Hallo again to all.
Working on AO is a quiet ministry but one that engenders in us a sense of great connection to all parts of the Anglican Communion. One of our joys is hearing from you, our readers. Your letters, be they brief or long, give us a lift that sustains us.
A few weeks ago we asked you about your favourite hymn tunes and texts. We hoped you would tell us a little about why you would choose a particular hymn if you could only have one to accompany you on a desert island or other remote spot. We are happy to report that many of you have written us lovely notes, and we enjoyed the anecdotes you shared with us! Please continue to write us with your selections, as we are keeping a running tally.
The letters on this topic we have received to date hail from latitudes East and West and longitudes North and South. Some of you asked to have your comments not be attributed. We shall, as always, respect your wishes. We are glad some of you are already aware of Hymnary.org, a wonderful resource for hymn tunes and texts as well as brief biographies of both authors and composers. Our visits to the Hymnary site are never short, as every search leads to another line of inquiry and discovery.
We decided to use our front page to feature your letters about hymn choices. In the list below, we have linked each text to its corresponding Hymnary page. We have also provided a link from the name of the setting to a recording of each tune.
|Hymn (first line)
||Your note to us
|All my hope on God is founded
||'Even better when the seldom-heard orchestral accompaniment is added...Fits all seasons. Majestic but well within the capabilities of ordinary singers. "God unknown, he alone calls my heart to be his own." Love it.'
– Chuck Till,
Episcopal Church of the Nativity, Raleigh, NC, US
|Come thou Fount of every blessing
||'...with the words and tune in the current hymnal [Hymnal 1982: according to the use of the Episcopal Church (US)] (don't care for the Ebenezer word) where I first heard it. It speaks to my spiritual journey and constant need to be drawn back to God.'
– Ann Fontaine,
St Catherine of Alexandria, Cannon Beach OR US
|The Church's one foundation
||'For both my wife and me The Church's one foundation is our favourite.'
|Dear Lord and Father of mankind
||'Not a "desert island" in the cartoon sense but desert nevertheless – Antarctica – where I did terms with two Australian Expeditions: one of 14 months one of 6 months. At my first in 1978 when I "wintered-over" at Davis Station – along with 13 other men (no women in those days), I had hand-written the last verse of "Dear Lord and Father of mankind"
and pasted it on my donga wall above the "desk". Each moment I spent in that tiny space the verse beginning "Breathe through the heats of our desire...(and ending) "O still small voice of calm" was an encouragement to me in an enviroment—both natural and human—where being "calm" was sometimes essential.' – Trevor Cowell,
Christ Church, Illawarra,Parish of Longford Diocese of Tasmania,
Perth, Tasmania, Australia
|How sweet the name of Jesus sounds
||St Peter (Reinagle)
||'I would take with me John Newton's hymn "How Sweet The Name of Jesus Sounds" because it would be my daily reminder of God's love and awesome power of His Son and the wonderful act of salvation through Jesus Crist. To me, one would need that reminder daily in almost every situation.'
|King of glory, king of peace
||'My hymn for a desert island: King of Glory, King of Peace (text, George Herbert; tune, General Seminary). Because a metaphysical text in a contemporary setting. Because seven whole days, not one in seven. Because my utmost art and the cream of all my heart.'
|I bind unto myself today
||St Patrick's Breastplate with Deirdre
'I would hate to be limited to just one, but would probably choose St. Patrick's Breastplate. For one thing, it has sufficient verses to keep me occupied longer than, say, O Saving Victim. There is, of course, only ONE tune – except for verse 5, which I know as being set to Deirdre. Thereby hangs a tale. I had the pleasure of attending services at St. Paul's, London, on one St. Patrick's Day. I was lustily singing along, as is my wont (to my wife's sometime embarrassment), and when we got to verse 5 I quickly realized that I was loudly singing a different tune! It was, I believe, Gartan.' [We think you're right!]
|O thou who camest from above
||'This hymn with text by Charles Wesley was sung at both my ordinations, and I have had it at all my inductions and farewell services. I have told my family that I will come back and haunt them if it is not sung at my funeral!
