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Hymn History: We Gather Together

We gather together to ask the Lord’s blessing;
He chastens and hastens his will to make known.
The wicked oppressing now cease from distressing.
Sing praises to his name; he forgets not his own.

The Pender UMC Traditional Service Middle Hymn “We Gather Together” on Thanksgiving Sunday November 20, 2022 was played by Liz Eunji Moon on piano, Teresa Rothschild on clarinet, Brian Stevenson on flute and sung the Pender Sanctuary Choir and congregation.

In many American hymnals, “We gather together” appears as a Thanksgiving hymn. Perhaps this is because of the opening line and the general idea that God is with us regardless of our circumstances. However, the hymn speaks more about God’s providence throughout the trials of life. The story behind this hymn clarifies its text.

This hymn is a late sixteenth-century expression of celebration of freedom by The Netherlands from Spanish oppression. Like many older hymns, it finds its way to us through a circuitous route. Although listed as an anonymous hymn, some sources indicate that Adrianus Valerious (c. 1575-1625), known for his poems on the Dutch War of Independence from the perspective of a peasant, authored the original text in Dutch. Since making a living as a poet was not possible, Valerious had a prosperous career as the Toll and Customs Controller for Veere, eventually being promoted to Tax Collections and finally appointed to the City Council.

The hymn was first published in Nederlandtsch Gedenckclanck (1626), a collection by Valerius in Haarlem, focusing on folk poems and melodies on the Dutch Wars (1555-1625). Valerius collected and arranged the songs for this publication for 30 years until his death in 1625. This collection is not as important for its poetry as it was for understanding the Protestant attitudes of the day. The work’s significance was exemplified by its adoption in Zeeland as part of the religious education curriculum in homes and the church.

Austrian Edward Kremser (1838-1914) included the hymn in Sechs Altniederländische Volkslieder (Six Old Netherlands Folksongs) in 1877 for his men’s chorus, all six anonymous songs taken from the Valerius collection 250 years earlier. According to UM Hymnal editor te Rev. Carlton Young, the performance of these tunes led to their popularity and inclusion in many hymnals.

The story extends to the United States through Theodore Baker (1851-1934), a New York-born musicologist who studied in Leipzig and authored the famous Biographical Dictionary of Music and Musicians. Baker translated the hymn from German for an anthem entitled “Prayer for Thanksgiving” published in 1894. Baker is the source of the hymn’s traditional Thanksgiving connection in the United States.

The Dutch, long a stronghold for the Reformed theology of John Calvin, were in a struggle against Spain for their political independence and against the Catholic Church for religious freedom. A twelve-year truce was established in 1609, giving young Prince Frederick Henry a chance to mature into an able politician and soldier.

During this time, the Dutch East India Company extended its trade beyond that of the English. The high period of Dutch art flourished with Hals, Vermeer, and Rembrandt. Under the guidance of the Prince Frederick Henry’s leadership, Spain’s efforts to regain supremacy on land and sea were finally overcome in 1648. There was indeed much for which to be thankful.

Some of the political overtones in this hymn faithfully translated by Baker are apparent. Hymnologist Albert Bailey suggests that the phrase, “The wicked oppressing now cease from distressing,” is an allusion to the persecution of the Catholic Church under the policies of Spain. Thousands had been massacred and hundreds of homes burned by the Spanish in 1576 during the Siege of Antwerp.

In stanza two, the writer states, “so from the beginning the fight we were winning,” stressing that Protestants had always been assured of winning the cause. The truce of 1609 proved that the Lord “wast at our side.”

The final stanza is a series of petitions . . .

” …pray that thou still our defender will be.
Let thy congregation escape tribulation;
thy name be ever praised! O Lord, make us free!”

This is an eschatological stanza. The ultimate battle has not been won and will not be won until all battles cease.

The hymn gained recognition in the United States when it found its way into the hymnal of the Methodist-Episcopal Church in 1935. The popularity increased during World War II when singers connected “the wicked oppressing” to Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan. More recently, the “We Gather Together” was featured at the Funeral Mass for Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis in 1994.

An interesting sidebar was that Baker’s anthem inspired another hymn. A young Julia Cady Cory (1882-1963) heard this text in 1902 at her church, Brick Presbyterian in New York City. Cory’s “We praise thee, O God, our Redeemer, Creator” is a more general hymn of praise and thanksgiving that also uses the Dutch tune KREMSER. Cory’s hymn did not include any reference to nationalism, making it a more general ecumenical hymn of thanksgiving.

The United Methodist Hymnal has placed this hymn in the “Providence” section rather with other traditional American Thanksgiving hymns, broadening its use from this national holiday to use during any difficult circumstances.

Dr. Hawn is distinguished professor of church music at Perkins School of Theology. He is also director of the seminary’s sacred music program.

