Singing the Journey considered

I ordered a copy of the UUA hymnal supplement Singing the Journey and it came today. Some of the hymns (songs, choruses? who is the audience?) are familiar because I sang them at General Assembly (which does not auger well) and one is familar because I remember it from The Muppet Show (which I like, but see limited use in worship).

At first I looked at the book and though it much larger — 92 leaves — than I imaged.

But it only has 75 selections, which made it very much smaller than it looks.

Until I have a good sing-though (of at least random portions) I’ll reserve final judgment, but from this point it will take a lot of convincing. Flipping though and la-la-ing a few melodies, I found myself saying “yuck.”

Categorized as Hymns

By Scott Wells

Scott Wells, 46, is a Universalist Christian minister doing Universalist theology and church administration hacks in Washington, D.C.


  1. We used it a lot at my internship church and the congregation really liked it. There are a few I’m not fond of, but compared to the dol-drum hardly-able-to-hear it hymns that people mouth the words to, I thought it was a great change.

  2. My experience with Singing the Journey is colored by working with one of the contributors, Jason Shelton. He co-directed the GA choir one year and we sang several of his pieces. His enthusiasm is contagious and he made the music magical.

  3. Both Elizabeth and Louise also have the experience of using the book with highly skilled songleaders, which isn’t the same thing as even a very good pianist or organist. (Many of the guitar chords are also considerably beyond what an amateur guitarist could use.) Singing the Journey requires a songleader with a strong voice, and often also requires a choir. I think of it as a supplement that works best in medium to large congregations with professional musicians.

  4. @Philo. Yes, the “is this for a congregation or a choir” came through quite a bit. And given the small-church skew within the UUA, I kept scratching my head. But as y’all how, my interests run to the smaller churches anyway.

  5. In my part of the world (the Mid-West), I’ve only seen this book used as a song-book supplement for choirs at smaller churches. Alot of official choral music is too complex for small choirs in small congregations.

  6. Hear hear, Philo.

    I went through the whole book and reviewed each song right after the GA when it came out – see my review series here.

    Going back and reading what I wrote then, I haven’t had really any experience with the songs that would make me change it a whole lot, though I might be more politic in some places. The songs I liked, I still like. Some of them can be saved, as Philo said, with the aid of really great musical leadership, but as the book was touted as a resource for smaller groups, it doesn’t make much sense.

    Some of the comments on my posts are pretty interesting, especially where some of the composers came by to tell me I was mean. ;-)

  7. @Jess. I knew there was a reason I hadn’t bought it until now, and I think I’ll send it back. Re-reading your commentary made me very uneasy about any hymnal action within the UUA. Perhaps I’ll keep scanning the horizon for one commercially produced.

    For the record, I didn’t think you were mean, but did think some of the people who commented were being manipulative.

  8. You mentioned hymnal action w/ in the UUA, Scott–you have reason to be uneasy. Jason Shelton had a couple guest posts at Philocrites two years ago, where he explained why the hymnal supplement commission made some of the choices about song selection that they did. I had been disapointed in the commission for some of their choices–after reading Jason’s explanations, my disappointment shifted to whatever UUA staff defined the commission’s task, for not giving them time to do a better job. (I still would rather the commission had some different criteria, but so it goes.) Jason’s posts are here:

    That said, I’ve used a couple pieces from STJ in small churches successfully. I especialy like #1031 for a Buddhist-themed service, and think all the tougher pieces in there are redeemed by the inclusion of “Lean On Me.” And I’m concluding an interim ministry this week at a mid-sized church with a fabulous choir and music director–one of the highlights of the worship year for me was when they did the Muppet Show song you mentioned as an offertory anthem, and totally rocked the piece.

    On another hymnody issue: Is there anything in Singing the Living Tradition that you especially like to complement preaching on Universalism? I don’t mean Humiliati/Ken Patton universal religion, but universal salvation. (I’m doing a sermon series at my new church on salvation, and why it’s not a useless concept for UUs.) Any advice you can offer on hymns would be appreciated.

  9. Interesting that so many people are speaking of Rev. Shelton. That’s whom I thought of first when reading your post. He’s Music Director at my church, and my heavens are we lucky. We hope he will soon be our Minister of Music. Never having sung any of these without him around, I can’t offer any objectivity, but I absolutely adore some of the hymns in it. Some of them are good enough that singing them can redeem an otherwise mediocre service — not that we ever have mediocre services. Here I’m thinking of “Blue Boat Home.” It’s by another talented musician in our midsts — Peter Mayer. Whenever we sing that, I sing it to myself for days afterwards, and not in a way that drives me crazy.

  10. I like Singing The Journey much much more than Singing the Living Tradition. Part of it is because I know someone who was on the selection committee, and partly because of being in choirs for years. Most of these songs are great for medium- to large-sized choirs.

    But UUs need a hymnal like the Chalice Hymnal, which I’m hoping to buy one of these days. Of the most modern hymnals, it’s the best (in my opinion).

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