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.

Singing the Faith: Day 15: Lament and Personal Devotion

Dear Lord and Father of Mankind

John Greenleaf Whittier (1807-1892) who wrote the words of this very famous and well-loved hymn was a Quaker poet, from New England, USA. He began life as a farm boy, but eventually became a journalist. This hymn is part of long poem (17 stanzas) which was called “The Brewing of Soma”, a drug brewed by Hindu priests which induced wild and uncontrollable behaviour. The poem is about our human tendency, our “foolish ways”, to want to escape reality through intoxication of one sort of another, including the whipping up of emotionally charged states in church. The verse immediately before the ones we sing as  a hymn reads,
And yet the past comes round again,/ And new doth old fulfill;/ In sensual transports wild as vain/ We brew in many a Christian fane [temple]/  The heathen Soma still!
Ironically, Whittier disapproved of the singing of hymns in church, but his words were quickly set to music anyway.
The tune, Repton, is by Hubert Parry (1848-1918), an English composer and academic, very prominent in the late Victorian and Edwardian music. He also wrote the tune to which the hymn Jerusalem is sung, as well as a great deal of choral and instrumental music.

Dear Lord and Father of mankind,
forgive our foolish ways;
reclothe us in our rightful mind,
in purer lives thy service find,
in deeper reverence, praise.

In simple trust like theirs who heard
beside the Syrian sea
the gracious calling of the Lord,
let us, like them, without a word
rise up and follow thee.

O Sabbath rest by Galilee,
O calm of hills above,
where Jesus knelt to share with thee
the silence of eternity,
interpreted by love!

Drop thy still dews of quietness,
till all our strivings cease;
take from our souls the strain and stress,
and let our ordered lives confess
the beauty of thy peace.
Breathe through the heats of our desire
thy coolness and thy balm;
let sense be dumb, let flesh retire;
speak through the earthquake, wind, and fire,
O still, small voice of calm!

·         What helps you to hear God’s “still, small voice of calm”? (1 Kings 19.12)

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Singing the Faith: Day 14: Praise and Thanksgiving

How great thou art

This hymn – voted no.1 in a Songs of Praise Top 100 hymns in 2013 – started life as a Swedish poem by Carl Boberg (1859-1940). He had been moved by the sight of a rainbow after a storm on the Monsteras inlet on the south east coast of Sweden, his birth place. He was the son of a shipyard worker, and became a journalist and for fifteen years a member of the Swedish parliament, as well as a preacher.
The Swedish poem was set to music in 1891. An English translation was made in 1925 (O Mighty God) but it did not catch on. The version we sing today is another English translation, made from a Russian translation of a German version of the song, by Stuart Hine (1899-1989). He was a missionary who had heard it while on evangelistic work in the Carpathian Mountains in the 1930s. He composed the fourth verse in 1948, as a response to the flood of displaced refugees streaming across Europe in the wake of WW2. A question often heard from them was “when are we going home?” For many, the answer in this life would be “never”, but Hines wanted to remind them that their true home was with God. The hymn was popularised when it was sung at the Billy Graham Crusades of the 1950s, like “Great is thy Faithfulness” (Day 10 above)
The tune is variously credited as a Russian or Swedish folk tune, but with the complicated international story of this hymn it is hard to be sure of its origins!

O Lord my God! When I in awesome wonder
Consider all the works Thy hand hath made.
I see the stars, I hear the rolling thunder,
Thy power throughout the universe displayed.
Then sings my soul, my Saviour God, to Thee:
How great Thou art, how great Thou art!
Then sings my soul, my Saviour God, to Thee:
How great Thou art, how great Thou art!

When through the woods and forest glades I wander
And hear the birds sing sweetly in the trees;
When I look down from lofty mountain grandeur
And hear the brook and feel the gentle breeze:

And when I think that God, His Son not sparing,
Sent Him to die, I scarce can take it in;
That on the cross, my burden gladly bearing,
He bled and died to take away my sin:

When Christ shall come with shout of acclamation
And take me home, what joy shall fill my heart!
Then I shall bow in humble adoration,
And there proclaim, my God, how great Thou art!

