Friday, March 31, 2017

Singing the Faith: Day 26: Anthems - Protest and Encouragement

Beauty for brokenness (God of the Poor)

The words and music for this hymn are by Graham Kendrick b. 1950, one of the most prolific and popular modern hymn composers. He began writing songs and leading worship in his late teens, and has been associated with many UK church movements and events. The first song of his to gain widespread popularity was “Shine Jesus, Shine” but God of the poor is also very popular.  Like Blake’s hymn, Jerusalem (see yesterday's post), it encourages us to link our faith and daily life, calling us to work with God in setting right a world in which much is wrong. He is still very active and has recently been developing an approach to singing Scripture called Psalm Surfing.

  • ·         Looking at the news today, what subjects do you think we should be singing about now?

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Singing the Faith: Day 25: Anthems - Protest and Encouragement


William Blake’s now famous hymn started life as a rather obscure poem. Blake (1757-1827) was a poet, artist and visionary, who was very little regarded in his own lifetime. He lived most of his life in London, where he was very aware of the gulf between the rich and poor. As the Industrial Revolution took hold, the lot of many of the urban poor was particularly grim. “Jerusalem” was inspired by the legend that Jesus came to Glastonbury as a child with Joseph of Arimathea, who the legend insisted was his uncle (though there is absolutely no evidence for either of these ideas.)
The stirring tune was written by Hubert Parry (1848-1918) (See Day 15). It was originally written for the “Fight for Right” campaign, intended to drum up support for WW1, but Parry grew uneasy about the war, and withdrew permission for its use by the campaign. At the request of Millicent Fawcett of the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies, Parry orchestrated it instead for a Suffrage Demonstration concert in 1918. When the vote was won and the organisation was wound up, he gave the copyright to the Women’s Institute, and has become strongly identified with them ever since, giving their meetings the nickname of “Jam and Jerusalem”.

And did those feet in ancient time
walk upon England's mountains green?
And was the holy Lamb of God
on England's pleasant pastures seen?
And did the countenance divine
shine forth upon our clouded hills?
And was Jerusalem builded here
among these dark satanic mills?

Bring me my bow of burning gold!
Bring me my arrows of desire!
Bring me my spear! O clouds, unfold!
Bring me my chariot of fire!
I will not cease from mental fight,
nor shall my sword sleep in my hand,
till we have built Jerusalem
in England's green and pleasant land.

  • ·         How do you feel about your homeland? How can we properly love the place in which we live? 

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Singing the Faith: Day 24: Anthems - Protest and Encouragement

Day 24: Anthems:Protest and encouragement
Swing low, sweet chariot

“Swing low, sweet chariot” is an African American spiritual, which is thought to have been written by a former slave called Wallis Willis. “Steal away to Jesus” is also believed to be by him. He had become a Choctaw Freedman, one of a group of ex-slaves who were granted citizenship after the American Civil war in the Choctaw Nation, a Native American tribe.
Some sources claim that this song, and Steal Away, contain coded references to the underground railroad – the escape route for slaves from the South to the North of the USA. Its Biblical foundation, though, is in the story of the Old Testament prophet Elijah. Instead of dying, according to the Bible, he was taken up to heaven in a fiery chariot, a sign of God’s favour on him. ( 2 Kings 2.11)

African American slaves endured such suffering that sometimes the only way to keep hope alive was to remind themselves that this injustice was not eternal, and that God saw them not as slaves but as his children, worthy of honour and respect. They might not see justice this side of the grave, but it would come.

“Swing Low” has continued to give hope and encouragement to people suffering injustice. It has also, rather bizarrely, become the anthem of the England Rugby team, allegedly after a group of boys from Douai school, sang it at a match in 1988 (probably not quite as reverently as it was meant to be sung…)

Swing low, sweet chariot
Coming for to carry me home
Swing low, sweet chariot
Coming for to carry me home

I looked over Jordan, and what did I see?
(Coming for to carry me home)
I saw a band of angels coming after me
(Coming for to carry me home)

If you get there before I do
(Coming for to carry me home)
Tell all my friends, I'm coming too
(Coming for to carry me home)

Have you ever come to a point in your life when it was important for you to know that despite the immediate circumstances, ultimately God would be “coming for to carry you home” ?

