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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: What A Friend We Have In Jesus

What a Friend We Have In Jesus

The Pender UMC Traditional Service Middle Hymn “What a Friend We Have in Jesus” on Sunday October 23, 2022 was played by Liz Eunji Moon on piano, accompanied on guitar by Brian Stevenson and sung the Pender Sanctuary Choir and congregation.

Pender’s pianist, Liz Eunji Sellers played this hymn in the style of ragtime during the Postlude to the Traditional service on January 23, 2022.

How does a personal poem written to a mother from a despondent son, recently immigrated from England to a relatively remote section of Canada in the mid-nineteenth century, become one of the most widely sung hymns in the world?

Joseph Medlicott Scriven (1819–1886) was born in Seapatrick, Ireland (now Northern Ireland,) and died in Ontario, Canada. After attending classes at Trinity College, Dublin, he pursued a military career, where he trained for service in India; but had to abandon that ambition because of his poor health. He returned to Trinity and graduated in 1842.

SCRIVEN’S LIFE

Scriven’s life was full of tragedy. Following the accidental drowning of his Irish fiancée the evening before their wedding, he moved to Woodstock, Canada West (now Ontario) in 1844, where he led a Plymouth Brethren fellowship and taught. Scriven organized a private school in 1850 in Brantford and preached in the area. Some scholars believe that Scriven may have composed his initial draft of “What a Friend” written during this time.

Moving near Clinton in Huron County in 1855, he read the Bible to railway construction workers who were building the Grand Trunk Railway across the Canada West. By 1857, he relocated to Bewdley, supporting himself as a private tutor to the family of Robert Lamport Pengelly, a retired naval officer. Tragedy struck again when his second fiancée, Eliza Catherine Roach, Pengelly’s niece, died in 1860 of an illness shortly before their wedding. Scriven then returned to ministry among the Plymouth Brethren in Bewdley, near Rice Lake (McKellar and Leask, Canterbury Dictionary, n.d.). Hymnologist Albert Bailey noted that Scriven, a selfless person by nature, was known as “the man who saws wood for poor widows and sick people who are unable to pay” (Bailey, 1950, p. 495).

The Dictionary of Canadian Biography describes what we know about the circumstances surrounding Scriven’s death in October 1886:

His last days were clouded with ill-health and despondency. James Sackville, his friend and fellow-believer, found Scriven ill and brought him to his house. One hot night in 1866, Scriven left his bed without disturbing anyone, probably to drink at a nearby spring: some hours later, presumably having fainted or fallen, he was found dead in the spillway of Sackville’s grist-mill, a few feet from the spring. He was buried in the Pengelly burial-ground in an unmarked grave between Eliza Roach and Commander Pengelly (Macpherson, “Scriven,” n.d.).

A few days before Scriven’s death, Sackville found the dejected Scriven “prostrate in mind and body and heard him say, ‘I wish the Lord would take me home’” (Cleland, 1895, p. 17). It was never determined if his death was accidental or a suicide. A monument was later erected over his gravesite by friends and neighbors. Joseph Medlicott Scriven’s historical marker was placed in Otanabee-South Monaghan, Ontario, Canada, marking his homestead and burial place.

Scriven marker

ORIGINS OF ‘WHAT A FRIEND WE HAVE IN JESUS’

Scriven published a collection of his poetic works, Hymns and Other Verses, which included seventy-one hymns “intended to be sung in assemblies of the children of God on the first day of the week and on other occasions when two or three are met together in the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” These were followed by thirty-four scriptural paraphrases “not to be sung in the assembly, but to express truth, as well as convey comfort, instruction or reproof to our hearts, in order that we may walk together in obedience” (Scriven, 1869, Preface). “What a Friend,” the hymn for which he is known, does not appear in the collection, however. Why not?

