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Seven Psalmfest Tips to Design Your Song Festival

Dozens of Psalmfests held throughout the U.S. and Canada yielded advice that your congregation, college, seminary, or organization can use to plan a festival of psalms, hymns, or other Christian songs.

Dozens of Psalmfests held throughout the U.S. and Canada yielded advice that your congregation, college, seminary, or organization can use to plan a festival of psalms, hymns, or other Christian songs.

The Psalmfests were free public events designed to promote the faithful singing of the biblical psalms in Christian worship and based on the new resource "Psalms for All Seasons: A Complete Psalter for Worship" (Brazos and Faith Alive Christian Resources, 2012).

Calvin Institute of Christian Worship provided support to 40 worshiping communities to host Psalmfests. The Worship Institute is accepting applications through June 30, 2013, for Hymnfests, a program designed to promote learning about what it means to sing the whole of God’s story.

Mine the resources

Good hymnals and psalters function as curated song collections that offer multiple ways to sort and select congregational songs. You’ll get song festival ideas by studying the introductory essay, table of contents, page notes, performance notes, appendices, and indices.

For its Psalmfest, Beckwith Hills Christian Reformed Church (CRC) in Grand Rapids, Michigan, zeroed in on the Psalms for All Seasons (PfAS) section “Services of Prayer.” It gives templates for fixed-hour prayer services for morning, noon, evening, night, and church meetings. Templates include opening and closing sentences, songs, suggestions for appropriate psalms to pray, sing, or meditate on, several settings of The Lord’s Prayer, and other prayer suggestions.

PfAS resources include the printed Psalter, CDs, and the website Lift Up Your Hearts (LUYH) comes in print, projection, and electronic formats. At its website,, you can register and download a free LUYH sampler.

Involve many people

Besides including your music director on the song festival team, consider inviting others from your congregation and beyond.

Waterloo Lutheran Seminary in Waterloo, Ontario, planned its Psalmfest in a contextual ministry class taught by Debbie Lou Ludolph, the chapel dean. Seminarians wrote and used two original laments. “We incorporated readings of the psalms in Finnish and Estonian to remind the congregation that the words of the psalms have a universal message,” Ludolph said.

Hyde Park Presbyterian in metro Boston invited people from many churches to play and sing. Homewood First Presbyterian in metro Chicago doesn’t have a praise band so “borrowed” one from a sister church. It also invited people from other churches and the local American Guild of Organists chapter to join a community Psalmfest choir.

Show how psalms touch lives

The point of embedding psalms and hymns in our memories is to work with words God gave us to shape our conversations, relationships, and actions over time.

The Psalmfest team at Third Reformed Church in Holland, Michigan, asked church staff, “well-versed laity,” and each other to share how specific psalms had touched their lives. “From that conversation the flow and format of the service was constructed. We set up a three-part worship service: meeting an old friend, telling our stories, and wishing one another well as we continue to sing and read the Psalms,” said Linda Strouf, minister of music.

Trinity Lutheran Church in New Smyrna Beach, Florida, asked retired hospital chaplain Chuck Weinrich to narrate. “He shared how he had used the Psalms with people to whom he had ministered. It was quite emotional and moving to be reminded how precious the Psalms are,” said cantor Brian Larson.

Women in the Coffee Break ministry at All Nations CRC in Halifax, Nova Scotia, wrote “Psalms 151, 152, and 153” and shared them during the congregation’s Psalmfest worship service.

Take time to plan and publicize

Many Psalmfest teams sent out their first “mark the date” postcards three to six months ahead of their event. Teams did follow-up publicity through mailings, emails, posters, newsletter and bulletin announcements, and news releases. Homewood First Presbyterian did their event during election season, so they made green and white Psalmfest yard signs to stand out from red and blue political campaign signs.

The more people and churches you involve, the farther ahead you should plan your song festival. Beckwith Hills CRC advised, “Be prepared to find substitutes or be able to improvise during rehearsals due to absent musicians. Group planning is key.”

Welcome visuals and movement

St. Andrew Lutheran in Vancouver, Washington, wrapped a wide roll of royal blue paper partway around their sanctuary walls during their Advent-themed Psalmfest. “It made a dramatic change. We continue to visualize the sanctuary in new ways,” the team reported.

First Presbyterian in Dallas, Texas, appointed a Psalmfest subcommittee to focus on worship space aesthetics and visuals.

Carey Theological College in Vancouver, British Columbia, was one of many Psalmfest locations that included art making. A photo slideshow helped people meditate on nature while creation psalms were presented. Each person received a card to express one idea that caught their attention during worship. As worship ended, everyone put their art cards together to create a banner in the worship space.

Psalmfests at Second CRC in Grand Haven, Michigan, and elsewhere, included sacred dance or rhythmic movements, sometimes accompanied by percussion instruments. “Body movements came naturally with the rhythm among the cantors and participants,” reported the Chinese Teachers Bible Fellowship in Scarborough, Ontario.

Serve food

Including food in their Psalmfests helped many groups embody Psalm 34:8’s invitation to taste and see that the Lord is good. Several churches held potlucks or receptions before or after their event. Trinity Evangelical Covenant in Livonia, Michigan moved from Psalmfest worship in the sanctuary to Eucharist and a potluck feast in the fellowship hall. Brian Larson said that Trinity Lutheran’s fellowship committee served a homemade bread and soup supper after the Psalmfest and collected food and money for the national Souper Bowl of Caring program to benefit food ministries in Florida.

Expect the Spirit to move

Psalmfest teams reported many gifts of the Spirit, from spiritual growth among planners and deepened prayer life in congregations, to new people joining churches.

Dave Vroege, pastor of All Nations CRC, emailed Psalmfest feedback, including  “a Christian anarchist teenager who, apparently right in the middle of the service, tweeted, ‘yet another reason why I love my church’…a senior member who was so grateful to have her adult granddaughter with her for the first time in worship…a woman who, grieving her sister's death, felt blessed and comforted by the range of expression in those psalms and their music…a worship band singer  who got a lump in her throat during ‘God, Be Merciful to Me’…and a woman fighting cancer who couldn't keep a dry eye during ‘As the Deer Pants for the Water.’”

Featured Links

Learn More

Read about other Psalmfests in the U.S. and Canada.

Order one or more copies of Psalms for All Seasons (PfAS). Learn more about the (now closed) Psalmfest mini-grants program. Buy CDs or mp3 albums from Choral Scholars, GIA Publications, and Princeton Theological Seminary to learn and teach dozens of PfAS songs. St. Andrew Lutheran Church in Vancouver, Washington, played the Psalms Unplugged CD while workshop participants meditated and painted their group reflections.

Apply by June 30, 2013, for a mini-grant to host a Hymnfest based on the new Lift Up Your Hearts hymnal. Read an interview with Larry Visser about a Hymnfest he planned at LaGrave Avenue Christian Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Also in this Series

Psalmfests Bring Psalms into the Heart of Worship
How to Use the Lift Up Your Hearts Hymnal

Why People Still Love Hymnals

Joyce Borger on psalm singing history

Start A Discussion

Feel free to print and distribute these stories at your staff, worship, music, or church education meeting. These questions will help people consider planning a song festival.

  • Which Psalmfest ideas described above can you envision collaborating on with another church?
  • What new songs, instruments, prayer forms, or liturgical actions would you love to introduce in a hymn festival?
  • If your church already uses a psalter or hymnal, what resources within it (or accompanying it) could you make better use of to enrich worship?