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Hymn History: Softly and Tenderly Jesus Is Calling

“Softly and Tenderly Jesus Is Calling”
Will Thompson UM Hymnal, No. 348

The Pender UMC Traditional Service Final Hymn “Softly and Tenderly Jesus Is Calling” on Sunday September 11, 2022 was played by Liz Eunji Moon on piano, accompanied on guitar by Brian Stevenson and sung the Pender Sanctuary Choir and congregation.

Undoubtedly, many readers of this column grew up in a revival tradition that included an extended invitation hymn—a congregational hymn at the conclusion of the service that focused on those attending who may be called by the Holy Spirit to make either a profession of faith or a recommitment of one’s life. In services of this nature, the direction of the entire liturgy points to the sermon and this time of commitment. Our hymn is a classic invitation hymn from the 19th-century revival tradition.

Will Lamartine Thompson (1847-1909) was born in Pennsylvania and died in New York City. He attended Mount Union College in Alliance, Ohio, and the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston, before continuing his musical studies in Leipzig, Germany.

In addition to being a composer of secular, patriotic and gospel songs, Thompson was a music publisher. When his songs were rejected by publishers of his day, he formed his own enterprise, Will L. Thompson & Company, with offices in Chicago and East Liverpool, Ohio. By the 1880s the company expanded beyond publishing music and sold pianos, organs and other instruments and supplies.

The words and music for “Softly and Tenderly Jesus Is Calling” first appeared in Sparkling Gems, Nos. 1 and 2, a collection compiled for Thompson’s company in 1880 by singing-school teacher J. Calvin Bushey.

Other well-known gospel songs by Thompson include “Jesus Is All the World to Me” (UM Hymnal, No. 469), and two with strong eschatological leanings, Lead Me Gently Home, Father” and “There’s a Great Day Coming.”

UM Hymnal editor, the Rev. Carlton R. Young, notes: “This is a typical lullaby in the gospel hymn tradition that characterizes Jesus as a mother, gently rocking and comforting a child. This attribute contributes to the continuing popularity of this genre of religious song that presents Jesus as waiting, caring, and forgiving in intimate—and for many, compelling—metaphors.”

Perhaps Revelation 3:20 captures the spirit of the hymn: “Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.” (KJV) This patient Jesus stands “on the portals . . . waiting and watching . . . for you and for me.”

The second stanza takes a different approach: How can we reject the “pleading” one who offers “pardon”? The third stanza increases in urgency: “Time is now fleeting, the moments are passing . . . shadows are gathering, deathbeds are coming. . . .” The final stanza returns to the theme of Jesus who offers “mercy and pardon” for the sinner.

The genius of a gospel song is usually found in the refrain and this one is no exception. The refrain extends the invitation to “come home” four times in the melody, and an additional two times in the accompanying lower voices.

Interestingly, though “Softly and Tenderly” is the quintessential invitation hymn in the revival tradition, the invitation to “come home” may also be seen as the invitation to join Jesus in heaven. Indeed, two examples attest to this: The hymn was used during the memorial service for assassinated civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta on April 8, 1968. It was also a recurring song in The Trip to Bountiful (1985), an Oscar-winning movie about an older woman in the 1940s who wants to return one last time to her girlhood hometown of Bountiful.

Hymnologist Ernest Emurian told a story associated with this hymn: “When the world-renowned lay preacher, Dwight Lyman Moody, lay on his deathbed in his Northfield, Massachusetts, home, Will Thompson made a special visit to inquire as to his condition. The attending physician refused to admit him to the sickroom, and Moody heard them talking just outside the bedroom door. Recognizing Thompson’s voice, he called for him to come to his bedside. Taking the Ohio poet-composer by the hand, the dying evangelist said, ‘Will, I would rather have written “Softly and Tenderly Jesus Is Calling” than anything I have been able to do in my whole life.’”

Adapted from https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/resources/history-of-hymns-softly-and-tenderly-jesus-is-calling

 

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Hymn History: Savior, Like a Shepherd Lead Us

Savior, Like a Shepherd Lead Us
attributed to Dorothy A. Thrupp;
The United Methodist Hymnal, No. 381

Savior, like a shepherd lead us,
much we need thy tender care;
in thy pleasant pastures feed us,
for our use thy folds prepare.
Blessed Jesus, blessed Jesus!
Thou hast bought us, thine we are.

