Jay Bylsma wrote a hymn in honor of the 150th Anniversary, which we sang for the first time at the 2019 Annual Meeting. Below are his reflections on the hymn.
I went to a funeral of a dear friend that was held in his church, a church more conservative and evangelical than Episcopal. During the service, the attendees stood to sing “Great is Thy Faithfulness”. Because my deceased friend’s favorite hymn was not in that denomination’s hymnal, it was projected on a screen in the front – words only.
I was taken aback and momentarily confused by how hollow and flat this magnificent hymn sounded. For a minute I didn’t understand why when it struck me: there was no harmony and it was muddy, as people didn’t know the hymn and, without the music, struggled to sing along, usually one note behind and a half note flat or wrong.
I made a silent vow to always contribute to the richness of the hymns sung in worship by singing a harmony part, as anyone who sits in the pew in front of me can testify. It is vow to which I stubbornly cling even when only the melody is printed, as in the case of more than a few hymns in the hymnal we use at Grace. And as a life-long Barbershop singer, woodshedding (making up a suitable harmony part as you go along) is part of my experience and tradition.
When I heard that the 150th Committee entertained the notion of having a hymn commissioned, I was pleased. I very much like the contribution from Rev. Elizabeth Smith who set new and very lovely words to an existing hymn in honor of Rev. Jen Adams’ ordination. But – a whole new hymn – words and music just for Grace? That was an exciting prospect!
As time went by and none materialized, I thought – why not give it a try?
I always wondered what comes first, the tune or the words. In this case it was part of the tune, but when the verses came out, they had more lines than the music. So the music needed to be fleshed out to satisfy the words.
I always try to guess if any particular hymn-writer/arranger is a woman or a man by which voice parts have the richest harmony because it appears to me that arrangers tend to have a fondness for the part they sing. Because I sing bass in the Great Lakes Chorus and Holland Chorale, I really worked hard to achieve a very rich bass harmony part with chromatic runs and a major seventh cord here and there. Tenor came next to compliment the bass with some actual tenor notes (above the melody line) and some complimentary notes to the bass part.
Sorry ladies, the alto part just fit in nicely with mostly thirds below the melody. You should try the bass part an octave higher some time – but you may be jealous.
It is my belief that hymns should both tell a story and also be the part of the service that allows us to praise and do so at the top of our being (lungs?). And the praise part should be corporate but also personal if possible. I tried to incorporate both.
So, I hope you like the submission. I hope it allows you to speak personally and us to speak corporately about that which makes Grace a wonderful place. And do so at the top of our beings, perhaps for another 150 years.
We Gather here to serve our Lord
We are gathered now to serve our Lord,
In all we say and do.
To keep the covenant of faith,
And love and justice to pursue,
As Grace was wont to do.
The spoken word, the common prayer,
The hymns through which we praise,
Creator God, the son – the Christ,
And Holy Ghost who with us stays.
And hears the prayers we raise
I enter here to taste the bread,
And take a sip of wine.
Remembering the sacrifice,
Of him, the one who was divine,
And claim that gift as mine.
In deeds and actions, thoughts and prayers,
Grace seek to do God’s will.
Through storm and tempest, peace and calm,
The poor and least their needs to fill,
And so God’s works fulfill.
Down through the decades Grace has been,
A place for all and few.
May it continue to lead on,
In ways both tried and true and new,
In all we say and do.