Last night at the free Sandra McCracken concert at Park Cities Presbyterian Church in Dallas, the soulful-folk-singer-songwriter stepped onto stage and lit a candle. Suddenly, the concert setting was transformed into an atmosphere of worship that deepened as young and old voices joined in the old, old words: “Almighty God, to you all hearts are open…” By the concert’s end, we walked away having experienced exactly what Sandra prayed over us — that we would know the hospitality and healing of God. Through Sandra McCracken’s true and beautiful art, we were able to enter in to God’s mysteries of grace and joy and return into the world changed and renewed.
It’s what I wish every worship service I plan or attend could achieve. Of course, it helps to have world-class musicians and a beautiful sanctuary like the one at Park Cities Presbyterian. But any congregation can get a start toward such a transcendent experience simply by employing Sandra McCracken’s wonderful songs in their worship services.
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I recently rediscovered Sandra’s work because I was looking for new, quality worship music to introduce to my congregation, and I saw her song, “Trinity Song,” profiled in Worship Leader Magazine. That song led me to “We Will Feast in the House of Zion,” which is fast becoming a favorite in our church. Sandra McCracken’s songs occupy an alarmingly narrow niche in the world of worship music. I say “alarmingly” because the qualities of her excellent music should not be so rare in the church. Her songs are rooted in Scripture, in tested doctrine, and in hymnody, but are rendered with lovely contemporary poetic expression. The music feels familiar-yet-fresh, with its soulful folk style and instantly singable melodies. Each song is meditative without sacrificing intellect — worship songs that engage mind and heart. And the wide age-range of the folks at her concert last night testifies to the inter-generational appeal of her music — an important characteristic when so many congregations are split along age and style lines. And on a more practical note, she consistently writes in an easily-singable range. In short, her songs contain everything modern worship music needs.
Christine Hand Jones is a singer-songwriter, a professor of English and songwriting, and has served as a worship leader and church music director. She has a PhD in Literary Studies from the University of Texas at Dallas, which she earned, in large measure, by listening to the collected works of Bob Dylan and writing about what she heard. When she's not playing music or fascinating her students with stunning lectures over comma splices, Christine can be found drinking coffee, playing devoted cat mom to Desmond and Molly, and roaming the shelves of Half-Price Books.