Some writers have noted that the hymn was written for his mother, who was suffering from illness. Musical evangelist Ira D. Sankey (1840–1908) spread this account (cited in Bailey, 1950, pp. 495–496). This assertion is hard to verify, however. A statement from Scriven’s biography (1895) by James Cleland includes the author’s mother in the dissemination of the hymn but does not clarify other details:

When residing at the house of his friend Mr. Sackville, near Rice Lake, he composed this hymn; making two copies, one of which he sent to his mother, in Dublin, and gave the other to Mrs. Sackville, which the old lady, now over eighty years of age values highly. Probably it was through his mother that the hymn was given to the public (Cleland, 1895, p. 13).

If indeed “What a Friend” were composed as a personal poem, it may explain why it did not appear in the collection the author published in 1869. The personal first-person plural perspective contrasts with other hymns by the author. As one author noted, “almost all of his others are more firmly constructed, without emotional softness, and developed from biblical texts” (Macpherson, “Scriven,” n.d.). Carl Daw Jr. has also noted the differences between “What a Friend” and the author’s published works in Hymns and other verses, supporting the hypothesis that the poem was intended for his ailing mother rather than public use (Daw, 2016, p. 470).

Some commentaries state that the text was first published in J.B. Packard’s Spiritual Minstrel: A Collection of Hymns and Music (1857), but this is erroneous, according to hymnologist Chris Fenner (See Fenner, 2020, n.p.). The hymn appeared as we know it anonymously in three stanzas of eight lines each in Social Hymns, Original and Selected (1865), compiled by Horace Lorenzo Hastings. New England composer and church musician Charles Converse (1832–1918) then included the text in his Silver Wings (1870) with his tune under his pen name Karl Reden, a Germanization of his name (“reden” meaning “to speak” or “converse”). He states that he obtained the text from the privately produced hymnal, “Genevan Presbyterian Church (of Brooklyn) Collection.” No copy of this hymnal appears to be extant. Converse’s tune paired with the text gained prominence with Ira Sankey and spread in his revivals with Dwight L. Moody (1837–1899). Published in Sankey’s Gospel Hymns and Sacred Songs (1875), later known as Gospel Hymns No. 1., Sankey mistakenly attributed the hymn to Scottish hymnwriter Horatius Bonar (1808–1889), an assertion disputed by Bonar.

The text has remained unusually stable with few editorial alterations over the years. Edward Samuel Caswell (1861–1938) published an early manuscript version signed by Scriven that was titled “Pray without Ceasing” (from 1 Thessalonians 5:17) in 1919. It appeared in four quatrains, the first three of which are familiar. The fourth reads as follows:

Are we cold and unbelieving,
Cumbered with a load of care?
Here the Lord is still our refuge:
Take it to the Lord in prayer. (See the manuscript at Fenner, 2020, n.p.)

Of the hymn, Caswell stated that it was “beyond question the best-known piece of Canadian literature” (Macpherson, “Scriven,” n.d.).

Stanza 1 establishes that Jesus is a friend that can bear our sins and burdens. This theme appears in the eighteenth century with Charles Wesley’s “Jesus, Lover of My Soul” (1740) and John Newton’s “How Sweet the Name of Jesus Sounds” (1779). Nineteenth-century hymnwriters are especially known for expressing their personal friendship with Jesus. For example, see Louisa M.R. Stead’s “‘Tis So Sweet to Trust in Jesus” (1882), Elisha A. Hoffman’s “I Must Tell Jesus All of My Trials” (1894), and Fanny Crosby’s “Blessed Assurance, Jesus Is Mine” (1873). The author uses the first-person plural perspective—perhaps indicating that he and his mother (“we”) have a bond in prayer and need not suffer sin and grief alone.

The second stanza asks two rhetorical questions—rhetorical because, indeed, all humans suffer “trials and temptations” and witness “trouble.” The answer becomes a short refrain: “Take it to the Lord in prayer.” A third rhetorical question asks, “Can we find a friend so faithful . . .?” The intimate friendship with the one who “knows our every weakness” is the source of solace. The refrain returns: “Take it to the Lord in prayer.”

