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Hymn History: How Great Thou Art

A favorite hymn is How Great Thou Art

how-great

“Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised, and His greatness is unsearchable.” Psalm 145:3

“How Great Thou Art” is a Christian hymn based on a Swedish poem written by Carl Gustav Boberg (1859–1940) in Sweden in 1885. The melody is a Swedish folk song.  Its popularity is due in large part to its wide use by gospel singers, notably George Beverly Shea of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Team.

The original Swedish text was a poem entitled “O Store Gud.” written by a Swedish pastor, the Reverend Carl Boberg, in 1886. In addition to being one of the leading evangelical preachers of his day. Boberg was also the successful editor of the periodical Sanningsvittnet. His inspiration for this text is said to have come from a visit to a beautiful country estate on the southeast coast of Sweden. He was suddenly caught in a midday thunderstorm with awe-inspiring moments of flashing violence, followed by a clear brilliant sun. Soon afterwards he heard the calm, sweet songs of the birds in nearby trees. The experience prompted the pastor to fall to his knees in humble adoration of his mighty God, He penned his exaltation in a nine-stanza poem beginning with the Swedish words “O Store Gud, nar jag den varld beskader.”

Several years later Boberg was attending a meeting in the Province of Varmland and was surprised to hear the congregation sing his poem to the tune of an old Swedish melody. It is typically characteristic of many other hymn tunes, i.e., “Day by Day” with its lilting, warm, singable simplicity.

With his original English lyrics and his arrangement of the Swedish folk melody, Mr. Stuart K. Hine published what we know today as the hymn “How Great Thou Art.” Assignments of copyrights and publication rights to an American publishing firm in 1954 helped spread the popularity of this hymn. In April of 1974 the Christian Herald magazine, in a poll presented to its readers, named “How Great Thou Art” the No. 1 hymn in America.

How Great Thou Art

Verse 1:
O Lord my God, When I in awesome wonder,
Consider all the worlds Thy Hands have made;
I see the stars, I hear the rolling thunder,
Thy power throughout the universe displayed.

Chorus:
Then sings my soul, My Saviour God, to Thee,
How great Thou art, How great Thou art.

Then sings my soul, My Saviour God, to Thee,
How great Thou art, How great Thou art!

Verse 2:
When through the woods, and forest glades I wander,
And hear the birds sing sweetly in the trees.
When I look down, from lofty mountain grandeur
And see the brook, and feel the gentle breeze.

Chorus

Verse 3:
And when I think, that God, His Son not sparing;
Sent Him to die, I scarce can take it in;
That on the Cross, my burden gladly bearing,
He bled and died to take away my sin.

Chorus

Verse 4:
When Christ shall come, with shout of acclamation,
And take me home, what joy shall fill my heart.
Then I shall bow, in humble adoration,
And then proclaim: “My God, how great Thou art!”

Chorus

 
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Posted by on February 2, 2023 in Hymn History, hymns, Music, Posts of Interest, Videos

 

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Hymn History: We’ll Understand It Better By and By

bye1 bye2

We are tossed and driven
on the restless sea of time;
somber skies and howling tempests
oft succeed a bright sunshine;
in that land of perfect day,
when the mists have rolled away,
we will understand it better by and by.

Charles Albert Tindley (July 7, 1851 – July 26, 1933) was an American Methodist minister and gospel music composer.

Often referred to as “The Prince of Preachers”, he educated himself, became a minister and founded one of the largest Methodist congregations serving the African-American community on the East Coast of the United States.

He was one of the eminent preachers of Methodism at the turn of the twentieth century. Hymnologist James Abbington has called Tindley a “pastor, orator, poet, writer, theologian, social activist, ‘father of African American Hymnody,’ ‘progenitor of African American gospel music’ and ‘prince of preachers.'”

The Rev. Carlton Young notes “We’ll Understand It Better By and By” was “one of eight hymns . . . written during a difficult period in Tindley’s life.”

One can imagine Tindley using this song to punctuate his sermons, offering hope to those assembled not only through exegesis of the biblical text, but also through a lyrical sung theology.

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From “The Lawrence Welk Show,” Gail, Rod, and Michael are featured in this great Gospel song found in the United Methodist Hymnal (page 525). Join with them in song as they encourage every Christian: “WE’LL UNDERSTAND IT BETTER BY AND BY”

 

 
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Posted by on January 26, 2023 in Hymn History, hymns, Posts of Interest, Videos

 

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Hymn History: I Want to Walk as a Child of the Light

“I Want to Walk as a Child of the Light” by Kathleen Thomerson,
The United Methodist Hymnal, No. 206

The Pender UMC Traditional Service Opening Hymn “I Want to Walk As a Child of the Light” on Sunday September 18, 2022 was played by Liz Eunji Moon on piano, accompanied on guitar by Brian Stevenson and AJ Rios and sung the Pender Sanctuary Choir and congregation.

