In Unity we often refer to ourselves as “Truth Students.” This means that we allow our beliefs to evolve as our understanding of God evolves, or as science or history reveal new truths to us. And as our beliefs evolve, the language we use to express those beliefs has also evolved. In the 30 years I’ve been in Unity, I’ve heard us refer to God as “He” (a la the Fillmores), then Father/Mother/God, and now, the non-gender, non-anthropomorphic terms like Spirit, The Divine, Divine Mind, The Universe, Universal Mind and so on.
The language we use to express our unique theology is our calling card. It is what differentiates us from mainstream theology. The same must be true for the music we choose for our Sunday services.
You may have grown up in a denomination that sung from a particular hymnal. You have most likely heard people refer to “the Baptist hymnal” or say, “That’s an old Catholic song.” This is because the music used as the soundtrack for any theology reflects the language and beliefs of that theology.
I came into Unity in the mid-1980s when the Wings of Song (WOS) hymnal was brand new (first published in 1984). Coming from a Catholic background, I recognized that many of the words in the songs were very different from what I was used to singing in church. I noticed the lyric changes to familiar tunes and the new words that were put to old familiar melodies.
I discovered our great musical composers like Carmen Mosier, Janet Bowser-Manning and Bill Provost and I also discovered what an “affirmation” was and how it could be sung as an empowering congregational song.
There was still a lot of familiar language—“All Praise to Thee My God,” “Saviour, Teach Me, Day by Day,” “Hear Our Prayer, O Loving Father,” “God Is Love; His Mercy Brightens.” But despite those songs and that traditional embedded languaging, I knew you would never find a Wings of Song in a Baptist or Catholic pew. After all, there was also “I’m the Expression of Infinite Life,” “Confident Living,” “The 12 Powers,” “God and I Are One,” “Heaven Is Here,” “I Am Free, I Am Unlimited!”
By 1996 there was already talk of a new hymnal to replace WOS. A Hymnal Taskforce was formed by Unity Worldwide Ministries (then the Association of Unity Churches) to collect, vet, arrange and transcribe songs that more fully reflected our evolving beliefs. This would be a joint venture with Unity World Headquarters at Unity Village (then Unity School of Christianity) who would produce and sell the new hymnals. Our goal was to have the hymnals in the pews by the year 2000.
Although a new hymnal never came from that effort, it did give birth to a more fluid, adaptable way to build our body of music. We first created Love Notes, a subscription program (no longer active) that would deliver a package of 6–10 pieces of sheet music with accompanying cassette (eventually CDs) with recordings of the songs, and “tracks” to each song so small ministries without pianists or music directors could use them.
Then in 2000 after discovering the cost of a hymnal to be too prohibitive, the task force chose 30 songs to create Songs from a World Awakening. This compact book came in a “Music Director’s Copy” which had a CD containing full piano/vocal scores, and piano tracks for sing along. The “pew” editions were just the melody and words for congregants to sing along with.
This new book sold well, but times change rapidly and thanks to the wave of contemporary Christian music for congregational singing, the idea of congregants holding books, looking down and reading the songs was swiftly becoming obsolete.
Today, more than 30 years later our beloved Wings of Song is slowly being phased out of many spiritual communities to make room for what can be considered to be our third generation of music.
Under the leadership of Sue Riley, the then-chairperson of the Task Force—now called the Music Ministry Team—it was decided that we can best serve our spiritual communities and our rapidly evolving music by creating a new songbook each year, with newly penned songs that were being written by our loyal artists and songwriters in the field. This was a better solution than creating a hymnal of two to three hundred songs that would basically be a snapshot of our movement for that year and have us stuck with a book that, like Wings of Song, would be obsolete in 10 years.
And so the Songs from a World Awakening songbook series was born. And now in 2015, Unity Worldwide Ministries and the Music Ministry Team have created 11 songbooks of specially chosen songs including two specialty books, Special Services and Chants, Volume 1 and Volume 2 (now out-of-print). With the recent addition of Heartwind Music’s catalog of choral and ensemble music, there is now a catalog of nearly 400 readily available songs that reflect our evolving movement’s beliefs and needs. And this number is growing every day.
