Members of the Elders and laity participated in and planned the day’s worship service. The following speakers shared reflections on their favorite hymns and music guided us through our worship. Many thanks to all who contributed on Laity Sunday.
From Darilyn Knibb, Reflections on “In the Garden”
My earliest memories of my paternal grandparents are centered around their garden. They lived through the Great Depression and many of their life-long habits were formed in that time of their lives. My grandmother, Nannie, and my grandfather, Dandy, always had a huge garden. During my childhood and teenage years they lived on Gregory Street in Glenwood, not far from UNC-G. Their house sat on two lots and the backyard was almost entirely taken up with the garden. During the summer and fall, they grew just about any type of vegetable you could name and Nannie always canned them so there would be plenty of food for the winter. Dandy was a big man, and I remember him pushing an old hand plow when I was very young. I think I may have been in middle school before he actually got a gasoline motor-powered tiller. Whatever land wasn’t used to grow vegetables was taken up with Nannie’s flowers and other plants. There was a rumor that she could literally grow anything. I remember one time when she pulled up a painted broomstick that she had been using as a stack for one of her flowering vines and all along the stick there were “roots” sprouting. We all eventually agreed that they were probably some type of lichen or moss. But you can bet we really teased her after that: she could indeed grow anything. Once, in the late 70s, my cousin, who was a Greensboro police officer at the time, was in the back of the garden with Nannie and they came across a large “weed” growing close to the fence. Greg was pretty upset and was all set to pull it up–but Nannie insisted that she had never seen this plant before and she wanted to watch it grow. I could talk for hours about Nannie and her garden.
My grandparents didn’t go to church on most Sundays. Dandy worked at the ice plant on Lee Street and he was there every Sunday morning loading trucks for early deliveries. Nannie didn’t drive, so she stayed home. But that was okay because she always said that she felt closest to God in her garden. After Dandy retired, they began going to church on a regular basis. When Dandy died, my aunt continued to take Nannie to church each week. Before long, Nannie was cutting fresh flowers and arranging them in her own vases to be placed on the altar every Sunday. She was bringing part of her garden to God’s house for the enjoyment of everyone in the congregation.
Nannie died in 1988. At her funeral we sang the hymn “In the Garden” and it was absolutely perfect. But in the years since I first heard that hymn it has come to mean so much more to me. Just hearing the music, even without the words, brings back memories of Nannie and the true joy she found in her garden. When I hear the words, “He walks with me and He talks with me, and He tells me I am his own,” I picture myself strolling along a path in a quiet place in the early morning or late afternoon. I picture Jesus walking with me, speaking to me in a calm, soothing voice. And I know that He is reassuring me that he will be with me, no matter where I am or what might be happening in my life. I hear those words, “He walks with me and He talks with me,” every time I pray; but especially when I’m trying to slow myself down so that I can hear His still, quiet voice.
From Bob Bowman, Reflections on “Eternal Father”
It’s not hard for those of you who know that I retired from the Navy to understand why this hymn has so much meaning to me. It has been nearly 28 years since I retired from the Navy but this hymn still brings as much emotion to me today as it did then.
“Eternal Father” was written by William Whiting, an Anglican churchman from England who at the age of 35 felt that God had spared his life when the ship he was sailing on in the Mediterranean Sea sank during a violent storm. Later in 1860, while headmaster of the Winchester College Choristers School, one of his students confided in him that he had an overwhelming fear of his upcoming voyage to the United States. Whiting wrote the hymn “Eternal Father, Strong to Save” for him. It is believed that Psalm 107 was his inspiration for the hymn.
The US Navy first started using the hymn when, in 1879, LCDR Charles Train, a navigation instructor and master of the midshipman choir at the US Naval Academy, began concluding each worship service with the hymn. It became the academy hymn and soon became the US Navy Hymn.
“Eternal Father, Strong to Save” is also England’s Royal Navy Hymn, and in the mid 70s the US Coast Guard adapted the verse for the Coast Guard and the verse for flyers as the Coast Guard hymn. It has also been translated into French.
People always talk about living documents but “Eternal Father” has to be the most living hymn there is. Since the original four verses were written in 1860, there has been a minimum of 22 new or altered verses written. Some of the new verses include:
1915 During WW I a verse was written for flyers;
1943 During WW II another verse was written for the flyers and their navigators;
1948 A verse for nurses;
1955 A verse was written for all the armed forces;
1960 A verse for the Seabees;
1961 At the beginning of our space program a verse was written for the astronauts;
1965 A verse for submariners;
Also in 1965 a verse was written for Arctic and Antarctic explorers;
1966 A verse for the Marines;
1969 There was a verse written for the wounded, their doctors and corpsmen;
1972 A verse for the women service members;
Other verses that have been added that I don’t have a date for include:
Verse for the Merchant Marines;
Verse for the families left at home;
Verse for the commissioning and one for the decommissioning of ships;
Verse for the Navy Seals;
Verse for all those deployed;
And lastly there is even a verse written for the West Point Cadets.
I’ve chosen three verses which aren’t in our hymnal to sing today: the first one is in honor of all persons who are serving or have served in any branch of our country’s armed forces. The second verse has special meaning to me as my family has spent years at home while I was deployed to different places; Betsy had three of our four children while I was away so this verse means a lot to me. The third verse is for all the women who have served our country and don’t get the recognition they deserve.