·         Where is “home” for you? 

And a more contemporary take on the song....

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Singing the Faith: Day 13: Praise and Thanksgiving

O worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness

This hymn, traditionally sung in the Epiphany season is by John Samuel Bewley Monsell (1811-75). He was the son of the Archdeacon of Derry, and was educated in Ireland, before being ordained in the Anglican Church in 1834. He was rector of Egham in Surrey and St Nicholas Guildford, where he died in an accident while inspecting the progress of building work in the church.
He composed over 300 hymns, but only this one and “Fight the Good Fight” are regularly sung today. Monsell believed that hymns should be sung joyfully, saying “We are too distant and reserved in our praises. We sing not as we should of him who is Chief among ten thousand, the altogether Lovely”. That impulse is certainly present in this hymn, with its injunction to “worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness”. It is clear from the hymn, though, that this holiness is not necessarily to be found in outwardly splendid things, but in truth and trust, obedience and lowliness.
The tune , “Was lebete, was schwebet” comes from a German manuscript of 1754.

O worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness;
bow down before him, his glory proclaim;
with gold of obedience, and incense of lowliness,
kneel and adore him: the Lord is his name.

Low at his feet lay thy burden of carefulness:
high on his heart he will bear it for thee,
comfort thy sorrows, and answer thy prayerfulness,
guiding thy steps as may best for thee be.

Fear not to enter his courts in the slenderness
of the poor wealth thou wouldst reckon as thine:
truth in its beauty, and love in its tenderness,
these are the offerings to lay on his shrine.

These, though we bring them in trembling and fearfulness,
he will accept for the name that is dear;
mornings of joy give for evenings of tearfulness,
trust for our trembling and hope for our fear.

O worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness;
bow down before him, his glory proclaim;
with gold of obedience, and incense oflowliness,
kneel and adore him: the Lord is his name.

  • What do you think the “beauty of holiness” looks like? 

Friday, March 17, 2017

Singing the Faith: Day 12: Praise and Thanksgiving

Immortal invisible, God only wise

This hymn was inspired by 1 Tim 1.17 “To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honour and glory for ever and ever. Amen.” It was written by Walter Chalmers Smith (1824-1908), who was born in Aberdeen, and subsequently ministered in the Scottish Church in Chadwell Street, Islington before becoming minister of various Free Church congregations in Scotland. He was moderator of the Free Church of Scotland in 1893.
Originally the hymn’s last two verses were slightly different,

Great Father of glory, pure Father of light,
Thine angels adore Thee, all veiling their sight;
But of all Thy rich graces this grace, Lord, impart
Take the veil from our faces, the vile from our heart.

All laud we would render; O help us to see
’Tis only the splendour of light hideth Thee,
And so let Thy glory, Almighty, impart,
Through Christ in His story, Thy Christ to the heart.

The original verses make much plainer the intention of Chalmers in this hymn to remind the singer that though the Bible is important in shaping our faith in fact it is only the direct experience of God in Christ which can really show us the heart of God. God can’t be tied down in words on a page. As a Free Church minister this would have been a very challenging idea for his, very Bible-based, congregation.
The tune, St Denio, is based on a Welsh folk song.

Immortal, invisible, God only wise,
In light inaccessible hid from our eyes,
Most blessèd, most glorious, the Ancient of Days,
Almighty, victorious, thy great Name we praise.

Unresting, unhasting, and silent as light,
Nor wanting, nor wasting, thou rulest in might;
Thy justice like mountains high soaring above
Thy clouds which are fountains of goodness and love.

To all life thou givest — to both great and small;
In all life thou livest, the true life of all;
We blossom and flourish as leaves on the tree,
And wither and perish—but naught changeth thee.