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Singing the Faith: Day 23: Anthems - Protest and Encouragement

Mine eyes have seen the glory

This American hymn owes its writing to an attempt to Christianise (and perhaps redeem?) a popular song of the American Civil War. “John Brown’s body lies a mouldering in his grave” was written by Unionist troops partly in tribute to the abolitionist, John Brown, but also in a mocking reference to a John Brown in their own battalion. The chorus “Glory, glory, hallelujah” was commonly sung at  revivalist camp meetings.

Julia Ward Howe, (1819-1910) a campaigner against slavery and for women’s suffrage was challenged by a friend to write new words for the song, after she and her husband had visited a Union camp by the Potomac river in Washington DC and heard soldiers singing John Brown’ Body.  . The hymn was published in 1862 and quickly became one of the most popular songs of the Unionist campaign during the American Civil War.
Ward Howe continued to campaign for social justice, peace and women’s rights throughout her long life. Her marriage was an unhappy one, and this may have been a factor in inspiring her to give a voice to women and other oppressed groups which still resonates today.

Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord;
He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored;
He hath loosed the fateful lightning of His terrible swift sword;
His truth is marching on.
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah! Glory! Glory! Hallelujah!
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah! His truth is marching on.

I have seen Him in the watch fires of a hundred circling camps
They have builded Him an altar in the evening dews and damps;
I can read His righteous sentence by the dim and flaring lamps;
His day is marching on.

He has sounded forth the trumpet that shall never call retreat;
He is sifting out the hearts of men before His judgment seat;
Oh, be swift, my soul, to answer Him! be jubilant, my feet;
Our God is marching on.

In the beauty of the lilies Christ was born across the sea,
With a glory in His bosom that transfigures you and me:
As He died to make men holy, let us live to make men free;
While God is marching on.

  • ·         What does this hymn tell us about what real peace and victory might look like? 

A beautifully performed version of the hymn by the United States Army Field Band

Monday, March 27, 2017

Singing the Faith: Day 22: Anthems - Protest and Encouragement

A safe stronghold

Martin Luther’s “Ein Fest Burg” begins this week of hymns of protest and encouragement. It wasn’t written as a liturgical hymn to be sung in church, but rather as a song of encouragement in the struggles Luther was having with the Catholic Church. Luther (1483-1546) had been an Augustinian monk, but growing theological concerns and anger at the corruption of the Church had caused him to protest against its abuses. The reactions were violent, and his break from the Church was bitter. A Safe Stronghold was a hymn of defiance, probably written before the Diet (meeting) of Speyer, when a number of German princes who supported him protested to the Emperor at the suppression of religious liberty (which is why Luther’s movement was known as Protestant).
The song became a rallying cry for Protestants and an anthem of German nationalism too. An early translation into English by Miles Coverdale in 1538 never gained popularity, and there have been at least 47 attempts at translating it since. The translation most commonly sung in England is by Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881), who said of the hymn “There is something in it like the sound of Alpine avalanches or the first murmur of earthquakes; in the very vastness of which dissonance a higher unison is revealed to us.”
The tune was also written by Luther,who probably intended it to be sung at a lively pace. English congregations have a tendency to make rather heavy weather of it and turn it into a dirge! It was incorporated into the 4th movement of Mendelssohn's 5th Symphony, "The Reformation Symphony", in which the bass notes are supplied by a contrabassoon and a serpent, imitating the organ pedals. There is a recording here.

A safe stronghold our God is still,
a trusty shield and weapon;
he'll keep us clear from all the ill
that hath us now o'ertaken.
The ancient prince of hell
hath risen with purpose fell;
strong mail of craft and power
he weareth in this hour;
on earth is not his fellow.

With force of arms we nothing can,
full soon were we down-ridden;
but for us fights the proper Man
whom God himself hath bidden.
Ask ye who is this same?
Christ Jesus is his name,
the Lord Sabaoth's Son;
he, and no other one,
shall conquer in the battle.

  • ·         Have you ever felt under attack? Would this hymn have helped remind you of God’s presence with you? What are the dangers of a hymn like this?

