Ralph Milton.

Ralph Milton.

Scratching where the church itches

Launch party May 17 at First United Church in Kelowna for five DVDs containing hymnbook resource of 100 songs.

  • May. 9, 2015 11:00 a.m.

It’s the world’s first video hymnal—at least  Ralph Milton claims it is.

“So far, nobody has challenged that statement,” Milton said, “and I’ve not found anything like it on the web.”

Milton is well-known in the Okanagan as a founding partner of Wood Lake Publications, in Lake Country, which grew to be Canada’s largest religious publishing house, and as the author of over a dozen books.

“It’s new technology that makes this kind of thing possible and affordable,” he said. And it’s attracted international attention with inquiries from as far away as Australia.

This radically different resource is called, “Sing Hallelujah,” a set of five DVDs containing a small but complete hymnbook of 100 songs. It was produced here in Kelowna, and is being published by the United Church Publishing House out of Toronto.

A big launch party will be held Sunday, May 17, 2 p.m., at First United Church in Kelowna. It’s a free event.  “Come and sing your head off and your heart out,” said Milton. Copies of “Sing Hallelujah” will be available for sale at the event.

Sing Hallelujah began when Milton and singer/songwriter Linnea Good, of Summerland, were sharing experiences of worship in tiny congregations.

“They really want to sing,” said  Good, who has toured in every part of Canada and internationally. “They need to sing. They have so many problems, and singing doesn’t solve them. But singing helps them have hope and vision and strength to move forward.”

Retired Anglican bishop Gordon Light (formerly of Kelowna) tells a similar story. When Light was Bishop for the Anglican Parishes of the Central Interior he took his guitar with him on his visits to various congregations.

Light is a key member of the Common Cup Company, well known across the country for their performances and CDs. “The people in those parishes loved to sing,” he said, “but they had no song leader.”

The big mega churches get the greatest media attention, but most congregations of every denomination, are small. There are thousands them across Canada and around the world. They yearn to sing, because worship without singing is almost unimaginable. But they have no one to lead them.

Sing Hallelujah is unlike any resource the church has seen before. The DVD set features videos of music composed and sung by well-known performers like Ron Klusmeier, Jim and Jean Strathdee, Gordon Light, Bruce Harding, Linnea Good and Jim Hannah (of Winfield), all of whom have toured and performed in the Okanagan. Those same musicians also offer an equal number of grand old classic hymns.

In addition, many of the songs are performed by local choirs, including the Alleluia Voices and the Alleluia Children’s Choir at First United Church, Gospel Praise of St. Paul’s United, and Khoros of St. Michael’s Anglican Cathedral. Together, the 100 pieces are a small but complete hymn book, with music for the various occasions and themes of the church year.

Sing Hallelujah is specifically designed for small, struggling congregations and small groups within the church. Users will sing along with the various performers to words that show on the bottom of the screens. The background to the type and its style (Arial) are according to standards prescribed by the Canadian National Institute for the Blind (CNIB).

The video can be easily viewed by a congregation of several dozen people on a 30-inch, flat-screen TV, the kind most kind members have in their homes. If there’s no money in the congregational purse to buy such a set, members can bring their own TV sets and DVD players.

Everyone involved – the musicians,  Milton and the United Church Publishing House — all have worked hard to ensure that Sing Hallelujah could be sold at a price small congregations could manage. Grants were received from the ProVision Fund of the BC Conference of the United Church, and from the United Church of Canada Foundation.

That, plus hundreds of hours of volunteer time, meant that most of the up-front costs did not need to be worked into the final price. So the set is only $99.95, which works out to less than a dollar a song.

“Why didn’t we do this years ago?” is the comment Milton has heard most frequently. The reality is that the technology was simply far too expensive. It’s only in the last few years that the cost of production has come down enough to make this possible.

“When I was producing television in Calgary years ago, we needed a suite of equipment and three of four technicians to do the kind of editing I can now do even better on my desktop computer,”  he said. And high definition TV sets and DVD players have come way down in price, to make such a venture possible for all kinds of groups.

While the focus is very much on small congregations, Sing Hallelujah seems to be answering other needs as well.

Sharilynn Upsdell, of Rutland, chaplain at Heron Grove in Vernon,  wants a set to use in worship services with seniors. A local funeral director inquired about the resource. “We have quite a few services where only a few people are present, with no particular church connection. But they want a religious service, and they want to sing a hymn.”

Milton, who celebrated his 80th birthday while producing Sing Hallelujah, says the year-long project came like a shot of adrenalin.

“I felt as if I’d been training my whole life for this.” Milton began his working life as a disc jockey, news reporter, and open-line host. Then a decade in international communication, followed by another ten years producing radio and TV programs for Alberta Interfaith out of Calgary. Finally a decade as Publisher at Wood Lake Publications in Lake Country, and the author a dozen books such as the popular “Family Story Bible,” and “Angles in Red Suspenders.”

“The nice thing about retirement,” added Milton, “is that what you do is no longer connected with earning a living. You can respond to a call when you hear it. So I could work full-time at producing Sing Hallelujah without taking a salary. And I had a ball!”

“I’ve produced many resources, written a pile of books, and led all kinds of events. But I’ve never had such a positive response from people. They are enthusiastic about the concept, even when they’ve not even seen the final product. I think we’re really scratching where the church itches.”

Kelowna Capital News