From https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/resources/history-of-hymns-we-gather-together1

 
 

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Making an Advent Wreath

This Sunday, November 27, marks the First Sunday in Advent. Have you made an Advent wreath for your home or church?

The wreaths often consist of a circle of evergreens with four purple candles and a white one in the center, but it’s fun to  be creative with the use of natural materials.

More about Advent Wreaths from Chuck Knows Church

 

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Psalms

Chuck Knows Church

 

The Psalms are right in the middle of your Bible. You could think of the Psalms as the hymnbook of sacred scripture. But, is that all you know?

 

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Hymn History: Count Your Blessings

Count your blessings. Name them, one by one.

This simple mandate for cultivating gratitude and thanksgiving is the opening line in the catchy chorus of “Count Your Blessings,” a church music staple first published more than a century ago.

All these years later, the four verses and chorus can be summed up this way: Counting your blessings may be the antidote to feeling disheartened.

The remaining line of the chorus implores you to, after counting and naming the blessings, to “see what God has done.”

The faithful act of assessing blessings and acknowledging what God has provided in your life may give perspective when challenges and conflicts occur, as the four verses detail (see sidebar).

The author of these song lyrics acknowledges that you can feel burdened and life can seem unfair. So can counting your blessings really help when turmoil swirls around you and discouragement weighs heavy on your mind?

Such was the case for Jacob, who, in Genesis 28, is fleeing from his angry brother, Esau. When Jacob stopped for the night at a place he would later name “Bethel,” Jacob was in the midst of a bad situation. He was alone, scared and had nowhere to go. He also had no idea about how his circumstances might turn out. That night in a dream, God reassured Jacob that He was with him, that He had a plan for Jacob’s life and that He would not leave him. Jacob awoke the next morning with a change of heart and life didn’t seem so bad. “Surely the Lord is in this place,” Jacob said, “and I did not know it.” (Genesis 28:16)

Numerous stories in the Bible remind you to look beyond your circumstances to see you are not alone, that “the Lord is in this place,” providing anecdotal evidence of the importance of gratitude.

In addition to the anecdotal proof, the virtues of gratitude have been proven by science.

In a study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, the test group was asked to daily write down five things for which they were thankful. After doing this every day for one week, the test group reported better sleep patterns and a more positive emotional outlook than the control group.

Members from Perryville United Methodist Church in Perryville, Kentucky, perform “Count Your Blessings.”

Whether the song’s author was battling tough times when he wrote the lyrics is unknown. What we do know is that Johnson Oatman Jr., the lyricist, was a Methodist Episcopal minister who had a penchant for songwriting. “Count Your Blessings,” intended as a song for youth, first appeared in “Songs for Young People,” which was published in 1897 by the Methodist Book Concern, a precursor to The United Methodist Publishing House. Over Oatman’s life, he penned more than 5,000 songs, including the classic hymn “No, Not One.”

For “Count Your Blessings,” Oatman partnered with E.O. Excell, who put Oatman’s words to music. Excell operated a Chicago-based publishing business specializing in Sunday School materials and collaborated with the Methodists for numerous projects. Fun fact about Excell is that he is the same person who wrote the arrangement of “Amazing Grace” that is most often sung throughout the world today.

But back to “Count Your Blessings.”

Once “Songs for Young People” was published, “Count Your Blessings” became a favorite, quickly gaining popularity throughout the world.

Beginning in 1899, only two years after its debut, “Count Your Blessings” appeared in at least half-dozen or more new hymnals each year, a pace that continued for at least a decade. The song was added to hymnals published by the Methodists, Presbyterians, Disciples and southern gospel publishers. Even into the mid-20th century, the song continued to be a favorite.

The song was especially popular in the United Kingdom. During the 1904-1905 Welsh Revival, the largest Christian revival in Wales during the 20th century, it is told that “Count Your Blessings” was sung at every service.

One account from a London daily newspaper says that when the famous British evangelist Gipsy Smith presided over a meeting, he announced a hymn, saying, “Let us sing ‘Count Your Blessings.’ Down in South London, the men sing it, the boys whistle to it, and the women rock their babies to sleep to the tune.”

In addition to the upbeat, simple tune that people have found easy to remember, its message has been uplifting folks for generations.

“Like a beam of sunlight,” wrote J.H. Hall, Oatman’s biographer, in “Biography of Gospel Song and Hymn Writers, “(’Count Your Blessings’) has brightened up the dark places of the earth.”

Crystal Caviness works for UMC.org at United Methodist Communications. Contact her by email or at 615-742-5138.

This story was first published November 14, 2019. 

From https://www.umc.org/en/content/count-your-blessings-an-antidote-to-despair

 

 

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Sermon — Chuck Knows Church

Chuck Knows Church

 

 

A sermon is an oration by a pastor, right? But there’s so much more to learn! Chuck explains a little deeper and makes you grin at the same time.

 

 

 
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Posted by on November 15, 2022 in Chuck Knows Church, Sermon, Videos

 

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