Singing and praying with Indigenous Christians

September 21, 2023 | Opinion | Volume 27 Issue 19
Sarah Kathleen Johnson, Katie Graber and Anneli Loepp Thiessen |
(Photo by Aaron Epp)

In order to fully embrace the diversity of the church and to live into God’s reign of justice and peace, it is necessary to sing and pray with Indigenous Christians.

Songs are a force for solidarity. Solidarity is a source of action. Action in solidarity with one another, with insight and leadership from Indigenous communities, is needed to address the ongoing harm of colonialism and live into God’s vision of liberation for all people.

Voices Together provides new opportunities to sing and pray in worship with diverse Indigenous communities in Canada and the United States. The 13 songs and five worship resources in Voices Together with connections to Indigenous communities include three songs and one prayer written by Indigenous Mennonite musicians and leaders, as well as a land acknowledgement developed for this hymnal.

These songs and prayers with connections to Indigenous communities have been offered as gifts to the wider church. To receive them as gifts, it is necessary to sing them rather than set them aside. To sing these songs respectfully, with attention to the contexts from which they come, is not misappropriation—it is the intention of those individuals and communities who gave permission and encouragement to share these resources in Voices Together.

Each of these songs was selected in consultation with a group brought together because of their experience and expertise in relation to Indigenous justice. This group of consultants provided general guidance and evaluated and offered recommendations regarding specific songs and prayers. The committee then sought permission directly from Indigenous individuals and communities to include these resources in Voices Together, in addition to standard copyright processes.

Learning to love these songs and to pray these prayers, to know them in our hearts and bodies, to let them change who we are as individuals and communities, is the best way to receive these gifts. Our denominational, congregational and personal commitments to Indigenous justice must be expressed in worship, because worship forms our faith and action.

Here are six practical suggestions to get you started:

  1. Connect with Indigenous individuals and leaders in your congregation, church conference and local community. Join in the good work they are doing. Empower them to give leadership in worship.
  2. Learn some of the songs in Voices Together yourself as a pastor, worship leader, song leader, or worshiper. Listen to recordings, paying attention to pronunciation and instrumentation. Read the reference notes in the Accompaniment Edition and Worship Leader Edition. Research the context, beginning with the ascription line at the bottom of the hymnal page and resources provided in this guide.
  3. Choose to learn a song by heart as a community by including it in worship every Sunday for six weeks, and once a month for the following year. Connect the content of the song to your worship life in relation to scripture readings, preaching themes, and prayers. Teach it to children in faith formation classes.
  4. Tell the stories of songs and prayers in worship, print them in the bulletin, include them in a newsletter or in social media posts. Learn about and pray for the communities the songs come from. Keep each song or prayer connected to the community it comes from, while also building deep connections with it in your own community and entering into it as a way to connect with God.
  5. Embrace vocables (non-lexical syllables), a common practice among some Indigenous communities to structure a song, to frame other text, or as an expression of praise.
  6. Consider carefully when to use drums. Not all songs with connections to Indigenous communities should be accompanied by drums. Read the notes on individual songs in the Accompaniment Edition and listen to recordings from the context of origin as a guide.

Indigenous Peoples Day (June 21) and the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation (Sept. 30) may be particularly suitable occasions for incorporating songs and resources with connections to Indigenous communities in worship.

However, it is important to sing and pray with these materials throughout the year so that they are known and loved and become part of an ongoing journey toward truth and reconciliation. 

The resources in Voices Together with connections to Indigenous communities have the following numbers: 8, 24, 51, 59, 85, 128, 181, 400, 443, 562, 651, 742, 836, 850, 861, 864, 878, 1061. The full version of this article is available at

—Updated Sept. 25, 2023 and Oct. 11, 2023.

(Photo by Aaron Epp)

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