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This page last updated 27 November 2003
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Letters to AO

EVERY WEEK WE PUBLISH a selection of letters we receive in response to something you've read at Anglicans Online. Stop by and have a look at what other AO readers are thinking.

Alas, we cannot publish every letter we receive. And we won't publish letters that are anonymous, hateful, illiterate, or otherwise in our judgment do not benefit the readers of Anglicans Online. We usually do not publish letters written in response to other letters.

We edit letters to conform with standard AO house style for punctuation, but we do not change, for example, American spelling to conform to English orthography. On occasion we'll gently edit letters that are too verbose in their original form. Email addresses are included when the authors give permission to do so.

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Letters received during the week of 16 November 2003

You missed some important news

I NOTICE THAT YOU HAVE NOT, as far as I've seen, noted the appointment of the Revd. Dr. Marilyn McCord Adams as Regius Professor of Divinity at Oxford and Canon of Christ Church. She is the first woman and the first American to hold the position. It would seem that were news as important as other items as we move on in the life of the church from the events of summer 2003.

Donald Rogan
Harcourt Parish
Gambier, Ohio, USA
17 November 2003

Guilty as charged. We hadn't heard about it. We'll let your letter serve as the announcement.

A fierce wild priest

I GUESS MY FAVORITE HYMN MISSPEAKING is well known. It's in "Sing a song of the saints of God." It's far too easy to sing the phrase "and one was slain by a fierce wild beast" as "and one was slain by a fierce wild priest."

Richard W. Greene
Holy Trinity, Geneseo, Illinois
17 November 2003

Get off the sofa

IN YOUR MESSAGE in the week of 11/17/03, you asked for anecdotes about hymns. Our organist/choirmaster (now retired) named his miniature Schnauzer "Down Ampney." Think it over....

Linda Delfs
Albany, New York, USA
17 November 2003

When I'm cleaning windows

OUR RECTOR IS RATHER FOND of the modern hymn “God is our strength and refuge” which is set to the big tune from British light music composer Eric Coates’ “Dambusters March”. But for anyone of my vintage brought up on classic British war films the association between the film “The Dambusters” and its theme music is so strong as make its use as a hymn tune risible. Listen to the first few bars, and phrases like “I say chaps, Jerry flak up ahead” drift unbidden into the mind.

But glance through any modern hymn book and you will find loads of similarly inapt tunes – “Auld Lang Syne”, “Land of Hope and Glory” and so on. A gloriously daft example is the children’s’ chorus “We have a King who rides a donkey” with the tune “What shall we do with the drunken sailor?”. But this is a chorus and not a hymn proper, so I digress.

Toe-curlingly awful as I find this sort of thing, it set me thinking that there could a lucrative market out there for recycling other pieces of light music as hymn tunes. For instance, one that fits really rather well is “At the Lamb’s high feast we sing” to Coates’ other big tune “Calling all workers”.

With a little liberal pulling about, “City of God how broad and far” can be rendered to “By the sleepy lagoon”, better known as the theme music for the BBC radio’s “Desert Island Discs”. And moving away from Eric Coates, if you pair up the verses of “Glory be to Jesus” you can bounce along to Barwick Green (theme music for “The Archers”).

At the time of writing I am trying to find a suitably inappropriate text to fit to the George Formby classic “When I’m cleaning windows”. Any suggestions from your readers would be much appreciated.

Alan Cooper
St Margaret, Barking
Barking, Essex, UK
17 November 2003

Here I raise mine Ebenezer

HOW I HAVE LOVED YOUR VOICE OF SANITY over the past four or five (and more!) troublesome months. Can't resist this invitation to write, as I write a monthly column for our parish website on some of the hymns we're to sing during the upcoming month. My favorite word-changing story about a hymn in the ECUSA Hymnal 1982 can be found there. (There's other cool stuff on our website, too!)

PS If you publish this, you might want to cut & paste the story about "Come Thou Fount" instead of sending people to the website.

Donna Wessel Walker
St. Andrew's, Ann Arbor
Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA
17 November 2003

Note to readers: we found this website a little tricky to read; on our screen it showed up with two different scrollbars, and you had to use both of them to see the entire page. We enjoyed it, though.

We always thought it was Killem's Pills

AROUND 1930 Beecham's Pills published promotional songbooks in the UK. One included the following version of 'Hark the Herald'. The conductor, Sir Thomas Beecham was from this family.

Hark! the herald angels sing:
Beechamís Pills are just the thing.
They are gentle; they are mild;
Two for adults and one for a child
Joyful, all ye nations rise,
Beechamís pills are just size.
With th' angelic host proclaim:
Beechamís Pills stay just the same.
Hark! the herald angels sing:
Beechamís Pills are just the thing.

Michael Jackson
St Lukes, Slyne-with-Hest, Diocese of Blackburn
N. Lancashire, England
17 November 2003

And when you're smiling, I'll cough

MY WORST PERSONAL FAUX-PAS with a hymn was on a sheet I'd produced for a special occasion. The whole congregation was happily singing the modern hymn "Brother, sister, let me serve you", and it was all deeply inspiring until we got to the verse with the typo in it:

"I will wee when you are weeping,
when you laugh I'll laugh with you ..."

Doug Chaplin
St Augustine's
Droitwich, Worcestershire, UK
17 November 2003

How can there be a baby with no cryin'?

THERE ARE TWO HYMNS that I always get to chuckle over during singing. One is the second stanza of "Away in a manger." The words "But little Lord Jesus no crying he makes." I suppose that the sentimental nature of Christmas Carols is so strong that we fail to hear the absurdity of those words - unless, of course, we adhere to the gnostic gospels that held that Jesus had a fully developed voice (vocal cords as well as brain function) at birth!

