Monday, August 27, 2012

Amigos de Christo

by Alice Valdal

               This summer we've been enjoying congregational choices for the offertory hymn.  Not surprisingly, most of these have been old favourites, beloved of several generations.  Not so on August 26.  That Sunday the offertory was Amigos de Cristo, by John C. Ylvisaker, written in 1985 and published in 2006.
          Since this hymn is new to our congregation, I've printed out the text.
        I found the order of words in the refrain interesting.  Most often we hear of Jesus as a friend to us, "What a friend we have in Jesus," "Jesus, friend of little children," for example.  In this hymn we are friends of the Lord.  A small distinction to be sure, since friendship is a two-way street, but one that captured my attention.

Scripture: John 15:14-15;

Amigos de Cristo; we're friends of the Lord;
Amigos de Cristo; we're friends of the Lord.
For we've been forgiven, and we've been restored,
Amigos de Cristo; we're friends of the Lord.

1. Friends of the covenant renewed each morn;
baptized and loving it, we've been reborn.
Gift of the dove is ours for evermore.
Amigos de Cristo; we're friends of the Lord.


2. Born of a family, the young and old,
we'll be on hand to see new life unfold.
We understand the need to be made whole.
Amigos de Cristo; we're friends of the Lord.


      Writer and composer John C. Ylvisaker, was born in Moorhead, Minnesota and is a graduate of Concordia College and very involved in developing new worship materials for the church.  His compositions appear in hundreds of worship resources, including the latest hymn book of the Presbyterian Church in Canada.
       In addition to being an artist and composer, Ylvisaker is a high school music teacher, a choir director and producer of SCAN, an  weekly radio program sponsored by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA).   He is much in demand as a performer and is working on the recording and publication of over 1000 of his own compositions.
      Much as we love the old favourites in our hymn book, it is good to experience new work and new ways of interpreting the words of the Gospel.  This week, I'll be thinking about what it means to be a "friend of the Lord."  Thanks to Benjamin Cunningham for widening my horizons.

      And speaking of friends, the congregation was delighted to share in the celebration of the Dodds' 70th wedding anniversary after service on Sunday.  Congratulations to a wonderful couple.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Jesus Loves Me

        The hymn request list for offertories over the summer provides a glimpse into the eclectic tastes of the congregation when it comes to our hymns.  On August 12, we sang Jesus loves me, a simple children's hymn that tops the polls at hymn sings throughout the church.  It has been recorded by rock stars, gospel groups and cathedral choirs. It is sung lovingly by adults, teens and children, linking the generations with a powerful message.
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    The scripture references are many,
(stanza. 1 = Eph. 5:2, Jer.31:3 
 stanza. 2 = Gal. 2:20
 stanza 3 = Matt. 18:2-4, Matt. 19:13-15, Mark 10:13-16, Luke 18:15-17,)
but in essence we learn, in a few short lines, that Jesus loves us, that we belong to Him, that His love endures forever, that He is our friend and giver of life.

       The text was written by Anna B. Warner and her sister Susan in 1859 as part of best selling novel, Say and Seal. The two sisters lived along the Hudson River in New York near the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. After the death of their widower father, a well-known New York lawyer, who lost most of his fortune in the 1837 depression, the Warner sisters were left with a meagre income.  To support themselves, they turned to serious literary writing under the pen names Amy Lothrop and Elizabeth Wetherell.

          For a number of years they also held classes for the young cadets from the nearby West Point Academy. Upon their deaths, their home was willed to the Academy and made into a national shrine. Both sisters were buried with military honours in recognition of their spiritual contributions to the lives of the young military officers.

        In 1861, William B. Bradbury added the refrain to Warner's stanzas and wrote the tune JESUS LOVES ME. The hymn was published in Bradbury's church school collection The Golden Shower (1862). By 1996 the hymn appeared in 74% of published hymnals.

      The text has been translated into many other languages, and often includes an added stanza derived from David R. McGuire's rewriting of the text, which he prepared for the Canadian Anglican and United Hymn Book (1971).
      The words are simple, relegated to the "children's" section of the hymnal, yet the great theologian Karl Barth, when asked for his most profound theological discovery, thought for a moment, then replied, “Jesus loves me, this I know, /for the Bible tells me so.”