The third stanza reframes the premise of the song with different questions, while the theme remains the same:

Are we weak and heavy laden,
cumbered with a load of care?
Do your friends despise, forsake you?

The answer to both questions is, “Take it to the Lord in prayer.” The closing image of Jesus enfolding his friend in his arms is also a common trope in many hymns from this era. The two most known are Fanny Crosby’s “Safe in the Arms of Jesus” (1868) and Elisha Hoffman’s “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms” (1887).

Hymnologist Fred Gealy found an additional stanza published in Hastings’ Songs of Pilgrimage: A Hymnal for the Churches of Christ (Boston, 1886; Second Ed. 1888) with the following fourth stanza:

Blessed Jesus, thou hast promised
Thou wilt all our burdens bear,
May we ever, Lord, be bringing
All to thee in earnest prayer.
Soon in glory, bright, unclouded,
There will be no need for prayer;
Rapture, praise, and endless worship
Shall be our sweet portion there.

Since this seems to be the only hymnal to include this stanza, it may have been added by the editor who felt that an eschatological focus was more theologically suitable for a closing stanza.

Albert Bailey notes correctly that Scriven’s poetry is of relatively low quality with monotonous rhymes (Scriven uses five words to rhyme with “prayer”—some multiple times) and trite language. But even Bailey admits, “Our criticism is made harmless by the tremendous service the hymn has rendered. Any unlettered person can understand it; the humblest saint can take its admonitions to heart, practice prayer, find his load more bearable and [her] spiritual life deepened” (Bailey, 1950, p. 496).

Paul Westermeyer offers a critique from a Lutheran perspective, noting:

It has been a source of comfort for many who have sung it, though paradoxically it has also been a part of a Protestantism that denies its own heritage by turning prayer into work to control God’s grace. The repeated line “Take it to the Lord in prayer” relates to . . . comfort, and forfeiting peace or suffering pain “All because we do not carry everything to God in prayer” suggests our capacity to save ourselves by the work of our prayer (Westermeyer, 2010, p. 606).

Carl Daw offers a different analysis: “As a hymn of assurance, it has served as an effective reminder of the centrality of prayer in a well-rounded spirituality. Unfortunately, singing it has often been a substitute for the comprehensive prayer life it advocates, and its advice has been cherished, but not followed” (Daw, 2016, p. 471).

While other tunes appear with this text, CONVERSE by Charles Converse is the most popular. Carlton Young suggests that CONVERSE is reminiscent of Stephen Foster tunes of the era and provides a perfect musical vehicle for this prayerful text. He notes that this tune follows the same general melodic contour as Foster’s “Jeanie with the light brown hair” (Young, 1993, pp. 687–688). Converse, a Massachusetts native, was an associate of William Bradbury (1816–1868) and Ira Sankey in revivals and the Sunday school movement.

The range of recording artists who have sung this song is staggering from long-established white performers Pat Boone (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hcHbzSi7fho&feature=emb_title), Rosemary Clooney, Loretta Lynn, Barbara Mandrell, Willie Nelson, and Dolly Parton to African American gospel artists Ella Fitzgerald, Aretha Franklin, and Ike and Tina Turner (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ay1lUmnaZfA&feature=emb_title). More recently, Contemporary Christian artist Paul Baloche has recorded the song (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6pJb0nUiZWc&feature=emb_title), indicating that it continues to have a witness to younger generations. Baloche’s improvisatory coda bridges the nineteenth century with the twenty-first. The hymn’s inclusion in the film Driving Miss Daisy (1969) as sung by Little Friendship Missionary Baptist Church Choir (Decatur, Georgia) confirms its iconic status in the genre.