I want to walk as a child of the light.
I want to follow Jesus.
God set the stars to give light to the world.
The star of my life is Jesus.
Refrain: In him there is no darkness at all.
The night and the day are both alike.
The Lamb is the light of the city of God.
Shine in my heart, Lord Jesus.*

From time to time, a hymn captures our imagination because of its simplicity and transparency. Such a hymn is “I want to walk as a child of the light.” In singing this hymn, we feel the spirit of Epiphany unfold.

Kathleen Armstrong Thomerson (b. 1934) is a native of Tennessee. She wrote the hymn during the summer of 1966 during a visit to the Church of the Redeemer in Houston, Texas, the location providing the origin for the tune name HOUSTON. Her musical education took place at the University of Texas and Syracuse University, with additional studies at the Flemish Royal Conservatory in Antwerp. She has studied with several of the most noted organists of the twentieth century.

Ms. Thomerson directed music at University United Methodist Church in St. Louis and was on the organ faculties of St. Louis Conservatory and Southern Illinois University in Edwardsville. From 2004 through 2013, she served Mt. Olive Lutheran Church in Austin, Texas. In addition to this hymn, she contributed tunes for hymns by Patricia B. Clark in their joint collection, A Taste of Heaven’s Joys: A Collection of Original Hymns (2005).

“I want to walk as a child of the light” comes to The United Methodist Hymnal by way of the Episcopal Hymnal 1940 supplement, Songs for Celebration (1980). A musician with such a distinguished musical pedigree does not usually compose a gospel hymn of such elegant simplicity. A folk-like melody conveys a text based upon a wide range of scriptural allusions and biblical images. United Methodist Hymnal editor, Dr. Carlton Young notes some biblical passages that support the text: Isaiah 42:6c, “I have given you as a covenant to the people, a light to the nations.”; Malachi 4:2, “But for you who revere my name the sun of righteousness shall rise, with healing in its wings”; Revelation 21:25b, “And there will be no night there,” and 22:5b, “They need no light of lamp or sun.”

“I want to walk as a child of the light” communicates deep conviction and personal sincerity, while avoiding any hint of pretence. The first person perspective invites the singer to join Christ, the Light of the World, in discipleship – a journey of faith. The second line of each stanza deepens this commitment:
Stanza 1: “I want to follow Jesus.”
Stanza 2: “I want to look at Jesus.”
Stanza 3: “I want to be with Jesus.”

From a Wesleyan perspective, the theology of this hymn outlines sanctifying grace, the perspective of the Christians as they move toward perfection in the faith, becoming transformed in the image of Christ. Each stanza adds greater luminosity to this walk. In the first stanza, “God set[s] the stars to give light to the world.” Christ in turn becomes the “star of my life.” References to stars support the hymn’s appropriateness for Epiphany. Stanza two expresses the desire to “see the brightness of God.” The “Sun of Righteousness” illumines “the way to the Father.” The final stanza extends the journey toward the “coming of Christ,” an eschatological direction toward our future hope.

As in most gospel hymns, it is the refrain that carries the essence of its meaning; and indeed it is this refrain, with its scriptural allusions that virtually quote from Revelation 21 and 22, that distinguishes this hymn from many earlier expressions of discipleship. While a deeply personal expression of piety, the poet roots her devotional expression firmly in Scripture, avoiding the maudlin and simplistic notions of some gospel songs.

The simplicity of the music and text does not imply a simplistic faith. “I want to walk as a child” reminds us of one of the paradoxes of our faith, that we need to become as a child to fully understand the realm of God (Matthew 18:2-4).

*Text © 1970, 1975 Celebration, P.O. Box 309, Aliquippa, PA 10001, USA. Used by Permission.

Adapted from https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/resources/history-of-hymns-i-want-to-walk-as-a-child-of-the-light

 

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Hymn History: Lift Every Voice and Sing

“Lift Every Voice and Sing”
James Weldon Johnson
The United Methodist Hymnal, No. 519

Pender pianist, Liz Eunji Moon played Lift Every Voice and Sing for the postlude on Martin Luther King Holiday weekend. “Lift Every Voice” began as a hastily-written composition for an unassuming school assembly in 1900, but has become the African-American national anthem.

Lift every voice and sing,
Till earth and heaven ring,
Ring with the harmonies of liberty;
Let our rejoicing rise
High as the listening skies,
Let it resound loud as the rolling sea.

Few hymns have the capacity to define the identity of an entire group. “Lift Every Voice” began as a hastily-written composition for an unassuming school assembly in 1900, but has become the African-American national anthem.

James Weldon Johnson (1871-1938) received degrees in literature from Atlanta University in 1894, with a master of arts in 1904. He had a versatile career as a writer, teacher, diplomat and lawyer, becoming the first African-American to pass the bar in the state of Florida. His diplomatic posts took him in 1906 to Puerto Cabello, Venezuela, and in 1909, to Corinto, Nicaragua, where he served as the American consul.

His most prominent leadership role was as the executive secretary of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), a position that he assumed in 1920.

His most important published works include The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man (1920), The Book of American Negro Poetry (1922), God’s Trombones (1927), and Along This Way (1933).

