Why Incorporate Global Music into Worship Now?

An invitation to experience new music in worship
by Faith+Lead | March 11, 2021

By Momoko Tanno

What does the Kingdom of God sound like? Is it filled with an amalgam of different pitches, tones, and styles of music and songs you could hear from all different voices of the many communities of people? Some high-pitched, some low-pitched, some reed-like, some flute-like, bass-like, or brass-like tones? Different types of drumming? Electric, acoustic, and something in between? Will it be slow at times and a fast tempo at times? 

Is this what our worship sounds like? For many congregations, the answer is no. But that does not need to be a hopeless conclusion. Instead, what if it is an invitation to try something new?

Why not celebrate the richness of God’s creation in its diversity now? Is the Body of Christ multicultural? Of course we are. We are already multicultural, and now is just the right time to live into that reality.

Core Practices of an Intentionally Diverse Musical Group

In 2011, I was invited into an intentionally diverse group, the ELCA Glocal Mission Gathering Musician Educators, led by Rev. Sunitha Mortha—the Director of Mission Formation in the Global Mission Unit at the ELCA Churchwide Office in Chicago. We gathered every year for the Annual Musicians Training event in Chicago to learn from a group of experts in hymnody, ethnomusicology, and storytelling. We heard from global companions from all over the world about different styles of music, stories, and languages. We also had the opportunity to walk with one another and to be in community with all who were gathered from all over the world, from all walks of life.

We would learn a series of songs and stories at the Annual Musicians Training each year, pray for discernment, and then wait for the invitations to represent the rich diverse collective culture of our church body, acting as ambassadors who share the stories and gifts from around the world. We would represent the many communities that exist in the world and invite others into contextual, cross-cultural, trans-cultural, counter-cultural worship as stated in the Nairobi Statement on Worship and Culture.

In this short video, you can see the role global and local music played in “glocal” mission events prior to the pandemic.


My 10 years with the Glocal Community literally changed my life, and it gave me life. The opportunities to walk with my siblings from all walks of life, working through our differences such as our core values and beliefs, completely transformed my life and my perspective about this world. I believe we are all called to walk in accompaniment as Jesus walked with the disciples and with us today even when we can’t feel it. We use the principles of accompaniment in our mission as stated and practiced in the Global Mission of the ELCA. 

“Accompaniment is defined as walking together in a solidarity that practices interdependence and mutuality.” 

In the same way, the people in the Beloved Community of glocal musician educators have walked with me, and I am committed to walking with them all the way as well. 

What does accompaniment look like? The Glocal Beloved Community spent time with one another, broke bread together, listened to one another’s stories, held space for one another, and learned from one another. Everything about our relationships was based in mutuality: sharing resources, mutual respect, shared leadership, sharing stories with vulnerability and openness, and collaboration. 

When I was first invited into this space, I was perplexed. I really appreciated the opportunity to learn, but at the same time, I wondered how can I, as a Japanese woman who grew up in fairly privileged circumstances, belong in this community of people with all these amazing stories to tell, and walk in solidarity with them? By grace, I kept being invited to share and learn, but mostly to learn, and I kept showing up. Accompaniment means to walk side by side, with no one ahead or behind another, but shoulder to shoulder. 

Once I started listening to the life stories and joined in the songs from people in our community, I also started learning about myself, the stories of my ancestors, and about where I came from. This was such an empowering experience for someone who grew up minimizing my own heritage and failed to see the beauty that existed in myself and in my own culture. I learned there was no hierarchy in the eyes of God, who created us wonderfully and beautifully in God’s own image. Anyone we walk with may well be Jesus, and we just don’t know it.

We are called to share the good news. We are called to walk with one another. We are called to share the amazing love and kinship of this diverse Beloved Community with others by continuing to invite others into the community where we speak different languages, sing and dance in different styles, have different economic backgrounds, look different, love differently, live differently, or are wired differently. We can come together to learn about one another and lift one another up, walk in solidarity with one another, pray for one another, sing and worship together as a community.

How to Incorporate Diverse, Global Music During the Pandemic

If You Are Worshiping Online:

  • This is the perfect opportunity to invite and incorporate more voices of various styles of music to share their gifts, from anywhere with an internet connection, or ask for a recorded video
  • Emphasize that while we cannot travel, we are still the Body of Christ together
  • Teach new songs using videos recorded by multicultural worship leaders such as the Glocal Mission Musician Educators (DVDs available at ELCA)
  • “Visit” other worship services of your neighbors or all around the world
  • Don’t forget to compensate guest musicians fairly; we have been impacted by the pandemic which prevents us from live performance and worship opportunities
  • Move from performance-style worship to content that encourages participation from people of all abilities

If You Are Holding Socially Distanced, In-Person Worship (without group singing):

  • Have music leaders share global hymns or songs that are lesser-known in your context. While we do not want people to sing in groups, this is a good opportunity to introduce some less familiar tunes that have been marginalized and lift up the richness of the theology they bring
  • Encourage participation using rhythm instruments, tapping on one’s own body, or other movement in lieu of singing
  • Learn and teach ASL songs, consulting a member of the ASL community to determine what’s appropriate
  • Take time to share the stories behind the songs
Your Turn

When introducing a new song, invite people to listen and experience deeply what they can appreciate about the music and stories that may be similar or different from what they are used to. 

  • How does the music or story make you feel? 
  • Does this experience change the way you see others in your community, how you understand God, or the world-wide Church? 

This is an invitation to introduce new, life-giving music to worship that gives hope to a wider community. Let us joyfully worship together in many tongues and move the parts of our bodies and the global Body of Christ that we may have forgotten about!

About the Author
Momoko Tanno is an active singer/actor in the Twin Cities, ELCA Glocal Mission Musician Educator and the Music Director/Cantor at First Christian Church of St. Paul. She is also part of the Voice faculty at McPhail Center for Music and a founding member of the Inclusion Ministry at St. Andrew’s Lutheran Church in Mahtomedi, MN.

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