The Pender UMC Traditional Service Middle Hymn “Savior Like a Shepherd Lead Us” on Sunday September 11, 2022 was played by Liz Eunji Moon on piano, accompanied on guitar by Brian Stevenson and sung the Pender Sanctuary Choir and congregation.

“Savior, Like a Shepherd Lead Us,” attributed to Englishwoman Dorothy A. Thrupp (1779-1847), is found in almost every Christian hymnal. According to the hymnology website, www.hymnary.org, “Savior, Like a Shepherd Lead Us” appears in 1005 hymnals. It is one hymn that most church members can recognize across denominational lines. What may surprise most churchgoers to know, however, is that for such a well-known and loved hymn of the Christian faith, we know little about how it was written or who the true author was. Its past aside, however, we see that whoever penned these words had a deeply theological message to share.

The mystery of the authorship of the words goes back to the 1830s, when the hymn made its first appearances in Thrupp’s Hymns for the Young (c. 1830) and the Fourth Edition in 1836, but without attribution. Rev. William Carus Wilson published a magazine titled The Children’s Friend (June 1838) and ascribed the poem to “Lyte,” possibly Henry Francis Lyte (1793-1847). British hymnologist J. R. Watson notes, “The authorship remains in doubt; all that can be added is that a stylistic analysis of the vocabulary, rhythm and content would suggest that Thrupp, rather than Henry Francis Lyte, was the author” (Canterbury Dictionary).

The penned words were directly applied to children, and the anonymous writer obviously meant to use this four-stanza hymn for teaching. It was more than twenty years later that the tune we presently know was composed by the American musician William Bradbury (1816-1868). His tune, named after himself, has most often been associated with this text, except in the case of the Episcopalian tradition that paired the text with the tune SICIILIAN MARINERS. When Bradbury composed this tune, however, he modified the original words meant for children and broadened the meaning to include all the congregation. Then, with some modernizing of the language, the text was standardized as it appears today. Since about 1830, the hymn has remained largely untouched. In fact, when the Methodist Book of Hymns shortened the refrain in 1966, the publisher received so many complaints, the full Bradbury version was put back into The United Methodist Hymnal (1989).

One has to wonder why this hymn has been so successful for nearly two hundred years. The most likely answer is found in the theology of the hymn. Since the focus of the original composition was for young children, Thrupp would have wanted to encapsulate the essence and message of a caring Christ who loves all his children. In the first stanza, we see Christ portrayed as a shepherd offering care and guidance to his flock as well as preparing for service and Christian life. This is followed by an acknowledgement that we are Christ’s. Thrupp alludes to Psalm 23 – “pleasant pastures” – and draws upon the image of Christ as the Good Shepherd (John 10:1-18).

Likewise, the second stanza picks up with the idea of possession by Christ and the continued picture of Christ as the Good Shepherd. Now, however, the author shows that we are not only possessed by Christ, but we are also in fellowship with Christ. Christ is our defender and guide, and he will hear us when we pray to him and follow in his footsteps. The author also alludes to the lost sheep (Matthew 18:12-14; Luke 15:3-7), especially in the phrase, “seek us when we go astray.”

The third stanza offers a wonderful picture of the salvation message of Christ—that no one is beyond the reach of God’s love and there is no sin too great to keep us separated from God. Underlying this message is an understanding of original sin, the inherent sinful nature of all of God’s children: “Thou hast promised to receive us,/poor and sinful though we be. . .” Although the concept of original sin finds its roots with St. Augustine (354-430), the sixteenth-century reformers Martin Luther and John Calvin assured the continuation of this theological concept among Protestants. The refrain then acknowledges “We will early turn to Thee,” providing an effective segue into the final stanza – a poetic device known as anadiplosis.

Stanza four reminds us that the original focus of the hymn was on children–with references to seeking Christ early in life: “Early let us seek thy favor;/early let us do thy will. . .”. Thrupp advocated for an early and honest following of Christ that leads us to a place of service and following God’s will. There is a plea for the love of God to be shown through us as the body of Christ and that God’s love will always be present, as he has always loved us.

The picture we get from this hymn, and the reason it has been such a defining song of the church, lies in the fact that it presents the fuller theology of Christian life in one song. This picture of the saving love and grace of God, the salvation message of God, God’s fellowship with us, and the continuing service to God gives us the broader perspective of what the Christian life should be. Thrupp attempted to make the hymn accessible to children, and Bradbury has presented it in a way that is applicable to every Christian. Although this song may have had some vague beginnings, it has a certain future in the church because of its message of hope, love, salvation, and Christian living.

