Dear Lord and Father of Mankind - September

Before discussing this month's hymn we are going to look at the meaning of the word "worship". This English word comes from the Anglo-Saxon word "weorthscipe" = to attribute worth to something. Worship therefore has every-thing to do with what we value in life. Every part of our world has people who worship something, both individually and communally. The theologian Karl Barth wrote that "Christian worship is the most momentous, the most urgent and the most glorious action that can take place in human life." The Christian's obligation is to do everything in their lives in such a way that it is of worth to God, this therefore includes all the words and music which an individual and a group of Christians meeting together will use to praise God. Also, the attitudes, prayer life and abilities of those involved in leading the words and music should be the best they can offer and be even more important than any actual skill level. All through the Bible we learn that the composing and performing of music was central to the worship and daily life of God's people. It was woven into the fabric of their lives, used to celebrate national events, in battle to summon troops and even as a weapon against an enemy.
This month's hymn has regularly been in the top ten of favourite hymns chosen by Songs of Praise listeners
           "Dear Lord and Father of mankind,
              forgive our foolish ways;
            re-clothe us in our rightful mind;
            in purer lives Thy service find,
             in deeper reverence, praise
             in deeper reverence, praise."
The author of this hymn was John Greenleaf Whittier (1807-1892) who was the son of a poor farmer in Massachusetts USA . A friendly schoolmaster lent him a book of poems by Robert Burns which gave him the impetus to write his own poetry. His sister encouraged him to have his poems published and the editor they were sent to was so impressed that he rode 75 miles to meet Whittier. They had a long friendship and together fought the slave trade. Whittier always disclaimed any talent as a hymn writer and stated that he knew nothing of music. However he stated "that a good hymn is the best use to which poetry can be devoted." The hymns which bear his name as author are extracts from longer poems and these were often read by the explorer David Livingstone who valued their sense of peace and rest . Whittier's writings were renowned for the poet's sense of God's near presence and His unfailing Providence.
For us, with our use of hymns and songs during services we need a tune which not only fits the words but brings them to life so they can be sung in praise to God. There is often more than one tune which is used for a particular hymn and then we have to remember that there is no such this thing as a wrong tune or a right one but one which fits the occasion. The tune "Repton" is the one most often used for "Dear Lord and Father". It was composed by Sir Charles Hubert Hastings Parry (1848-1918). He began composing at the age of 8 and in time became Director of the Royal College of Music and a Professor of Music at Oxford. He was knighted in 1898. His musical compositions were many and varied and include the well-known tune for the hymn "Jerusalem". The tune "Repton" is so named as it was first used at Repton School and included in their chapel hymn book. The flowing music perfectly fits the length of each line of words and the fact that the last line of each verse needs to be repeated means that the last significant phrase of each verse becomes embedded in the singer's memory and congregations need not look at the hymn book at all for the last line of singing!
There are many excellent recordings of this hymn available on CDs and on YouTube so do try to listen to this lovely hymn; next month we will look at a hymn written much more recently.

Diana Lightfoot, 21/02/2016