Johnson had been asked to speak by the principal of a school in Jacksonville, Fla., his hometown, for an observance celebrating the birth of Abraham Lincoln. Rather than make a speech, he decided to write a poem. As the time drew near, his plans changed from a poem to a song. James turned to his brother J. Rosamund Johnson (1873-1954) to compose music for his text.

Even though the Johnsons’ New York publisher did not actively promote the song, children throughout the South kept it alive. The song gathered momentum, as it became known around the country.

Though the brothers wrote over 200 songs together, mostly for the stage, “Lift every voice” had an exceptional place in their musical collaborations. James noted in 1935, “The lines of this song repay me in elation, almost of exquisite anguish, whenever I hear them sung by Negro children.”

Gene Logan, a member of Ebenezer UMC in Jacksonville, Florida, connects the Johnson brothers with the Methodist Church: “James and his brother Rosamond became members of Zion Episcopal Methodist Church where their mother served as choir director and the young men served as musicians. The church was renamed Ebenezer United Methodist Church, which is now located at 9114 Norfolk Blvd in Jacksonville, Florida.” According to columnist Sharon Coon in Florida, their mother, Helen, “was the first Black female public school teacher in Florida. She taught at Old Stanton School on Ashley Street in Jacksonville, FL. His mother taught both James and J. Rosamond music and reading.” After receiving his degree from Atlanta University, James returned to the school where his mother taught as Principal in 1894. The brothers’ connections to the Methodist Church and their rearing by a nurturing and courageous mother surely contributed to their accomplishments.

The NAACP adopted “Lift every voice” as its theme song. Julian Bond, former NAACP chairman, stated that the song holds deep meaning for the Civil Rights Movement: “When people stand and sing it, you just feel a connectedness with the song, with all the people who’ve sung it on numerous occasions, happy and sad, over the 100 years before.”

This hymn, often called the “Negro National Anthem” or “Black National Anthem,” gave hope to many during the Civil Rights Era. Its centrality in African-American life may be illustrated by a childhood memory of Vernellia Randall, a law professor at the University of Dayton, who grew up in Texas. She recalls starting each day in her school in the 1950s and 1960s with The Lord’s Prayer, The National Anthem, and the Negro National Anthem.

Wendell Whalum, the late choral director at Atlanta’s Morehouse College, often spoke of the progression of the three stanzas as that of praise, lament, and prayer. The opening stanza is a resounding hymn of praise full of rich metaphors such as the “harmonies of liberty” and rejoicing “loud as the rolling sea.” The second stanza is a lament that recounts the price of liberty:

Stony the road we trod,
bitter the chastening rod,
felt in the day when hope unborn had died.

The sting of these words echoes Psalm 130, “Out of the depths have I cried unto thee.” Yet the poet does not leave us here long. By the end of the stanza, we are singing with hope,

Out of the gloomy past,
till now we stand at last
where the white gleam of our bright star is cast.

The final stanza is often referred to as a prayer in the African-American community. This prayer culminates with the petitions, “keep us forever in the path, we pray” and “may we forever stand true to our God, true to our native land.”

Is this a hymn just for African-Americans or is it for all people? Dr. James Abbington, Associate Professor of Music and Worship at Emory University’s Candler School of Theology, Atlanta, Georgia, and a scholar in African American hymnody, provides an answer to this question: “Several years ago, I was invited to organize and conduct a 1,000-voice choir for the annual Detroit Branch NAACP Freedom Fund Dinner at Cobo Hall. It was during the time of the Persian Gulf War and tensions were very high between the Jewish and Arab communities in the city.?rel=0″The 1,000 voice choir, accompanied by the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, was made up of Anglo-Americans, Canadians, Native Americans, Koreans, Italians, Jews, Arabs, African-Americans and others, and ‘Lift Every Voice and Sing’ was one of the selections for that occasion. After the first rehearsal Jewish, Korean, and Native American members of the chorus approached me and said, ‘This song isn’t just for African-Americans and people from Africa, it belongs to all of us who are ‘true to our God and true to our Native land.'”?

On May 20, 2018, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) attended The Tabernacle Choir’s weekly Music and the Spoken Word broadcast. Members of the National Board of Directors of the NAACP and the NAACP Foundation were in Salt Lake City for their board meetings, which were held in Salt Lake City for the first time. They also met with the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and made a joint statement to the media calling for “greater civility and racial harmony.”

Adapted from https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/resources/history-of-hymns-lift-every-voice-and-sing

 

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The Heavens are Telling

 

The opening verses of Psalm 19 present the heavenly bodies and their movement as a universal witness to the glory of God that is understood by people of every language. The language connects day and night as a continuous presentation. The words suggest energy, strength, joy, and light.

So many of the Psalms and scriptures have been made into wonderful works of classical music.  Franz Joseph Haydn was one of these composers.

“The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.” ~ Psalm 19:1 (NIV)

A setting of ‘The Heavens are Telling the Glory of God’ from Haydn’s  Creation.

More about Haydn’s work, The Creation, can be found on Wikipedia

 
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Posted by on January 13, 2023 in Hymn History, Music, Posts of Interest, Videos

 

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