The simple language becomes a virtue in translation, and the folk-like melody easily transcends cultures around the world. The musical treatment of CONVERSE varies in each cultural setting, but the message remains the same. There are few hymns that I have heard more regularly around the world. Scriven’s biographer, James Cleland, noted in 1895, “In the steerage of the steamer, a traveler returning from Europe, heard a mixed company, who spoke different languages, united in singing this hymn” (Cleland, 1895, pp. 5–6). One hundred years later, this author verifies hearing this song sung in various languages and renditions, including a humble congregation for people with leprosy near Ogbomosho, Nigeria; a Filipino Anglican congregation in Manila; a thriving Baptist congregation in Matanzas, Cuba; and an African American Methodist congregation in Atlanta. A modest poem, written in Canada as a private meditation for the author’s mother in Ireland, has found its way into many hearts worldwide and, undoubtedly, has been a source of comfort for millions of Christians for more than one hundred fifty years.

SOURCES

Albert E. Bailey, The Gospel in Hymns (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1950).

James Cleland, What a Friend We Have in Jesus and Other Poems by Joseph Scriven with a Sketch of the Author (Port Hope: W. Williamson, Publishers, 1895): https://pendernews.files.wordpress.com/2023/01/65ddb-scriven-whatafriend-1895.pdf (accessed December 27, 2020).

Carl P. Daw, Jr., Glory to God: A Companion (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2016).

Chris Fenner, “What a Friend We Have in Jesus,” Hymnology Archive (February 2020), https://www.hymnologyarchive.com/what-a-friend-we-have-in-jesus (accessed December 26, 2020).

Margaret Leask, “What a Friend We Have in Jesus, ”The Canterbury Dictionary of Hymnology. Canterbury Press, http://www.hymnology.co.uk/w/what-a-friend-we-have-in-jesus (accessed December 26, 2020).

Hugh D. McKellar and Margaret Leask, “Joseph Medlicott Scriven,” The Canterbury Dictionary of Hymnology. Canterbury Press, http://www.hymnology.co.uk/j/joseph-medlicott-scriven (accessed December 26, 2020).

Jay Macpherson, “Scriven, Joseph Medlicott,” Dictionary of Canadian Biography (Vol XI (1881–1890), http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/scriven_joseph_medlicott_11E.html (accessed December 26, 2020).

Joseph Medlicott Scriven, Hymns and Other Verses (Peterborough: James Stephens, 1869): https://archive.org/details/cihm_24372/page/n5/mode/2up (accessed December 26, 2020).

Paul Westermeyer, Hymnal Companion: Evangelical Lutheran Worship (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress Press, 2010).

Carlton R. Young, Companion to The United Methodist Hymnal (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1993).

Adapted from https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/articles/history-of-hymns-what-a-friend-we-have-in-jesus

 

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Pender UMC Holiday Concert

 

Come join us for a free concert of holiday music!

Usher in the holidays with the sounds of the Harp, Flute, Piano, Organ, Soprano vocalist, Handbells, Jazz duo and an Irish session!

The concert will conclude with everyone joining in singing some traditional carols.

A reception will follow.

At Pender UMC on route 50, heading east turn left at the light, just before Harris Teeter.

12401 Alder Woods Drive, Fairfax, VA US 22033

More Christmas Events

 

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Hymn History: As The Deer

“As the Deer” by Martin Nystrom,
The Faith We Sing, No. 2025

The Pender UMC Traditional Service Middle Hymn “As the Deer” 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.

“As the deer pants for the water brooks,
So pants my soul for You, O God” (Psalm 42:1, NKJV)*

On his website, http://martynystrom.com/, the composer introduces himself in self-effacing terms:

“I am a married father of two sons and live in the Seattle area. My degree is in music education and I have taught music in a wide variety of settings. I have written over 120 songs that have been released by publishers of Christian praise and worship music. My best known song is the worship chorus, ‘As the Deer.’” He notes that, “I seem to write songs when I am not purposefully trying to write one.”

“As the deer,” written in 1981, is one of the most popular songs in the contemporary Christian musical (CCM) genre written in the latter twentieth century. Martin J. Nystrom (b. 1956) is a native of Seattle, Washington. After graduating from Oral Roberts University, Tulsa, Oklahoma (BME, 1979), he served as musical evangelist with Christ for the Nations, Dallas, Texas [www.cfni.org] and produced five praise and worship albums for Hosanna! Music, Mobile, Alabama.