Great Father of glory, pure Father of light,
Thine angels adore thee, all veiling their sight;
All laud we would render: O help us to see
’Tis only the splendour of light hideth thee.

  • How has your image of God been formed? What authority do you give to the Bible in your life?
I couldn't embed this video, but the link for you to watch it is here. 

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Singing the Faith: Day 11: Praise and Thanksgiving

Now thank we all our God

This hymn was written by Martin Rinkart (1586-1649), the son of a coppersmith who was precentor (leader of music) at the church in Martin Luther’s home town of Eisleben. He became pastor of the church in his own native town of Eilenburg in 1617, and ministered there through over 30 years of bloodshed as rival armies from across Europe fought over this territory. He also lived and ministered through a terrible plague in 1637, when more than 8000 inhabitants of the town died. Rinkart buried over 4000 of them himself, sometimes conducting mass funerals for 50 people at a time.

Faced with these huge challenges, however, he learned to put his trust in God, saying “We can find no mercy with men; let us take refuge in God.”
It isn’t known exactly when the hymn was written, but it was widely sung when the Treaty of Westphalia was signed in 1648, and has remained popular ever since in Germany and latterly in Britain since it was translated by Catherine Winkworth (see day 8). The tune, “Nun Danket”, is often ascribed to Johann Cruger (1598-1662), the composer of many hymn tunes, since it first appeared in a book edited by him, but it may have been written by Rinkart himself, as he was a noted musician in his own right.

Now thank we all our God,
with heart and hands and voices,
who wondrous things hath done,
in whom his world rejoices;
who from our mother's arms
hath blessed us on our way
with countless gifts of love,
and still is ours today.

O may this bounteous God
through all our life be near us,
with ever-joyful hearts
and blessèd peace to cheer us;
and keep us in his grace,
and guide us when perplexed,
and free us from all ills
in this world and the next.

All praise and thanks to God
the Father now be given,
the Son, and Holy Ghost,
supreme in highest heaven,
the one eternal God,
whom earth and heaven adore;
for thus it was, is now,
and shall be evermore.

  • What are you thankful for today? Do you find it easy, or even possible, to maintain an "attitude of gratitude" during tough times?

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Singing the Faith Day 10: Praise and Thanksgiving

Great is thy faithfulness

The words of this hymn were written in the early 1920’s by Thomas Chisholm (1866-1960). Chisholm was born in a log cabin in Franklin, Kentucky, and  worked as a journalist, a school teacher and a life-insurance agent before being ordained as a Methodist minister. He said that there was no particular incident which prompted the writing of this hymn , but that he simply wanted to express his belief in the faithfulness of God. The music is by William Runyan, a composer, preacher and teacher who was a friend of Chisholm.
The hymn was popularised around the world because it was sung frequently by Gospel singer, George Beverley Shea, during Billy Graham’s evangelistic rallies from the 1950’s onward. He had learned it from the radio programmes of the Moody Bible Institute, where Runyan taught.  

The hymn takes its inspiration from Lamentations 3.22-23. “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.”

Great is thy faithfulness, O God my Father;
there is no shadow of turning with thee;
thou changest not, thy compassions, they fail not;
as thou hast been thou forever will be.

Great is thy faithfulness! Great is thy faithfulness!
Morning by morning new mercies I see;
all I have needed thy hand hath provided;
great is thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me!

Summer and winter and springtime and harvest,
sun, moon and stars in their courses above
join with all nature in manifold witness
to thy great faithfulness, mercy and love.

Pardon for sin and a peace that endureth
thy own dear presence to cheer and to guide;
strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow,
blessings all mine, with ten thousand besides.

  • “Thou changest not” says the hymn writer. How do you feel about change? What helps you to deal with it?

