Traditional songs "baptised": religious words for folk tunes and popular songs

yellow finches sitting on a perch singing secular non-religious songs as sacred / religious hymns or songs
A challenge faced by many liturgical / pastoral musicians is when someone requests a particular piece of secular music, especially a  popular or folk song for a liturgy in a church where non-religious music is not welcome.

This often happens at funerals and weddings and other emotionally difficult times, with people who have limited connections with the church and who are unlikely to understand why churches prefer to use music that was written for worship..

In these situations, playing an instrumental version is one option.   However it is often not popular because the original lyrics are still predominant in the minds of most people who hear the tune

Another option is to use a "baptised" version:  ie the original tune, but:
  • With religious words set it, and 
  • Played in a style which respects both the venue and the pastoral situation.

Below is a list of some secular tunes, and similar or equivalent hymns.   Currently the list focussed on Irish / Celtic / Gaelic tunes, but others will be added over time.

This is most definitely not a list of parody-hymns - each set of lyrics is intended to be used as a regular hymn.   However they should be used with some caution, in case the secular association of the tune outweigh the religious message in the words.


Popular song tunes and folk-tunes with religious words set to them

Danny Boy / Londonderry Aire I Cannot Tell (copyright free)
Go Silent Friend  (Bell - for funerals)
Down by the Sally Gardens Inspired by Love and Anger
House of the Rising Sun Amazing Grace -the words can be sung to this tune, and have been done this way by some contemporary Christian musicians.
I'd Like to Teach the World to Sing In Christ there is no East or West
Isle of InnisfreeTeach me Dear Lord (Dick Farrelly)
Mor Ghile Mear Faithful is the Lord our King
Scarborough FairSing of a Girl 
Star of the County DownI Heard the Voice of Jesus Say
Canticle of the Turning (Cooney)
Wild Mountain Thyme / Will you Go Lassie, GoMy Soul is Filled with Joy / Holy is His Name
Ye banks and braesWe Cannot Measure How you Heal



Suggestions about more such hymns are welcome, and can be left in the comment box below.

Other resources

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