18 February 2015

Through Lent with Vaughan Williams (1):
‘O God of Love, the Fast You Choose’

Skerries Sailing Club and the harbour at Skerries last week … our Ash Wednesday retreat is in Skerries Sailing Club today (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

Patrick Comerford

This is Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent. We are beginning Lent today [18 February 2015] with a community retreat in Skerries Sailing Club, led by the Revd Garth Bunting of Christ Church Cathedral, and finishing with a celebration of the Eucharist in Holmpatrick Parish Church, Skerries.

For my reflections and devotions during Lent this year, I intend each day to reflect on and invite you to listen to a relevant piece of music or a hymn set to a tune by the great English composer, Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958).

He was the composer of symphonies, chamber music, opera, choral music, and film scores, a collector of English folk music and song. With Percy Dearmer, he co-edited the English Hymnal, in which he included many folk song arrangements as hymn tunes, and several of his own original compositions.

Vaughan Williams was born on 12 October 1872 in Down Ampney, Gloucestershire, where his father, the Revd Arthur Vaughan Williams (1834-1875), was the Vicar at All Saints’ Church. He was a descendant of the potter Josiah Wedgwood and was related to the Darwin family – Charles Darwin was a great-uncle.

He studied at the Royal College of Music under the Irish composer Charles Villiers Stanford. He read history and music at Trinity College, Cambridge. Throughout his life he worked for democratic and egalitarian ideals. After his death on 26 August 1958, his ashes were buried in Westminster Abbey.

This morning I have chosen a new hymn written in 2012 for Ash Wednesday by the American hymn writer, the Revd Carolyn Winfrey Gillette, ‘O God of Love, the Fast You Choose.’ She has set this hymn, which we are singing later this morning, to the tune Kingsfold, arranged by Vaughan Williams.

Many scholars think this folk tune dates back to the Middle Ages, and it has been adapted for a variety of texts in England and Ireland.

The tune was published in English Country Songs (1893), an anthology compiled by Lucy E Broadwood and JA Fuller Maitland. After hearing the tune in Kingsfold, Sussex, Vaughan Williams arranged and harmonised it as a hymn tune in The English Hymnal (1906), where it is a setting for Horatius Bonar’s ‘I Heard the Voice of Jesus Say’ (No 574; see Irish Church Hymnal No 576). It has also been associated with the hymn ‘O Sing a Song of Bethlehem.’

The Revd Carolyn Winfrey Gillette’s hymn, ‘O God of Love, the Fast You Choose,’ was written for Ash Wednesday 2012 and to be sung to Kingsfold. She bases this hymn on one of the Old Testament readings provided in the Revised Common Lectionary for Ash Wednesday (Isaiah 58:1-12), with its social justice themes.

The Lectionary readings for today are: Joel 2: 1-2, 12-17 or Isaiah 58: 1-12; Psalm 51: 1-18; II Corinthians 5: 20b-6: 10; Matthew 6: 1-6, 16-21.

Carolyn Winfrey Gillette grew up in a Methodist family. She studied at Lebanon Valley College and Princeton Theological Seminary and was ordained in the Presbyterian Church (USA) in 1986. She and her husband Bruce are the co-pastors of Limestone Presbyterian Church, Wilmington, Delaware.

Her compilations include Songs of Grace: New Hymns for God and Neighbor and Gifts of Love: New Hymns for Today’s Worship. A complete list of her 200 or more hymns, many with peace and justice themes, can be found at her website: www.carolynshymns.com.

O God of Love, the Fast You Choose

O God of love, the fast you choose
is not some great display.
It’s everything we gladly do
to serve you day by day.
It’s not a moment set apart
when we will mourn our sin;
For you require a change of heart –
A change from what has been.

Lord, we confess we often sing
that you are our delight,
Then we go shouting words that sting;
we bicker and we fight.
Oppressing others for our gain,
we put our interests first.
We overlook our neighbours’ pain
while praying here in church.

You teach us what it means to be
a church that worships you:
In setting captive people free,
we praise you as you choose.
In sharing bread with hungry folk,
bringing the homeless in,
And breaking every bitter yoke
we worship you again.

God, bless us as we journey on
to live in loving ways.
Then darkness will turn into dawn
and gloom will turn to praise.
When justice is our offering,
we also will be blest,
And we will know the fast we bring
will be our very best.

Text: Copyright © 2012 Carolyn Winfrey Gillette. All rights reserved.

Churches that support Sojourners have permission to use this hymn. However, this hymn is copyrighted and is not covered by any organisations, such as CCLI or OneLicense, that give churches permission to use church music.

To use this hymn, one must contact Carolyn and Bruce Gillette (bcgillette@comcast.net) for permission and to get a copy of the hymn in MS Word format for bulletin use.

Tomorrow:Mass in G minor’.

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