Music played a healing role for many Anglicans after an amendment to the marriage canon that would have recognized same-sex marriage failed to pass at General Synod 2019.
After the vote in Vancouver, queer youth delegates sang a round affirming the need to “love each other, love yourself and love your God” and were joined in song by many supporters. The next day, they sang the same round in protest outside Christ Church Cathedral, where the primatial election took place.
Now a new resource offers further potential for music as a source of affirmation and inclusion. On July 16, three days after the vote at General Synod, the Hymn Society in the United States and Canada released a new hymn collection, Songs for the Holy Other: Hymns Affirming the LGBTQIA2S+ Community.
Produced by a volunteer committee from the Hymn Society, an ecumenical non-profit association that seeks to promote congregational singing, Songs for the Holy Other includes almost 50 “queer hymns” by and for individuals who identify with the LGBTQ+ community and their allies.
The collection is available for download at the Hymn Society website. Individuals and congregations can use the resource free for 60 days, after which they are asked to use One License or Christian Copyright Licensing International (CCLI), or to contact individual copyright holders.
Sydney Brouillard-Coyle, music director at St. Paul’s Anglican Church in Essex, Ont., and a current music student who identifies as gender-non-conforming, queer and asexual, praised the release of Songs for the Holy Other.
“I definitely think it was very much needed for them to release it so soon after General Synod,” Brouillard-Coyle says. “Just looking through the music and the lyrics, it’s an amazing resource for music directors and for priests who are looking for hymns that are affirming for the LGBT community.”
“I’ve been going through our hymn book and trying to change some of the language [so] that it’s more inclusive—so instead of ‘We are all God’s sons and daughters,’ using language like ‘We are all God’s precious children,’” they add. “But to have that resource already done for us in some way and to provide new music for us to use is absolutely incredible.”
The initiative for Songs from the Holy Other began in 2018 in St. Louis at the Hymn Society’s annual conference. Cedar Klassen, a Hymn Society member who identifies as “mostly Mennonite” but often attends Anglican services—and who, like Brouillard-Coyle, uses they/them pronouns—was talking with other members at the conference who shared an interest in queer hymns, when the idea emerged of putting together a queer hymn collection.
The idea quickly gathered support during the five-day conference. The Hymn Society ultimately approved the formation of an eight-member volunteer committee, with Klassen elected as chair.
Over the course of the next year, the committee put out a call for submissions and reviewed submitted material, which included approximately 175 pieces of music. Members examined each piece, rated it and assembled the collection, officially launching it at the society’s 2019 conference.
“There’s quite a breadth of content…. Everything in some way relates to the needs of the LGBTQ+ community,” Klassen says.
Musical styles run the gamut from contemporary worship songs to traditional hymns, from bluegrass to gospel. Approximately half the texts are written by members of the LGBTQ+ community, as noted in the index.
“As far as text content, there are some that are laments, dealing with the hurt and exclusion that we’ve experienced in the church, which is a really important thing to have songs to sing about,” Klassen says. “I know folks in the Anglican denomination, some folks would be feeling that these days following synod.
“There are songs of inclusion. There are songs about our created belovedness—how God created us, God loves us, and our sexuality, our gender doesn’t change that. There’s a song or two that deal with same-gender marriage. Traditional marriage hymns often have words like husband and wife, man and woman. Those hymns don’t work great if the people getting married aren’t one man and one woman—if one of them is non-binary, or if both of them are women or both of them are men—and so we need hymns for that.
“There’s one [that] deals with queer teen suicides—that’s ‘For All the Children’ by David Lohman. So there are a lot of ones that have specific pastoral applications, and then there are ones that you can use whenever you’re talking about inclusion, acceptance.”
Brouillard-Coyle describes the selection of hymns as “fantastic.”
“A lot of them use familiar tunes, which makes it easier for the congregation to pick up on and to teach during choir practice,” they say. “And some of them use new tunes as well, which is equally amazing.”
In the aftermath of the marriage canon vote at General Synod, Brouillard-Coyle says, many queer Anglican youth had struggled with their relationship to the Anglican Church of Canada. But for many, the experience has deepened their resolve to continue pushing for reforms within the church.
For Brouillard-Coyle, that means studying to become a deacon. In moving forward, they draw inspiration from a quote by composer Leonard Bernstein.
“This will be our reply to violence,” Bernstein said. “To make music more intensely, more beautifully, more devotedly than ever before.”