined and heard my cry.’ A few verses later, the Psalmist sings, ‘He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God.’ In Psalm 40, we can see a connection between waiting and celebration, and this is much like the relationship between Advent and Christmas in the church calendar. We all love the nostalgia of familiar songs, yet Advent/Christmas is a great occasion to sing a new song. As believers, we always sing new songs of old truths.”
“New Song” is a solid entry point into the album, which features musical and lyrical originality, as well as rich reimaginations of ancient hymns.
Tools for Leading
It seems that sometimes God gives us dreams that are larger than ourselves to humble us and illustrate our need for each other. “It’s far more work than I anticipated,” Briggs confesses about his original vision. “And it has given me a whole new appreciation for the work of artists—specifically independent artists.” On their website, the guild offers chord and lead charts for several of their songs.
As we band together in song, let us also join together in spirit and action to proclaim Christ’s coming to a weary world in need. Briggs’ heart for Folk Hymnal is genuine worship: “The lyrics and feel of this song lend themselves to being a great aid in celebrating the coming of Christ during the Christmas season. Beyond Christmas, I know of at least one church that sang this song on Palm Sunday. Whether it be in the Incarnation or the Triumphal Entry, there are many ways to celebrate the different ways Christ has come.”
No matter how many times we’ve sung it before, we can sing it again and again. It’s time we sing a new song.[bsc_separator style=”solid” height=”1″]
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