Each December Church of the Servant Christian Reformed Church (COS) in Grand Rapids, Mich., announces a new winner for its annual COS New Psalm Contest. This year’s winning compositions will make their congregational singing debut at the morning services on February 2.
The contest draws dozens of submissions from all over the world, some from very high-profile composers. A number have gone on to be published or recorded. For the first time in the contest’s four-year history, two compositions shared the win: Kathy McGrath and Carol Browning’s “Psalm 139: Search Me, O God,” and Bruce Benedict and Wendell Kimbrough’s “Psalm 113: Who Is Like Our God?”
“I love the psalms,” said Browning, who also won the 2011 contest for her paraphrase of Psalm 131. “They are the people’s prayer.” She appreciated collaborating this year with a friend who had wanted to do a setting for Psalm 139. “We had set it aside but revisited it when we saw the announcement for this year’s psalm contest.”
“The contest has brought back the art of psalm song writing,” said Greg Scheer, minister of worship at COS. “It challenges contemporary musicians to think about psalms and increases the profile of psalm singing as many are sung in home churches and spread beyond.”
The contest began in 2010 in memory of Ben Fackler, a self-taught musician who died at the age of 28. Fackler’s aunt, moved by the music at the funeral, gave a gift to the music ministry at COS in Fackler’s memory.
Scheer, a composer himself, came up with the idea of a contest to compose a new setting for a psalm that could be used in congregational singing at COS on a regular basis. “The contest marks the anniversary of his death with a brand new song coming to life.”
Fackler’s parents donated his guitar, which Scheer now plays when leading worship. “They were glad for it to be used,” says Scheer, “His music making has been stopped, but his voice can go on in this way.” He adds, “It is a great guitar.”