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Singing the Faith: Day 21: Lament and Personal Devotion

Amazing Grace

Although long popular in the USA, this hymn was not often found in British hymn books until the 1970’s when a recording of it by the pipes and drums of the RoyalScots Dragoon Guards went to No.1 and stayed there for nine weeks.
Its author, John Newton, was a significant figure in the English Evangelical revival of the 18th Century. His father was a shipping merchant and his mother died when he was young. He was sent to sea at the age of 11. His career was dogged by his own insubordination – at one point he was punished by being forced to work on a plantation in Sierra Leone – but by the time he was 22 he was the captain of a slave ship himself.  A violent storm  caused him to turn to God, and eventually he gave up the slave trade (though not straight away).
He became friendly with John Wesley and George Whitfield, the leaders of the Methodist movement. He was ordained and became curate at Olney in Bucks, where his preaching, earthed in the tough realities of his early life, connected with the mostly illiterate parishioners of the village.  He produced a collection of hymns there in collaboration with the poet, William Cowper, including “How Sweet the name of Jesus sounds”, and “Glorious things of thee are spoken”. The hymn reflects his profound awareness of the change which his faith had made to his life. It can feel rather negative to sing about being “a wretch”, but given his direct involvement in the slave trade, it isn’t an unreasonable thing for him to say about himself. For that reason the hymn can speak powerfully to anyone who knows they have messed up (which is all of us at some time or other!).
The tune to which we now sing the hymn is probably based on an American folk tune, possibly Scottish in origin.

Amazing grace! (how sweet the sound)
   That sav'd a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found,
   Was blind, but now I see.

'Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,
   And grace my fears reliev'd;
How precious did that grace appear
   The hour I first believ'd!

Thro' many dangers, toils, and snares,
   I have already come;
'Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far,
   And grace will lead me home.

The Lord has promis'd good to me,
   His word my hope secures;
He will my shield and portion be
   As long as life endures.

  • ·         How do you feel about calling yourself a “wretch”? Is it helpful honesty, or unhelpful negativity?
A bumper crop of videos today, exploring Amazing Grace in many different styles and settings.

The video below is of Amazing Grace being sung in a church which still uses the "lining out" techniques common in the 17th and 18th centuries - see Day 3 of this series. It still hangs on in some parts of the US,

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Singing the Faith: Day 20: Lament and Personal Devotion

Through all the changing scenes of life

This is one of the many fine metrical psalms which appeared in the Psalter produced by Nahum Tate and Nicholas Brady in 1696. “The Lord’s my shepherd”, and “As pants the hart” are two others. Nahum Tate (1652-1715), who seems to have written this hymn himself, was an aspiring poet, who had come to London from Dublin. To make a living he translated French and Latin texts for publishers, and wrote and adapted plays, including Shakespeare’s – he rewrote King Lear to give it a happy ending. He also wrote the libretto for Purcell’s “Dido and Aeneas”. He became Poet Laureate in 1692, but later became an alcoholic and died in a debtors’ refuge in the Royal Mint. This hymn is a paraphrase of Psalm 34, which is a psalm of praise to God in the face of difficulties. It is easy to praise God when all is going well, but it is when times are hard that our trust in him is really vital.

The tune, Wiltshre, was written by Sir George Smart, (1776-1867) when he was just 19 and organist at St James Chapel London. In Scottish tradition it is known as New St Ann and is one of the tunes to which “The Lord’s my Shepherd” is sung. Metrical Psalm tunes were often used interchangeably.

Through all the changing scenes of life,
in trouble and in joy,
the praises of my God shall still
my heart and tongue employ.

O magnify the Lord with me,
with me exalt his name;
when in distress to him I called,
he to my rescue came.

The hosts of God encamp around
the dwellings of the just;
deliverance he affords to all
who on his succour trust.

O make but trial of his love,
experience will decide
how blest are they, and only they,
who in his truth confide!

Fear him, ye saints, and you will then
have nothing else to fear;
make you his service your delight,
your wants shall be his care.

To Father, Son, and Holy Ghost,
the God whom we adore,
be glory, as it was, is now,
and shall be evermore. 
  • ·      How easy do you find it to trust God when life seems to be going wrong?