The other hymn is a child's hymn — "I sing a song of the saints of God." The whole hymn is beloved by many people, simply because it is such a childish thing to sing — an appeal to the child in all of us.

My favorite hymn has long been "Abide with me."

Thanks and peace be with you.

The Rev. Thomas A. Davis
St. Thomas Episcopal Church
Salem, Illinois, USA
18 November 2003

Hearts unfold like flowers before thee

MY VERY FAVOURITE HYMN is Beethoven's Ode to Joy - "Joyful, joyful, we adore Thee". It was sung at the very first ordination of a priest that I attended and it was unusual because it was in my own parish church and that of the person being ordained instead of the cathedral. I quickly memorized the words to the hymn which is fine except with the new hymnbooks in various churches where some of the familiar words have been changed. Then singing along from memory is not such a great idea.

The person being ordained priest in early December 1974 was Michael Ingham - now well known for other reasons!

Vicki Milnes
St. John the Evangelist, Somerset St.
Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
19 November 2003

All the light of sacred story

OUR PARISH HAS A LARGE CROSS BEHIND THE ALTAR, and a somewhat elderly congregation. I have often thought it particularly appropriate when we sing the hymn

"In the cross of Christ I glory
Towering o'er the wrecks of time"!

Ian Walker
St Matthew's Holland Park
Brisbane, Australia
19 November 2003

Feeling positively subversive

ONE OF THE BEST THINGS I'VE DISCOVERED as I've matured in the faith is that hymns can be quite successfully lifted out of their original liturgical setting, and set down in another, quite different one.

You might not think that Charles Wesley's early evangelical classic "And can it be?" would translate easily to a solemn mass with bells, smells and vestments. But the hymn's soaring tune "Sagina", and the passion and conviction of Wesley's poetry are wonderfully powerful when sung during the censing of the altar. This stirring, heady mixture of evangelical and catholic is certainly unifying in a communion as diverse as ours. But experiencing it at Mass makes me feel positively subversive of those forces which would tear us apart. It's a moment of real liturgical feelgood, when you can feel the Spirit move and unite us. I wonder if there are evangelical brothers and sisters who have experienced the same thing in reverse - e.g. singing "Soul of my Saviour" or the Lourdes "Gloria" in a service of charismatic praise and prayer?

In singing, it's amazing how close we can be to God, and how readily divisions can evaporate. We should build on that.

Stephen Heard
Saint Mark the Evangelist, Bush Hill Park
London, England.
19 November 2003

Tune on the back of the menu

MY FAVORITE HYMN:My Song Is Love Unknown”, words by Samuel Crossman, tune by John Ireland. #458, US 1982 Hymnal.

Ronald Blythe tells the story in one of his Wormingford books about Geoffrey Shaw and John Ireland. When Shaw was editing the English Hymnal, shortly after WWI, he took John Ireland to lunch. Halfway through it he handed a slip of paper to him across the table and said, “I need a tune for this lovely poem.” It was Samuel Crossman’s poem, written in 1664. Ireland read it and re-read it, then wrote some music for a few minutes on the back of the menu and handed it back to him, “Here’s your tune.” It was the music to the hymn: “My Song Is Love Unknown”.

The Rev. Pamela Cranston
St. Cuthbert's
Oakland, California, USA
20 November 2003

O Joy that seekest me through pain

MY ONLY SISTER DIED in 1967 at the ripe age of 34 (breast cancer). Our church (Methodist) had Sunday evening services, with a hymn request time. On the last Sunday that Shirley ever was able to make it to church, she requested the hymn "O Love That Wilt Not Let Me Go." Although I probably have about 200 favorite hymns, this one always brings me to tears because of the circumstances, in which I first truly realized the full meaning of the words.

Judith Morris
All Saints' Episcopal Church
Austin, Texas, USA
20 November 2003

Now He shines, the long expected

I ASKED MY 11 YEAR OLD SON what hymn he would take to a desert island. He replied, "Couldn't I just take a cell phone?"

While my family enthusiastically attends a children's service, I find it sad that my children will not share in the wonderful church music that I grew up with. Does "Shine Jesus Shine" really bring them any closer to God than "All Glory Laud and Honor"?

My choice for a hymn to take to a desert island is hymn 82 in the US Hymnal 1982, "Of the Father's Love Begotten." I love this hymn and had it played at my wedding 15 years ago. Its quiet simplicity says all there needs to be said: "He is Alpha and Omega."

Amy Phillips Witzke
St. Timothy's
Sunnyvale, California, USA
20 November 2003

Ladies and gentlemen, we have a winner

ONE HYMN FOR A DESERT ISLAND? You'd have to strip my brain of all the ones I've learned over 45 years of singing in church. However, if you insist I could only take one, I'd take the pairing of St Patrick's Breastplate and Dierdre that shows up as #370 in the US Hymnal 1982, all 7 verses of it. They are grand tunes to sing, and the swing of the melody makes it easy to keep the words in mind.

The words themselves offer jumping-off points for meditation on the life of Christ, the community of saints in the largest sense, the wonders of the created world, and the empowerment we can get from God. All this is framed in a profession of faith, and trust in Christ.

It's personal without being emotionally 'squishy', reassuring but demanding, and it can be learned by a child - I was about 9 when I memorized 2/3 of it (and still learning what it means in life at 53).

"Robin" Drake
St Anne's Episcopal Church, Reston
Herndon, Virginia USA
23 November 2003

Earlier letters

We launched our 'Letters to AO' section on 11 May 2003. All of our letters are in our archives.


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