Adapted from https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/resources/history-of-hymns-savior-like-a-shepherd-lead-us

 

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Hymn History: Out of the Depths

“Out of the Depths”
by Ruth Duck
The Faith We Sing, No. 2136.

The Pender UMC Traditional Service Middle Hymn “Out of the Depths” on Sunday September 4, 2022 was played by Eunji Moon on piano and sung by Brian Stevenson, the Pender Sanctuary Choir and congregation.

Central to biblical models of prayer is the practice of lament: crying out to God in pain, anguish, and grief. While examples of prayers of lament are found throughout the biblical witness and are particularly prevalent in the book of Psalms, too often we neglect lament in our worship.1 Bringing all our wounds to God shapes and forms us in honest relationship with our Creator, who loves us when we are far from perfection and is present with us in times of trouble. Hymns such as Ruth Duck’s “Out of the Depths” can help us reclaim lament in our worship.

“Out of the Depths” uses Psalm 130:1 as a springboard to name the things that plunge us into our own depths. While Psalm 130 is often seen as a confessional psalm, with its focus on redemption from iniquities,2 there are many things we hide away—our wounds, our scars, our traumas, our fears—and hiding these from ourselves and God stifles healing. “Out of the Depths” brings them forward through the practice of naming and lamenting in community. The first verse acknowledges the power of “wounds of the past” to affect our daily lives and the need for God’s love when we look at the full scope of our lives. The second verse leads us toward breaking silences that cloud the truth and keep us living in the fear of that which we have been too afraid to name.

While “Out of the Depths” encourages us to do our own individual work toward bringing our laments to God, it also lifts up the value of community in this healing process. While the first two stanzas both begin with “out of the depths,” all three stanzas end with “here in this community,” ensuring that the words most emphasized by repetition are not words of sorrow and isolation, but words of companionship. The second stanza also speaks to the safety and value of sharing difficult emotions among friends.

Almost all psalms of lament live in the tension between lament and praise. In fact, praise and expressions of confidence in God are seen as essential elements to the form of “lament”;3 many lament psalms end in praise (such as Psalm 13), or move back and forth constantly between lament and praise (Psalm 42).4 “Out of the Depths” leads us into praise in the final verse, painting a picture of a dancing God who moves through our lives as light in our darkness, meeting us with grace. The tune, FENNVILLE, is flexible enough to hold both tones—lament and praise—lending a strength and assurance to our words of praise. A bit of creativity in accompaniment can easily turn the final chord to a brighter tone.

The flexibility of this hymn conjures up possibilities for use outside the traditional context of singing the hymn straight-through in a service. Spoken prayer could easily be interspersed within the stanzas: naming specific kinds of pain present to those gathered, asking for assurance of God’s presence even in the depths, and thanking God for being revealed in community. It could easily be paired not only with Psalm 130, but also Psalm 139, in its assurance that there is no place anyone can go out of God’s reach—not even the depths.

While “Out of the Depths” leads us into lament in a way appropriate for many Sunday mornings, it is also a hymn to keep in mind in the unfortunate reality of times of crisis and tragic circumstances. The line, “Wounds of the past remain, affecting all we do,” acknowledges the impact such events have not only in the immediate aftermath, but throughout our lives. As such, this hymn could be particularly powerful when used in services of remembrance acknowledging anniversaries of events that have shaken communities.

“Out of the Depths” also has strong potential for use outside of a Sunday morning worship service. Ruth Duck has written alternate second lines for the first verse; one for those who are seriously ill (“Free us from fear of death, our faith and hope renew…”), and one for those who have been abused (“Words of abuse remain, affecting all we do…”) These reframe the hymn for more specific situations and could be useful in pastoral care situations as an opening or closing song for grief-sharing and support groups.

This is not surprising given the author’s interest in liturgical healing. A professor of worship at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary, a strong presence in the academic liturgical community, and a prolific hymn text writer, Ruth Duck has written many hymns focused on healing and God’s ability to bring wholeness and restoration (such as “Sacred the Body,” “When We Must Bear Persistent Pain,” and “Womb of Life and Source of Being”). 5 “Out of the Depths” offers a way for us to give voice to our too often unspoken pain, celebrate community, and be assured of God’s grace which meets us wherever we are.


