Worship, Music, and Spirituality: A Parable in Song

February 27, 2024
closeup of yellow ackee fruit on a green branch

Here is a story of two songs: a hymn from our existing collection and a folk tune I grew up with.

VU 468 “Let us talents and tongues employ” (tune LINSTEAD, Jamaican; words by Fred Kaan, 1975) is a joyous communion hymn that is all about abundance: “Loaves abound!” “Linstead market” is a Jamaican folk tune that is all about scarcity: “Lawd, what a night, not a bite.”

In the hymn, a community sings together their song of joy for the ability to gather at the table. In the folk tune, a mother shares her singular frustrations at the market—everybody’s feeling up her food and not buying it—and her singular fear: “How di pickney gwine feed?” (What will my children eat?)

Each tells a very different story, and I have always had a hard time reconciling the two whenever “Let us talents and tongues employ” is sung in church. What has helped me reconcile the story of abundance in the hymn text with the story of scarcity in the folk tune is to understand the two as part of a parable about the nature of God’s realm: a place where everyone is fed and what they bring to the market is celebrated.

The complexity of this hymn is lost without the story of the original tune. The context and origins of the songs we sing tell a story that often deepens our understanding of the song and our connection to its source. They also help us to sing the song reverently in a way that hopefully honours the stories of the people who entrusted the song to our care by sharing it.

Copyright conversations often focus on legal requirements, licences, royalties, permissions, and financial renumeration, instead of on our moral obligations and faithful responsibilities to honour and respect creators. Communities often feel so bound and confused by the legal requirements that they lose the energy for considering the moral obligations, which can be a lot more complicated and nuanced, especially since cultures have different understandings of ownership and community. When we fail to understand these differences or, worse, impose Western laws and understandings on non-Western communities, we run the risk of exploiting and misappropriating the works of others instead of celebrating them.

When we gather as the whole people of God in worship, we hope to create glimmers of the beloved community that will be, if we who are faithful continue to do the work of honouring each other and learning from our stories. In our copyright statements and Then Let Us Sing!, the United Church hopes to provide communities of faith with tools to do this through song, especially the songs of folks who have been historically excluded. I am convinced that our unique stories, when respectfully put together, will reveal to us more about God’s realm than we would have ever been able to reveal on our own.

Loaves abound!

In hope,


Alydia Smith, Program Coordinator, Worship, Music, and Spirituality