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Amelia Koh-Butler at Songwrite’s opening worship. Photo: Craig Mitchell

Without songs, worship would B–flat

The music flowed at Indooroopilly Uniting Church over the Australia Day long weekend with the 2018 Songwrite conference hitting all the right notes for creativity, collaboration and encouragement. David Busch reports. 

Sponsored by the National Assembly’s Working Group on Worship, the Songwrite conference is now in its third iteration and this year saw 25 composers from four states attend.

Indooroopilly Uniting Church hosted the event over the Australia Day long weekend and for half of the attendees, this was their first time attending (and several of those had never written a worship song).

But by the Sunday morning, three songs composed over the conference were ready to be shared in a special Songwrite service with the Indooroopilly congregation, in addition to several others that Songwrite participants had written earlier.

Other parts of the program included six composers sharing their approach to song-writing—Dave Andrews, David MacGregor, Allan Hoare, Craig Mitchell, Alison Campbell Rate and Eric Woodrow; a very entertaining Saturday night cabaret “open mic” for songsharing; and a workshop, open to the wider church, by Rev Dr Amelia Koh–Butler on how to teach new worship songs to a Congregation.

A focus for musical inspiration was the theme for the 15th Assembly, meeting this July in Melbourne, “Abundant Grace, Liberating Hope”. Uniting Church president–elect, Dr Deidre Palmer, had outlined that theme in a letter to participants a few weeks prior to Songwrite, and she attended the conference to speak further about it and share the experience of music taking shape around that focus.

Worship is universal, but songwriting isn’t—each gathered community needs songs that derive from, and speak to, its context. And we need to learn to sing hope amid the hard stuff of life.

With those words, Dr Tanya Riches—composer, justice advocate, cross-cultural missiologist, researcher and Hillsong scholar—urged Uniting Church songwriters to give authentic voice to the laments and hopes of people and places across Australia.

With her academic background and extensive experience in ethno-musicology, theological anthropology, disability studies, and intersections between Pentecostal Christianity and the dreaming of Australia’s First Peoples, as well as her success as a composer, Tanya brought deep insight and broad horizons to her three keynote presentations, accompanied by her musician husband, Tim Sheerman.

“The journey of the songwriter is to steward the songs within you and within others,” said Tanya. “To give voice to your pain and passion, to connect that with the pain and passion of others, and find a language and a music that creates a community of worship of God who breaks into our lives and our world.”


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