Friday, March 24, 2017

Singing the Faith: Day 19: Lament and Personal Devotion

Abide with me

It used to be believed that this hymn, so often sung at funerals, was written when its author Revd. Henry Francis Lyte (1793-1847) was on his deathbed. It now seems, though, that its composition was prompted by the death of one of Lyte’s friends, Augustus le Hunte, when Lyte was 27. The dying man kept repeating the phrase “abide with me” when Lyte visited him, and Lyte turned this phrase into a hymn. Lyte was the vicar of the parish of Lower Brixham, a thriving Devon fishing village. He was also a prolific hymn writer. “Abide with me” wasn’t published until after his death, however. He seems to have given the manuscript to a relative just before he left Brixham for Italy, where he died just two months later from consumption, giving rise to the deathbed legend.
The original tune, composed by Lyte himself, was supplanted by “Monks”, the tune which is always used now, when Hymns Ancient and Modern was first compiled in 1861. William Henry Monk (1823-89), organist at Stoke Newington was asked to compose a new tune for it. According to legend he only took ten minutes to write it, following a committee meeting of the compilers, while strolling in the evening sunshine with his wife.
The hymn, to Monk’s tune, became very popular, and was much sung (and parodied) during WW1. It is said that Edith Cavell sung it on the eve of her execution with the British Chaplain who had been allowed to visit her in prison in German-occupied Belgium. It has also been sung at the beginning of the FA cup final since 1927. No one seems entirely sure why it was this hymn which was chosen, but it may be that those who had once sung it in the trenches found that it was a good way of remembering those friends who might once have stood on the terraces with them, but hadn’t made it home.

Abide with me; fast falls the eventide;
The darkness deepens; Lord with me abide.
When other helpers fail and comforts flee,
Help of the helpless, O abide with me.

Swift to its close ebbs out life's little day;
Earth's joys grow dim; its glories pass away;
Change and decay in all around I see;
O Thou who changest not, abide with me.

I need Thy presence every passing hour.
What but Thy grace can foil the tempter's power?
Who, like Thyself, my guide and stay can be?
Through cloud and sunshine, Lord, abide with me.

I fear no foe, with Thee at hand to bless;
Ills have no weight, and tears no bitterness.
Where is death's sting? Where, grave, thy victory?
I triumph still, if Thou abide with me.

Hold Thou Thy cross before my closing eyes;
Shine through the gloom and point me to the skies.
Heaven's morning breaks, and earth's vain shadows flee;
In life, in death, O Lord, abide with me.

  • ·        What hymn has helped you through hard times?

Thursday, March 23, 2017

April News from the Church of England

The latests editions of inReview and inFocus are now available to download

Our aim is to keep people in touch with the activities of the Archbishops’ Council, Church Commissioners, the Pensions Board and other bodies which serve the Church at national level. 


April's edition of inReview, including Bishops on a mission across Durham, Godparents' Sunday, Live Lent and more, is available here.


May's edition of inFocus, including how to boost confidence in evangelism and more, is available here (a 4 page version is available here)

Copyright © 2017 Archbishops' Council, All rights reserved.

Singing the Faith: Day 18: Lament and Personal Devotion

Just as I am

Like many hymns of lament and devotion, this hymn has a personal story behind it.  Charlotte Elliot (1789-1871) was the daughter of a silk merchant. In her early 30s she suffered an illness which left her permanently disabled, weak and depressed – she had been a gifted artist and writer of humorous verse.  She lived with her brother, a clergyman, and one day, frustrated at her inability to help with parish tasks, and struggling to know how she could be any use to God, she remembered the words of a visiting preacher to her many years before, that she could come to God, “just as she was”. She wrote the hymn (originally a poem) that day.

Just as I am is sung to several tunes. Woodworth (1849) , by William Bradbury is the earliest and most popular across the world, but hymn books commonly used in the Church of England usually set it to Misericordia (1875 Henry Thomas Smart) or Saffron Walden (1877) written by Arthur Henry Brown.

 Just as I am, without one plea,
but that thy blood was shed for me,
and that thou bidd'st me come to thee,
O Lamb of God, I come.

[Just as I am, and waiting not
to rid my soul of one dark blot,
to thee, whose blood can cleanse each spot,
O Lamb of God, I come.]

Just as I am, though tossed about
with many a conflict, many a doubt;
fightings and fears within, without,
O Lamb of God, I come.

 Just as I am, poor, wretched, blind;
sight, riches, healing of the mind,
yea, all I need, in thee to find,
O Lamb of God, I come.

Just as I am, thou wilt receive;
wilt welcome, pardon, cleanse, relieve,
because thy promise I believe,
O Lamb of God, I come.

Just as I am, thy love unknown
has broken every barrier down;
now to be thine, yea, thine alone,
O Lamb of God, I come.

Just as I am, of that free love
the breadth, length, depth, and height to prove,
here for a season, then above:
O Lamb of God, I come.

  •  Do you feel you can come to God “just as you are”, or do you hang back, not feeling worthy?