During the 10 years that Sue Riley chaired the music ministry team, Sound Connections New Thought Music conference was created and celebrated its 10th year in 2014. Sound Connections music conference and the Sound Connections e-newsletter brought our music ministries together to connect, network and share the newest music and resources.
Partnering with emPower Music & Arts, Unity’s music renaissance has created a tribe of New Thought artists and songwriters well-known throughout our movement, uniting our spiritual communities with a common artistry and catalog that is uniquely “us.” emPower has taken the New Thought banner outside our Unity community and introduced it to mainstream music lovers as “Posi” or Positive Music.
Mirroring the huge Contemporary Christian and Gospel industries, New Thought now has its own “superstars” like Daniel Nahmod, Karen Drucker, Rickie Byars-Beckwith, Jana Stanfield, Stowe/Good, David Roth, Faith Rivera and Harold Payne.
We have a blanket license that allows spiritual communities to use thousands of New Thought songs legally. (Go to www.empowerma.com and click “Music Rights” in the menu bar.) There is an ever growing body of work that we can call our own and that identifies with our theology and beliefs.
The music we use in our ministries is the soundtrack of our movement. Music is the most accessible of the arts and the same way Gospel music helped spread the Christian message when it was introduced in the 1950s, our music can be the primary vehicle for introducing our message to the world outside our spiritual community’s walls today.
Our Peace Song: Let There Be … One Way We Sing It!
When I worked for Unity Village Retreats from 1998–2004, we would have retreatants from different communities from all over the US and the world coming together at Unity’s “Mecca,” the beautiful and sacred Unity Village grounds.
We would traditionally sing the Peace Song (“Let There Be Peace on Earth”) to close each retreat. Inevitably, when we’d get to certain lines in the song, everyone would sing different words that they were used to singing at their ministry. It sounded like a train wreck. People would look bewildered or just stop singing all together.
Shortly thereafter, I got a letter from a Unity minister suggesting the entire Unity movement sing what she called affirmative lyrics: “Now there is peace on earth and now it’s begun with me ….” etc.
Time to contact the copyright owner—the daughter of the authors—to get the official approved lyrics they would like sung so that our spiritual communities would all be singing the same words and we would be in compliance with copyright laws (since we are not allowed to change words to songs without permission).
After all, this was the one song that no matter what Unity community you entered anywhere in the world, you would sing. I wanted to avoid the same awkwardness for guests in our ministries that retreatants experienced in a group of various congregations.
Concerning the “affirmative” version, Jan felt that “Let there be …” is an affirmative statement that brings forth the peace that already exists as in, “Let there be light … ” It doesn’t need to be changed.
She agreed that updating the gender references was appropriate. “With God as Creator (instead of Father), family (instead of brothers) all are we. Let us walk with each other (instead of my brother) in perfect harmony.” It is also permissible to sing “With Earth as our Mother . . .”
We also discussed suggestions that we change “with every step I take” to “with every breath I take,” siting those who could not walk. Her response was that step in this case simply means a stage in a process, like the “12 steps.”
The last change that we talked about was the “solemn vow” to “joyous vow.” She thought, like the affirmative version, that was just “change for change’s sake.” There’s nothing wrong with a solemn vow, and a joyous vow doesn’t change or improve the meaning at all. Her wish is to stay as true as possible to her parents’ original intent.
So here are the official approved lyrics—which can be found on the website www.jan-leemusic.com.
Let There Be Peace on Earth
Words by Jill Jackson, music by Sy Miller
Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me.
Let there be peace on earth, the peace that was meant to be.
With God as Creator, family all are we.
Let us walk with each other in perfect harmony.
Let peace begin with me let this be the moment now.
With every step I take let this be my solemn vow.
To take each moment and live each moment in peace eternally.
Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me.