The title “Songs of Peace” developed quickly when my wife, Karin Franz, and I started writing worship songs during the pandemic lockdown for the Music and Theology Department at Bienenberg Theological Seminary, an Anabaptist institution in Switzerland.
We wanted to offer an alternative to mainstream worship songs, which often do not fully express Anabaptist spirituality, beliefs and prayer language. We wanted to write catchy songs, in German, with linguistic and theological depth. We wanted songs that can work as prayers, that emphasize the kingdom of God and that have a modern sound.
We chose “Songs of Peace” — thinking both of peace with others and inner peace — as a term for songs that meet these needs. After research and conversations in church circles, we found texts, poems and prayers we could set to music.
Deeper longings, motives
The members of our department at Bienenberg have been dealing with questions about music in modern worship culture for many years. Learning to understand this culture helps us recognize deeper yearnings behind contemporary worship trends. It provides insight for the renewal of worship music, including Anabaptist-Mennonite worship.
At first glance, the modern worship movement’s allure comes from pop and rock music, which corresponds to many young people’s preference. But closer inspection reveals deeper longings and motives.
Some of our most intense faith experiences and encounters with God happen through music. We don’t have to come from a charismatic faith tradition to desire an emotional or even mystical experience in worship.
But which values and beliefs should our songs express? Which images of God and worldviews should be conveyed? Which messages and values resonate with the staging and musical interpretation? Can contemporary worship music inspire an Anabaptist spirituality in a younger generation?
We believe it is time for a contemporary form of music and worship that fulfills people’s longing for spiritual and emotional experiences and that expresses these desires in a balanced theological way, including peace theology.
A loving, nonviolent God
Influences for these songs range from world music to Taizé and singer-songwriter genres.
The songs are grounded in an honest faith. In addition to praise and joy, there is also a place for expressing sadness, need, powerlessness, doubt, intercession and blessing. These songs highlight the boundless love of a compassionate and nonviolent God. They express a longing for social justice, restoration, preservation of God’s creation and all-encompassing peace.
This project focuses on developing not only a new collection of songs but also new practices of music in worship. Staging and musical forms should support kingdom-of-God values: contentment, simplicity, gratitude, authenticity, inclusion, fellowship, patience and sustainability. Because less is often more, minimalist arrangements offer flexibility to create atmospheres either quiet and intimate or exuberant and friendly.
We live in a noisy, fast-paced world. We need places and times to pause, pray, be silent, listen to our yearnings, fellowship with others and simply to know the goodness of God.
Dennis Thielmann is a music producer, band coach and theologian. He has worked since 2017 at Bienenberg Theological Seminary after studying theology in Paraguay and Switzerland.