1 Duff, Nancy J. “Recovering Lamentation as a Practice in Church”, in Lament: Reclaiming Practices in Pulpit, Pew, and Public Square, ed. Sally A. Brown and Patrick D. Miller. Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2005. p 4.

2 ed. Martin Tel, Psalms for All Seasons, Grand Rapids: Faith Alive Christian Resources, 2012. p 848.

3 Miller, Patrick D. They Cried to the Lord: the Form and Theology of Biblical Prayer. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1994. p 55-133.

4 Psalm 88 is a notable expression of a lament psalm without praise.

 

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“Suite for Flute and Jazz Piano Trio” by Claude Bolling from Concert for Ukraine

 

 

Suite for Flute and Jazz Piano Trio by Claude Bolling “Suite for Flute and Jazz Piano (aka Suite for Flute and Jazz Piano Trio) is a “crossover” composition, synthesizing Baroque and swing era jazz elements, by the jazz pianist and composer Claude Bolling. The composition, originally written in 1973, is a suite of seven movements, written for a classical flute, and a jazz piano trio (piano, string bass, and drums).

Helen Kim, Liz Sellers and AJ Rios performed the first movement – “Baroque and Blue”. It follows a large scale ABA form — beginning in G major, modulating to the parallel minor at 1:54, and returning to G at 4:36.

The Pender Concert Supporting Ukraine on April 23 featured Liz Sellers on piano, Brian on harp, and local professional musicians, including woodwind quintet, drums, organ, guitar, flute, penny whistle, singing and violin.

Concert repertoire included: Harp arrangements by Debussy, Piano trio of Jazz/Baroque, Flute Concertino by Chaminade, Woodwind Quintet with music of Duke Ellington, The Widor Toccata Organ Symphony Movement V and an Irish session!

There was no charge for this concert but there was a free will offering taken to support Ukraine through Advance #982450, UMCOR International Disaster Response and Recovery. This fund provides direct assistance to those in Ukraine as well as assistance to Ukrainians fleeing to neighboring countries.

One hundred percent of all Advance contributions go to the designated cause. (The independent charity watchdog, “Charity Watch,” gives UMCOR an “A+” ranking, and includes the UM organization on a highly selective list of charities it recommends when considering how to support the Ukrainian people. Read more)

The United Methodist community in Ukraine, though quite small, is actively engaged in assisting neighbors in need. Global Ministries is in touch with the church’s leadership as well as with church leaders in countries welcoming those who are fleeing from violence in Ukraine.

Click this link and choose UMCOR to send direct aid. In the memo line, put Advance #982450, UMCOR International Disaster Response and Recovery.

Thank you for your support!

 

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Don’t Get Around Much Anymore by Duke Ellington from Concert for Ukraine

 

 

“Don’t Get Around Much Anymore” is a jazz standard written by composer Duke Ellington. The song was originally entitled “Never No Lament” and was first recorded by Duke Ellington and his orchestra on May 4, 1940.

The Morpheus Chamber Players are Alisha Coleman (clarinet, Gwen Jones (flute), Jeff Kahan (oboe), Wendy Chinn (French horn) and Lisa Eckstein (bassoon). AJ Rios sat in as guest percussionist.

The Pender Concert Supporting Ukraine on April 23 featured Liz Sellers on piano, Brian on harp, and local professional musicians, including woodwind quintet, drums, organ, guitar, flute, penny whistle, singing and violin.

Concert repertoire included: Harp arrangements by Debussy, Piano trio of Jazz/Baroque, Flute Concertino by Chaminade, Woodwind Quintet with music of Duke Ellington, The Widor Toccata Organ Symphony Movement V and an Irish session!

There was no charge for this concert but there was a free will offering taken to support Ukraine through Advance #982450, UMCOR International Disaster Response and Recovery. This fund provides direct assistance to those in Ukraine as well as assistance to Ukrainians fleeing to neighboring countries.

One hundred percent of all Advance contributions go to the designated cause. (The independent charity watchdog, “Charity Watch,” gives UMCOR an “A+” ranking, and includes the UM organization on a highly selective list of charities it recommends when considering how to support the Ukrainian people. Read more)

The United Methodist community in Ukraine, though quite small, is actively engaged in assisting neighbors in need. Global Ministries is in touch with the church’s leadership as well as with church leaders in countries welcoming those who are fleeing from violence in Ukraine.

Click this link and choose UMCOR to send direct aid. In the memo line, put Advance #982450, UMCOR International Disaster Response and Recovery.

Thank you for your support!

 

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