Friday, October 29, 2010

One was a solider and one was a priest…

As a child, my favorite hymn of the fall season was the quintessential All Saints hymn, “For all the saints.” However, a close second was the other All Saints hymn “I sing a song of the saints of God,” which has a particular resonance with children ages 4-100.

The only hymnal I knew was Hymnal 1940, which lists a total of seven All Saints hymns (two with alternate tunes). In addition to these seven hymns (#126-130), H40 also recommends a list of 12 “also the following hymns.” In the latter list is “I sing a song of the saints of God” (H40 #243), which is officially listed among the “Hymns for Children”. In H82 (#293), it’s listed under multiple Holy Days (both saints’ days and All Saints).

As a child, I was captivated by the words that Lesbia Locket Scott (1898-1986) wrote in the 1920s. Decades later, the end of the 2nd stanza remains committed to heart:
And one was a soldier, and one was a priest,
and one was slain by a fierce wild beast;
and there's not any reason, no, not the least,
why I shouldn't be one too.
In fact, it was such a vivid part of my childhood that this was one of the three hymns we (successfully) requested from H40 for the baptism of our first child.

The tune, Grand Isle, was written by John Henry Hopkins (1891-1945) to match Mrs. Scott’s words in 1940, so that the poem could become a hymn for Hymnal 1940. It’s a very easy tune to sing, and is particularly catchy in building up to the conclusion of each of the three stanzas.

Apparently I’m not the only one who found it catchy. In the COE, it’s mentioned by a calendar of the Diocese of Ely. The song has been blogged by Episcopalians like the Redhead Editor, and the God’s Friends newsletter. ECUSA has even turned it into a children’s book, to add to the profits of the Church Pension Fund.

However, I don’t want that to detract from the effectiveness of this song for children’s ministry. I don’t think Mrs. Scott (or Mr. Hopkins) could have anticipated what The Episcopal Church would become in the 21st century.

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