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Singing the Faith: Day 17: Lament and Personal Devotion

Be still for the presence of the Lord

This modern song was first published in 1986, by David J Evans (b. 1957, Dartford), a music teacher from Southampton. He has written other hymns, but this is the only one to have gained widespread popularity, and is one of the few modern hymns to be widely known outside the circle of regular churchgoers.
What is the clue to its popularity? It might be the fairly simple structure, each verse starting in the same way with the words, “Be still”. It might be the message – stillness is a precious commodity in our very busy lives. Whatever it is, the hymn is rich in material for reflection. It is primarily based on the story of Jacob (Genesis 28.10-22). On the run from home because he had cheated his brother Esau out of his birthright, he lay down in what felt like the middle of nowhere to him and slept. While he slept he dreamed of a ladder between earth and heaven, and angels coming and going on it. When he woke he exclaimed “Surely the Lord was in this place and I did not know it.” Genesis 28.16. There are also allusions to the story of Moses and the burning bush (Exodus 3.5), and perhaps also to the story of Jesus’ Transfiguration (Matthew 17.5)

  • Which of the many images in this hymn speaks most strongly to you – God’s holiness, God’s splendour, God’s healing and transforming power?
As with some other modern hymns in this series, copyright issues mean I can't include the lyrics here, but you can listen to the hymn at the link below. 

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Singing the Faith: Day 16: Lament and Personal Devotion

When I survey the wondrous cross

This hymn, often sung during Holy Week, is by Isaac Watts(1674- 1747). He was born in Southampton, the son of an elder in an Independent (Congregational) Church, and later became a minister himself. Watts was one of the earliest English hymn writers, part of an early wave of hymn composition after the religious upheavals of the Reformation and Civil War. He is sometimes known as the father of English hymnody.

Up until this point, only metrical psalms, using the words of the Bible, were normally sung in church. Watts’ hymns introduced a new subjective religious expression – this is reputedly the first English hymn to use the personal pronoun “I”. Contemplating the crucifixion from a personal perspective had been a common feature of medieval personal devotion, but it was a new idea to write a congregational hymn like this. Watts wrote this as a communion hymn, and it first appeared in 1707.

The tune, Rockingham, was first printed in a collection published in 1790. Apparently the hymn was earlier sung to a tune called Tunbridge, but had originally been sung to a version of Tallis’ Canon  (Glory to thee my God this night.)

When I survey the wondrous cross
on which the Prince of glory died,
my richest gain I count but loss,
and pour contempt on all my pride.

Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast
save in the death of Christ, my God!
All the vain things that charm me most,
I sacrifice them to his blood.

See, from his head, his hands, his feet,
sorrow and love flow mingled down.
Did e'er such love and sorrow meet,
or thorns compose so rich a crown?

His dying crimson, like a robe,
Spreads o’er His body on the tree;
Then I am dead to all the globe,
And all the globe is dead to me.

Were the whole realm of nature mine,
that were an offering far too small.
Love so amazing, so divine,
demands my soul, my life, my all.

·         If you could “survey the wondrous cross” today, what would you want to say in response?

Monday, March 20, 2017

News from the Diocesan Conversation about our new strategic framework

The Diocese of Rochester is engaged in Our Conversation; Our Future to help us develop a new strategic framework. These conversations will help Bishop James and his team discern God's will for the Diocese. 

Diocesan Synod was given a flavour of the activities and responses to Our Conversation; Our Future at their meeting on Saturday 18 March.

Members from Penge, Twydall, Tonbridge and Bexley shared their experiences of meetings, lent courses, house group sessions, worship and preaching and more.

We want to ensure everyone has an opportunity to speak and be heard.

You can respond to Our Conversation; Our Future through the website, by email, by writing to us, or more creatively.

We'd like responses by Easter please, so we can begin the discernment process.

Our Conversation; Our Future is built on a foundation of prayer.

Please continue to remember these conversations, and all who are taking part in them, in your prayers.

The prayer (left) written for this can be found on the website and in the toolkit.

Printed copies of the Place In the Crowd course and course leaders books are available to order online or from the Diocesan Office.

If you use Twitter, search for #PlaceInTheCrowd to join the conversation, see how others are using the course materials, and other resources you might consider. 

Hear how one church discussed Our Conversation; Our Future during their evening service with young people.

Click here for media file from Tonbridge Parish Church and listen to the views of young people about their community, church, and the will of God.

Help us spread the news!

Please share this newsletter with others who might want to know more about Our Conversation; Our Future.

If this email has been forwarded to you, you can sign up at

Copyright © 2017 Diocese of Rochester, All rights reserved.