Thanks to Jerusha Smith for choosing this hymn and thus reminding us all that sometimes the greatest truths are found in simple words.

Monday, August 13, 2012


        by Alice Valdal

    There have been a lot of fireworks around lately.  The opening and closing ceremonies for the Olympics produced lavish displays for us to watch on television.  The Butchart Gardens puts on a wonderful pyrotechnic show every Saturday night during the summer and last Sunday the Victoria Symphony ended their "Splash" program in style with Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture replete with cannon, church bells and more fireworks.  I thought I had "oohed and aahhed" enough.  
      Then God put on a light show that put the best of our earthly efforts in the shade.   Last week we experienced a spectacular thunder storm.  Lightning zigzagged across the sky, shot straight down to touch the ocean and flared in sheets of glaring light, some   white, some red.  It was awesome!  
      As if the lightning wasn't enough, we then had a meteor shower.  I sat outside in the dark, watching as light flared and streaked overhead only to vanish in the blink of an eye.  As I scanned the skies, hoping to see another shooting star, I couldn't help but be awed by the stars themselves.  The ones that stayed in their appointed places, pricking the dark vault of heaven with iridescence.  There are so many!
        "The firmament" is not a phrase I use often, but as I watched the skies this week, the opening of  Haydn's great oratorio, The Creation, sounded in my mind. "The heaven's are telling the glory of God.  The wonder of his work displays the firmament."  The text come from Psalm 19:1 
        Earlier this year our Bible Study group struggled together with Romans, a pivotal and often difficult book in the New Testament.  There, in Romans 1:20 Paul asserts that God's power and divine nature have been revealed in creation, so no one has an excuse to deny Him.  
        This week we have seen that glory and power revealed in the night skies over Saanich Peninsula Presbyterian Church.


Monday, August 6, 2012

Olympic Moments

   by Alice Valdal

The 2012 Olympics in London are only a few days away from the closing ceremonies and the world is still buzzing about the Opening night, especially Queen Elizabeth II's turn as a Bond girl.  Who says royalty is stuffy?  But what struck me in this aggressively secular age, was the use of three Christian hymns in the opening ceremonies.  "And Did Those Feet," sung to Parry's tune Jerusalem might have slipped by unremarked since it is almost an unofficial anthem for England, as is "Guide me O Thou Great Redeemer (Jehovah)" sung to Cwm Rhonda in Wales, but "Abide With Me" is a straight out prayer to God for comfort and constancy in life and death.  

     The words were written by Henry Francis Lyte.  Lyte was orphaned at an early age and decided on a career in medicine, however, in 1815 he changed courses and was ordained as a minister in the Church of England.   In 1847 as he lay near to his own death from tuberculosis, inspired by Psalm 102:26-27;  and Luke 24:29, he penned the words to his beloved hymn. 
   The tune was composed in the space of ten minutes by William H. Monk, the music editor for the 1861 edition of Hymns Ancient and Modern.  The story goes that the composer realized the hymn under consideration had no tune so he sat down at the piano and composed "Eventide" to accompany Lyte's text.  The words and the music were then published in that edition.

     When I was a teen I thought Abide With Me the stodgiest piece in the hymn book and groaned aloud when required to sing it.  With age comes wisdom?  It has now entered my conscience as a favourite due to its assurance of God's steadfastness.  When "change and decay in all around I see," the Father remains unchanging and faithful.  "Through cloud and sunshine," God is our guide and strength.   "When other helpers fail," our God is a constant comfort.  When temptation strikes, God is there to "foil the tempter's power." and when we pass from this world to the next, "When morning breaks and earth's vain shadows flee," our Lord is there to welcome us home.   
     Whatever made me think this powerful hymn was boring!  Perhaps it was the manner of singing.  I found one note which advised the tune should not be sung too slowly and that organists should keep keep a firm and steady tempo.  

      Back to the Olympics, Abide With Me does have a sporting connection of sorts.  Since the 1927 FA Cup Final between Arsenal and Cardiff City, the first and last verses of the hymn are traditionally sung before the kick-off of the match.  Since 1929 it has been sung prior to the kick-off at every Rugby League Challenge Cup final.

     Whether the athletes and fans at the 2012 Olympic opening ceremonies heard these powerful words as a hymn or as a sporting anthem, I don't know.  I found it refreshing to hear reference to a God who is greater even than the Olympic ideals.