Would all of you who are serving, have served at any time in any branch or our military and all those who have or have had loved ones deployed away from home please stand as we sing these verses of “Eternal Father, Strong to Save.” The words are printed on the insert to your bulletin and music is in our hymnal.
From Glenn Huth, Reflections on “Here I Am, Lord”
As I began to gather my thoughts about my favorite hymn, I thought of many traditional songs we sing in church. They instantly take me back to earlier chapters in my life and bring about varying levels of nostalgia. The hymns found in those red books have been rolling off my lips probably since before I could read—just by repetition. The hymn I chose is actually one I learned here at First Christian Church. My upbringing was in a Lutheran Church and I had not heard it until I became a member here back in 1997. It speaks to me in many ways and seems to show up right when I need to hear it—like God places it before me as a reminder. At first, every time I sang it was like I was recommitting my life to Christ. “Here I Am, Lord” does do that—probably for most of us on some level. But it’s more and has become more as the years pass for me. It is a dialogue between the Lord and man. The rich symbolism of light and darkness, the contrast of love and pain, the reminder that He bears our pain—even when we turn away from Him.
There is good news in the words that He “will break hearts of stone and give hearts for love alone.” Life hands us struggles all the time. That’s for certain. I hear this hymn and I hear certainty that He will lead me, especially when it might be something or somewhere I don’t care to completely see or address. Even when I turn away. It’s the hard stuff. The things we have to work through if we are to grow as Christians. The difficult conversations. Even more….it’s the being still and quiet and just listening. Maybe listening to that other person who is saying something different than you. Here I am, Lord. Trying to go where you point. Willing. Even when I flounder with emotion over what is right. Which way? I will go if you lead me! You see—that’s the hard part. Being led. We want to control it. We want a map. I NEED A PLAN. And there is one. You just have to close your eyes and only then can you see past the darkness.
Isaiah 6:8 says, “Also I heard the voice of the Lord saying, WHOM SHALL I SEND? AND WHO WILL GO FOR US?” It challenges you, doesn’t it? It is so easy to be intimidated and begin to make excuses of unworthiness. But God knows us all—he made us less than perfect, but perfectly made. He also gave us free will. This hymn is a beautiful reminder that we can choose to be willing to serve. Not perfectly—but happily. Then there is the “hold your people in my heart.” That’s big stuff. If we offer ourselves—He will do the rest. We are the hands and feet.
So, next time you sing the song—say a little prayer. I DO. “Lord, your road certainly goes through some bumpy territory, but I will go Lord. If you lead me. AMEN.” Where do you find God leading you at this moment? What helps you get through the bumpy road? Maybe it’s just knowing that He will lead you!
From Steve Benbow, Reflections on “Onward, Christian Soldiers”
My grandfather was a Disciples Minister in Miami, Florida, until he retired. He then moved to DeLand, Florida, where my uncle owned a farm that my grandfather would work during the week, but he also started a Drive-In Church where people could drive up and listen to his sermons from their cars.
When he was working on the farm he would always be singing hymns as he worked. Once when I was riding into town with him in his old Ford truck, he was singing, “Lord, I Want to Be In That Number” all the while he was straddling the yellow line, and I was praying: “please, Lord, not now.”
The reason why I chose Onward Christian Soldiers:
When I was in high school my brother and I went to Hargrave Military Academy. Now Hargrave is a Baptist-supported school and we had mandatory vespers services every Tuesday and Thursday evening plus church service on Sunday. Now to high school-aged boys this could become rather redundant so when there was a hymn that we all knew we would sing as loud as we could, but to our surprise it sounded really good when some 500 teenage male voices sang loud. This was one of those hymns.
“Onward Christian Soldiers” was written in 1865 with no intention of ever being published, especially in adult hymn books. Rev. Sabine Baring-Gould, its author, was at the time the curate of a parish in Yorkshire County in the north of England; and he recounts how and why he wrote it:
“It was written in a very simple fashion…Whitmonday is a great day for school festivals in Yorkshire, (note: Whitmonday is the first Monday after Pentecost, and until the 1960s was a holiday in many countries.) On one Whitmonday it was arranged that our school should join forces with that of a neighboring village. I wanted the children to sing when marching from one village to the other, but couldn’t think of anything quite suitable, so I sat up at night resolved to write something myself. ‘Onward Christian Soldiers’ was the result. It was written in great haste, and I am afraid some of the rhymes are faulty. Certainly nothing has surprised me more than its great popularity.”
Though it was never meant for publication, it nevertheless found its way into a periodical later that year, and soon it became included in English hymnals around the world. Louis Benson suspects that it caught on in the United States, at least in part, because it tapped into the “soldier-spirit left in the hearts of young and old Americans by the four years of the Civil War” which had just ended.
In 1871 Author Sullivan wrote the tune “St. Gertrude” for the hymn, which further popularized the hymn and has ever since been its standard melody. Due to its militaristic theme and martial melody, the hymn has encountered some resistance in recent years, and some denominations have removed it from their hymn books entirely (DOC included). However, it is appropriate to remember that Paul commands Timothy to “Share in the suffering as a good soldier of Jesus Christ” (2 Timothy 2:3) and that he instructs the Church to “Put on the whole armor of God” because we wrestle against the spiritual forces of evil (Ephesians 6).
The words of the hymn make it clear that the focus is on the spiritual battle—and that our King and Commander in Chief is the eternal, omnipotent Christ whose Kingdom cannot fail.