Morning Thanks

Garrison Keillor once said we'd all be better off if we all started the day by giving thanks for just one thing. I'll try.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Peal out the Watchword

She died young, just 42, but then most biographies claim she never was particularly healthy. She was, I suppose, the quintessential church lady in the Victorian tradition. She never married. Her father was a preacher and songwriter, her brother a preacher and an organist, all of them Anglican. They were, after all, English.

The old hymn we sang Sunday morning isn't the only one in the hymnal she penned. If you have any church background at all, you recognize titles. If you're my age, you don't even need to be holding a hymnal to start humming: "Take My Life and Let It Be,"

. . .consecrated, Lord to thee.
Take my moments and my days
Let them flow in endless praise.
Let them flow in endless praise.

Right now, there's some voice in you that's singing.

Francis Havergal wrote that hymn. Read these titles and you'll hum more tunes: "Like a River Glorious," "Who is on the Lord's Side?" Miss Havergal wrote at least a dozen others not counting the one we sang Sunday morning--"Peal out the Watchword."

Hear it? If not, you might with the first stanza:

True-hearted, whole-hearted, faithful and loyal,
King of our lives, by Thy grace we will be;
Under the standard, exalted and royal,
Strong in Thy strength we will battle for Thee.

Once we started that oldie, something came back. But "Peal out the watchword"? I had no idea what that line meant. It's cheerleading--that's for sure.

But hat I didn't know, didn't mean I didn't know the hymn. Weird. I'm quite sure that the Psalter Hymnal of my youth didn't include it--"Watchword" is, after all, a little sporty for Dutch Calvinists mid-20th century, done up as it is with a sawdust chapel feel. I don't remember ever singing that hymn, but somehow I knew it, even though its title line could have been written in Swahili.

The church we often attend is, sad to say, in its dotage and will likely soon go. The old place, 124 years old, has more worship in it, but its members are elderly. My wife and I aren't elderly--we're only retired. I like to joke we are its Young People's Society. In truth, we're about median age.

On any given Sunday there's about thirty of us, all told. When the pastor says to greet each other, we do--everyone greets everyone. It's really quite rich. Nobody performs. Liturgies pass unnoticed. No one is pushing for "Our God is an Awesome God," and there's no movement that I know of to replace the hymnals. We've got no screen or praise team. Don't mention this anyone, but the truth is we don't sing all that well.

One of these years old First Pres is going to be gone, and, if the recent history of Christendom in rural America holds true in Alton, Iowa, some charging fundamentalists will buy the old place for a dollar, rip out the choir loft and the pews, create a stage for the snare drum, rewire the sanctuary for the guitars and amps, and start railing on the evils of gay marriage and the common core.

Thus is life in rural America, I suppose.

So, one of these years Miss Havergal, the Victorian spinster, will be gone too; and nobody, old or young, will be singing her words or wondering what she meant with "Peal out the watchword."

She wrote those words in 1874 as a kind of New Years resolution for the society of young women she was part of, a rousing chorus to urge them all to stay strong in faith--"True-hearted, whole-hearted."

Sometimes, Lord knows, that ain't easy.

1 comment:

ronvdm said...

Worship in your church sounds pretty good to me.