Lindsay Terry, in his book The Sacrifice of Praise: The Stories Behind the Greatest Praise and Worship Songs of All Time(2002), describes the circumstances surrounding the creation of this song:

“Marty was a schoolteacher in Seattle, and since he had the summer off, he decided to go to the summer term of Christ for the Nations Institute in Dallas, Texas. Little did he know what was about to happen to him, especially with all that he would be exposed to and the worship emphasis of the school. . .

He had graduated from Oral Roberts University and, frankly, was a little overwhelmed in ministry. He had been involved in many things at the school, not the least of which was the television ministry of ORU. All of his studies combined with many other activities had caused stress to take its toll on Marty’s spiritual life. . . .

Marty’s roommate at CFNI was a vibrant Christian who challenged Marty to go on a fast, thinking it would help him recover his joy. Marty took up the challenge, and on the nineteenth day of the fast, he found himself sitting at the piano in a room of the school, trying to write a song. He was simply playing chord progressions when he noticed a Bible on the music stand of the piano, open to Psalm 42. His eyes fell on the first verse of that chapter. After reading the verse he began to sing its message, right off the page. He wrote the first verse and the chorus of a song, practically straight through. The entire song was completed in a matter of minutes.”

Though Mr. Nystrom had not intended to perform the song publically, he shared it with a friend at Christ for the Nations before returning to Seattle. His friend introduced it to the others at the Institute, and it became a favorite. Contrary to his website, the composer appears to have written closer to 250 songs. He travels extensively in the United States and Asia, participating in conferences and retreats.

After paraphrasing the first verse of Psalm 42, the song reflects on this passage, continuing in the first person perspective of the psalm:

You alone are my heart’s desire
and I long to worship you.

The second section draws upon the familiar biblical images of “strength and shield,” concluding with the sentence cited above.

Most of Mr. Nystrom’s songs are composed as a single stanza. The compilers of the Canadian United Church hymnal Voices United (1995) asked Lydia Pederson to write two additional stanzas to paraphrase the remainder of the psalm. Pedersen is former music director at Royal York Road United Church in Toronto, and an active member of the Hymn Society in the United States and Canada. An additional attempt at two stanzas appears in the Covenant Hymnal: A Worshipbook(1996).

The editors of the two hymnals that requested additional stanzas noted that the original song felt incomplete when viewed in the context of the entire psalm. Selections of Psalm 42 follow:
“My soul thirsteth for God, for the living God: when shall I come and appear before God? My tears have been my meat day and night, while they continually say unto me, Where is thy God? (verses 2, 3, KJV) . . .

“I will say unto God my rock, Why hast thou forgotten me? Why go I mourning because of the oppression of the enemy? As with a sword in my bones, mine enemies reproach me; while they say daily unto me, Where is thy God? Why art thou cast down, O my soul? And why art thou disquieted within me? Hope thou in God: for I shall yet praise him, who is the health of my countenance, and my God” (verses 9, 10, 11, KJV).

On the one hand, the effectiveness of the original song is found in its simplicity; the singer can internalize and memorize the song, offering this sung prayer directly to God. On the other hand, the poignant questions of the remainder of the psalm echo the questions of many worshipers in their lives. Singing additional stanzas, however, changes the experience from a simple prayer to God to the experience similar to singing a multi-stanza hymn. One solution is to retain Mr. Nystrom’s original stanza and insert it between spoken sections of the psalm as a refrain.

Regardless of the approach to incorporating the song into worship, one cannot deny the effectiveness of “As the deer” as sung prayer in myriad settings around the world. Mr. Nystrom attended a conference in Korea in the 1990s that began with 100,000 Korean Christians singing his song – a dramatic witness of its power.

*Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

C. Michael Hawn is University Distinguished Professor of Church Music, Perkins School of Theology, SMU.

Adapted from https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/resources/history-of-hymns-as-the-deer

 
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Posted by on November 10, 2022 in Hymn History, hymns, Posts of Interest, Videos

 

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Hymn History: When in Our Music God Is Glorified

“When in Our Music God Is Glorified”
Fred Pratt Green
UM Hymnal, No. 68

 

“When in Our Music God Is Glorified” was played by Pender’s pianist-organist, Liz Eunji Moon at the Traditional Service Postlude on September 11, 2022

Sometimes a great tune can keep a hymn text alive. Sometimes a great text can revive a neglected tune. The latter is true in this case.

Noted British hymnologist John Wilson (1905-1992) suggested that the Methodist poet and hymn writer Fred Pratt Green write a text to the tune ENGELBERG, composed in 1904 by the famous British composer Charles Villiers Stanford (1852-1924).

Stanford’s tune had been well-known in the earlier 20th century until Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958) composed the immensely popular SINE NOMINE in the same metre (sung to “For All the Saints”) for the English Hymnal (1906).

Hymnologist J.R. Watson records that “Wilson urged Pratt Green to write a text for a Festival of Praise . . . which could be sung to Stanford’s neglected tune.” Pratt Green based his text on Psalm 150 but alluded to Mark 14:26 in stanza four of the hymn, a stanza recalling the hymn sung by the disciples at the Last Supper.

The hymn, composed in 1972, first appeared in New Church Praise (1975) and in the single-author collection The Hymns and Ballads of Fred Pratt Green (1982) with the title, “Let the People Sing!”

The opening line (called the incipit) originally read, “When in man’s music, God is glorified. . . .” Pratt Green reluctantly altered this to the current title for the Lutheran Book of Worship (1978) and this change has universally been accepted in North American hymnals.

The Rev. Carlton Young, editor of the UM Hymnal, notes that the change in text, though an important “social witness” in the area of inclusive language, weakens the theological and aesthetic qualities of the hymn: 1) Theologically, “the change tends to weaken the affirmation that mere mortal musicians and their music may and often do glorify God”; 2) aesthetically, the wonderful alliteration between “man’s” and “music” paralleled by “God’s” and “glorified” is lost.

Dr. Young speculates that this “text has probably been set in anthem form more than any other of the late twentieth century.”

Ministry of music

This hymn is groundbreaking in many ways.

There are numerous examples in the history of hymnody where music is a metaphor for some theological theme or experience. In Babcock’s “This Is My Father’s World,” for example, “all nature sings and round me rings the music of the spheres.” Charles Wesley speaks of “the music of the heart” in his paraphrase of Psalm 150, “Praise the Lord Who Reigns Above.”

However, Pratt Green uses music not just as a metaphor that points us to another idea, but explores music-making as a phenomenon in the Christian’s experience in its own right. The second stanza concludes with the marvelous thought that “making music . . . move[s] us to a more profound Alleluia!”

In this way, Pratt Green seems to agree with Martin Luther who said, “Next to the Word of God, the noble art of music is the greatest treasure in the world.” Luther and Pratt Green seem to ascribe a quasi-sacramental quality to music—music as a means of revelation and grace.

Pratt Green (1903-2000) was born in Roby just outside of Liverpool, England. Following his education, he was ordained in 1924 as a Methodist minister and served in various parishes throughout England well into the 1940s. Although he had a long interest in poetry, he did not focus on hymn writing until his retirement from active ministry.

Eminent British hymnologist Erik Routley (1917-1982) suggested that in Fred Pratt Green, Methodists finally had a successor to Charles Wesley.

* Words by Fred Pratt Green © 1972 Hope Publishing Company; Carol Stream, IL 60188. All rights reserved. Used by permission.

Dr. Hawn is professor of sacred music at Perkins School of Theology, SMU.

Adapted from https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/resources/history-of-hymns-when-in-our-music-god-is-glorified

 
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Posted by on October 27, 2022 in Hymn History, hymns, Posts of Interest, Videos

 

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