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Singing the Faith: Day 9 Praise and Thanksgiving

All creatures of our God and King

This hymn is a modern translation of the hymn by St Francis of Assisi, (1186-1226), Cantico de Frate Sole, the Canticle of Brother Sun.
Francis had abandoned a rich and privileged life as the son of a wealthy cloth merchant, to become a wandering beggar and preacher. The Franciscan order he founded had, and still has, a particular mission to the poorest of the poor. There are Roman Catholic and Anglican Franciscans. Francis was famous for embracing lepers, at a time when they were widely feared and shunned. This might sound like a rather grim existence, but Francis was known as a person of great joy, who saw God at work in all his creatures. This hymn captures his delight in the world around him, which he sees as joining in a great hymn of praise.
This translation is by W.H. Draper (1855-1933), the rector of Adel in Yorkshire, who wrote it for a Whitsuntide children’s festival in Leeds.

The tune “Lasst uns erfreuen”, first appeared in a German tune-book, published in Cologne in 1623. 

All creatures of our God and King
Lift up your voice and with us sing,
Alleluia! Alleluia!
Thou burning sun with golden beam,
Thou silver moon with softer gleam!

O praise Him!
O praise Him!
Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!

Thou rushing wind that art so strong
Ye clouds that sail in Heaven along,
O praise Him! Alleluia!
Thou rising moon, in praise rejoice,
Ye lights of evening, find a voice!

Thou flowing water, pure and clear,
Make music for thy Lord to hear,
O praise Him! Alleluia!
Thou fire so masterful and bright,
That givest man both warmth and light.

Dear mother earth, who day by day
Unfoldest blessings on our way,
O praise Him! Alleluia!
The flowers and fruits that in thee grow,
Let them His glory also show.

And all ye men of tender heart,
Forgiving others, take your part,
O sing ye! Alleluia!
Ye who long pain and sorrow bear,
Praise God and on Him cast your care!

And thou most kind and gentle Death,
Waiting to hush our latest breath,
O praise Him! Alleluia!
Thou leadest home the child of God,
And Christ our Lord the way hath trod.

Let all things their Creator bless,
And worship Him in humbleness,
O praise Him! Alleluia!
Praise, praise the Father, praise the Son,
And praise the Spirit, Three in One!

  • Which verse speaks most to you today?

Monday, March 13, 2017

Singing the Faith: Day 8: Praise and Thanksgiving

Praise to the Lord, the Almighty, the King of Creation

The words and music for this popular hymn are by Joachim Neander 1650-1680, a German Reformed Church minister. The tune is probably based on a German folk tune. It would originally have been sung unaccompanied and in unison, in line with the Calvinist views of the Reformed Church. Neander loved exploring the landscape around him, and  was fond of conducting worship in the open air in a valley which eventually became named after him – the Neanderthal. In 1856 ancient human remains were found in a cave in the valley, a species now known as Neanderthal man!

The hymn was translated by Catherine Winkworth.1827-1878, who was described in her lifetime as "the most gifted translator of any foreign sacred lyrics into our tongue, after Dr. Neale and John Wesley”. She grew up in Manchester, where her father owned a silk mill, and she was taught by William Gaskell, a prominent Unitarian minister (and husband of Mrs Elizabeth Gaskell, whose novels are full of concern for the urban poor.) Subsequently she lived in Clifton, Bristol. As well as translating hymns she was well known for her work to better the education of girls and women.

Praise to the Lord, the Almighty, the King of creation!
O my soul, praise him, for he is thy health and salvation!
All ye who hear,
now to his temple draw near;
praise him in glad adoration.

Praise to the Lord, who over all things so wondrously reigneth,
shelters thee under his wings, yea, so gently sustaineth!
Hast thou not seen
how thy heart’s wishes have been
granted in what he ordaineth?

Praise to the Lord, who doth prosper thy work and defend thee;
surely his goodness and mercy here daily attend thee.
Ponder anew
what the Almighty can do,
who with his love doth befriend thee.

Praise to the Lord, O let all that is in me adore him!
All that hath life and breath, come now with praises before him.
Let the amen
sound from his people again,
gladly for aye we adore him.

  • What signs of the goodness of God have you seen in the last 24 hours?