I like it because it is a heartfelt prayer that I may truly experience and know the love of God in my life and that I may be faithful in my life and ministry – even when, as so often happens, I fall short of what is asked of me. It is a prayer too for faithfulness and humility, such necessary gifts for a Christian person.
I am also very fond of the tune "Hereford" (Samuel Wesley), which I find a haunting melody, which stays with me long after I have finished singing it. Thank you, Lord, for both these Wesleys!'
– Canon Ralph Mallinson,
St. John with St. Mark, Bury, Lancashire, UK
|When peace, like a river
(It is well with my soul)
|Ville du Havre
||'... I prefer almost any "hymn" from
Cursillo to what's in our parish's hymnal. And I prefer a setting such as our "Little Church" at St. Paul's.'
– Ray Hester,
St Paul's, Mobile AL US [ 'It is well with my soul' is included in some Anglican hymnals. We hope this letter writer will enjoy a dip into Hymnary to find which ones!]
In addition to these, we received two longer letters that don't easily fit into the table above. One, from a regular AO correspondent, reads:
My choice would be 'God Save The Queen' which is included in my funeral service, the latter complete except for the date.
That service also includes 'Who would true valour see', the words of which are by John Bunyan*, and which is found e.g. in England's 'Common Worship' and the later A&M, and in the Church of Scotland's 'Church Hymnary' 2005 (also called 'Hymns of Glory : Songs of Praise'). 'He who would valiant be' is NOT by John Bunyan but is Percy Dearmer's re-writing of Bunyan, found in e.g. his 'Songs of Praise' and regrettably in the US 'Hymnal 82'.
But thank you for an interesting article. I have never heard that hymn ['There's a wideness in God's mercy'] with either set of words sung to anything except Monk's Gate. (Just as my choice of a hymn is probably unique, I am probably the only person to prefer the dignified and moving old tune, Pro Omnibus Sanctis [Sarum] by Sir Joseph Barnby to Vaughan Williams' Sine Nomine when singing 'For All The Saints'. It is found in the 1938 Book of Common Praise which was widely used in Australia and which I think is still in print in Canada.) – The Revd John Bunyan,
St John the Baptist's, Canberra (and King's Chapel, Boston, MA),
Campbelltown NSW Australia
Although we have never met him in the flesh, those of us who work in the AO office feel we are old friends with the Revd Mr Bunyan.
Our other longer letter was from a writer who provided us a list with links to the tunes he prefers.
'There's a wideness...' is one of my personal favorites, too, but the tune with which I most associate it is Stainer's Cross of Jesus. In the wonderful (British) Methodist Hymn Book (1933) with which I grew up, there were eight 4-line verses starting with 'Souls of men, why will ye scatter like a crowd of frightened sheep?' I remember fondly that one cleric, whose love of the hymn led him to select it for worship very frequently, always had us start with the second verse ('Was there ever...') on the grounds of empirical accuracy: frightened sheep purportedly are more likely to cluster than to scatter.
Those would-be desert island castaways are usually not just limited to a single choice, and I would find it impossible to name just one preëminent hymn for use in my lonely exile. Here are the ones for which, with 'There's a wideness,' I would most like to be able to remember all the words and the tunes:
- Charles Wesley's 'Love divine' (sung to Blaenwern rather than Hyfrydol).
- Isaac Watts' 'When I survey the wondrous cross' (Rockingham).
The very oldest hymn in many hymnals, J M Neale's 'Of the Father’s love begotten' translation of Prudentius (in my view, too often seen erroneously as a Christmas hymn only), set to Corde Natus.
- 'Guide me, O thou great Jehovah' (Cwm Rhondda, obviously).
- The Manx fishermen's hymn 'Hear us, O Lord, from heaven, thy dwelling place' (to Peel Castle).
- 'The day thou gavest, Lord, is ended' (St Clement).
– Michael Kemp,
Wellesley, Massachusetts (US)
Thanks to the above letter, we shall never sing the text of 'Souls of men! Why will ye scatter' again without thinking about sheep behaviour in times of stress.
We are thankful for the vast trove of hymnody in our Anglican tradition. We did not expect your letters to provide a majority vote for any particular text or tune. Truth be told, we expected exactly what has so far arrived in our mailbox: hymn choices that express each writer's individuality.
Thanks be for our Anglican Communion!
See you next week.