David Lee: Modern psalms for the modern church

From his teenage years in an evangelical Anglican background in suburban Manchester he has always been actively involved in local church music. For two summer seasons in the 1970s he was Abbey Musician at Iona Abbey.

A lifelong keen advocate of active congregational singing, he has become increasingly concerned at the ironic near-extinction of the Bible's own song-book from the song repertoire of "Bible-based" churches of his background.

"Biblically worshipping" churches, it seems, have almost tossed overboard the book of biblical worship.

Scripture's very own songs are now almost entirely lost to our every-week corporate evangelical and charismatic worship, except for occasional highly filtered, cherry-picked and skewed feel-good "invitations to worship". And even this fragmentary residue of non-systematic, spin-doctored song-shards is neutered to being merely spoken, not sung.

From the outset of his time (1995–2008) as music director of St. John's Church, Nevilles Cross, Durham, his writing of psalm settings, particularly in contemporary styles, was very actively encouraged and developed. In particular these included recovering the psalms in ways sympathetic to music-groups and small churches, but still teachable with minimal liturgical intrusion, week by week.

His psalm settings and other directly scripture-based songs cover a range of styles from plainsong to hard rock and most styles across that spectrum. They have been included in publications as diverse as Psalms for All Seasons: A Complete Psalter for Worship (Calvin Institute of Christian Worship, USA), Christian Worship: Psalter (Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod, USA), Season by Season (Royal School of Church Music, UK), Spring Harvest songbook (Spring Harvest, UK), Evangelicals Now and a psalm chant collection honouring York Minster's former organist Francis Jackson.

Recent Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) influences on his psalm paraphrasing include the translations of Robert Alter and the hermeneutical approaches of Old Testament scholars Peter Enns and John Walton.

So… whose permission is still restraining you and your church from singing scripture's very own songs? Go ahead: try some of these psalm settings!