Sing with the Saints: Worship Planning for All Saints' Day

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The word saint stems from the Greek word for "holy" or "set apart" (source). In Catholicism, saints are an esteemed group of believers who have been canonized (posthumously) for their good deeds on earth. In the Protestant tradition, the word saint is often used to refer to any believer, as it is throughout the New Testament (source).

"And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ." - Ephesians 4:11-12

All Saints' Day is November 1 each year, but it is celebrated in the church on the following Sunday. Some congregations honor the memory of those lost in the past year; others seek ways to honor and celebrate the work of God's saints in the church, in the community, and the world today.

Here are a few resources and ideas that might be helpful to you in planning this year's All Saints' Sunday service: 

Songs and Hymns

Here is a list of songs and hymns that work well for All Saints' Sunday:

For All the Saints Who Showed Your Love
Now Thank We All Our God
Blest Are They
Holy, Holy, Holy
Blest Be the Tie That Binds
Speak, O Lord
My Faith Looks Up to Thee
Rejoice in God’s Saints
Sing with All the Saints in Glory
For All the Saints
I Sing a Song of the Saints of God
Praise, My Soul, the King of Heaven
Ye Watchers and Ye Holy Ones
The Church's One Foundation
Awake, O Sleeper
Forward Through the Ages
For the Bread Which You Have Broken
Christ the Victorious
How Blest Are They Who Trust in Christ
Father, We Praise Thee
Come, Let Us Join Our Friends Above
Faith of Our Fathers
Shall We Gather at the River

Sources: Calvin Institute, UMC Discipleship, Singing from the Lectionary

Worship Planning

All Saints' Day is a day of remembrance and thanksgiving. Honor the saints in your community (those who've gone before and those still living) by planning thoughtful, meaningful moments in worship.

Here are a few ideas:

Time of remembrance. All Saints' Sunday is a fitting day to those who have gone before us and honor the memory of those lost in the past year. Share a litany or prayer or moment of silence. Light a candle for each person. Read each name aloud and use handbells or chimes to toll for each person.

Bell tree. This is a tangible way to honor and celebrate the saints in our lives (those who’ve gone before and those still among us). Pass out small bells when people arrive and have them write the name of someone who is or has been a saint to them. During one of the hymns, invite people to come forward and hang their bell on a "bell tree.” Carry the bell tree out during the last hymn and display it in the narthex after the service.

Communion procession. We often sing a hymn right before Communion, but it seems fitting to me to do something a little different on All Saints' Sunday. Instead of having the elements set up on the Communion table before the service, perhaps the servers could carry in the elements during a special song or anthem. I think "Remember Me" by Mark Schultz would be a beautiful, meaningful way to honor the memory of those lost and prepare to receive Communion.

Setting the table.Similar to the bell tree idea, congregation members are invited (in advance) to write the name of someone who is or has been a saint in their lives on a plain white tablecloth using a fabric or permanent marker. Use the tablecloth as a parament or on the Communion table. (source)

Anthems

For All Saints' Sunday, I usually lean toward anthems that focus on light, glory, peace, or faith. Hymn settings of "Holy, Holy, Holy" ("all the saints adore Thee") or "Shall We Gather At the River" ("gather with the saints at the river") are popular choices. Depending on the direction of your service, you could also do something more upbeat or Communion-related.

Here are twelve anthems you might consider:

1  |  Saints Bound for Heaven (arr. Parker) SATB Choir, a cappella
A joyful, enthusiastic setting of this traditional Spiritual.

2  |  Jerusalem, My Happy Home (arr. Sheppard) SATB Choir + Piano
An exquisite setting of a traditional American hymn, including rich harmonies, an a cappella section, and flowing accompaniment, gradually building to the final verse and coming to a quiet close.

3  |  An Hour of Hallowed Peace (Danyew) SATB Choir + Piano
Tender and hopeful, this new setting of an old hymn text reflects the freedom and joy of heaven's celestial shore.

4  |  At the River (Copland) SATB Choir + Piano
A true American classic, this setting of "Shall We Gather At the River?" by Aaron Copland is not to be missed.

5  |  Blest Are They (Haas) SATB Choir + Piano with opt. Congregation
A simple, singable anthem based on the Beatitudes with a recurring chorus that can be easily introduced to the congregation. The verses may be sung by the choir or soloists.

6  |  May God Give You Strength (Patterson) SATB Choir + Piano
A beautiful prayer of blessing for all of God's people, with text based on verses from Ephesians.

7  |  Song of the Saints (Choplin) SATB Choir + Piano with opt. Instrumental Parts
A touching, inspiring anthem with comforting text from the perspective of the saints who have gone before us. It begins quietly and reflectively, gradually building to a triumphant end.

8  |  There Is a Happy Land (arr. Schulz-Widmar) SAB Choir + (11) Handbells
Based on a traditional Scottish folk song, this reflective anthem features a simple, but supportive handbell accompaniment.

9  |  Pie Jesu (Lightfoot) Two-Part, SSA, TTB, SAB or SATB Choir + Piano
An accessible anthem for choirs of all ages and sizes (children, youth, adult, or intergenerational) featuring traditional Latin text ("Pie Jesu Domine, Pie Jesu dona eis requiem").

10  |  For the Saints (Klein & Angerman) SATB Choir + Piano
A beautiful, accessible prayer of thanksgiving for and remembrance of those who've gone before us.

11  |  Our Song Shall Rise to Thee (Martin) SATB Choir + Piano
A new setting of "Holy, Holy, Holy," featuring a Classical-style piano accompaniment and lyrical choral writing.

12  |  The Eternal Gates (arr. Helvey) SATB Choir, a cappella
Though definitely on the challenging side, this arrangement is such a classic setting of the Early American folk tune, HALLELUJA. Fun, rhythmic, and captivating.

What are your favorite ways to celebrate All Saints' Day? What music will you choose for your service?

More resources:
All Saints Day
A Prayer Meditation for All Saints' Day
A Service of Holy Communion for All Saints' Day