11 September 2022

Praying with USPG and the music of
Vaughan Williams: Sunday 11 September 2022

Early spring buttercups in front of the main front of Kings Weston House (Photograph: Kings Weston Action Group)

Patrick Comerford

Today in the Calendar of the Church is the Thirteenth Sunday after Trinity (Trinity XIII, 11 September). Before today begins, I am taking some time this morning for reading, prayer and reflection.

This year marks the 150th anniversary of the composer Ralph Vaughan Williams, whose music is celebrated throughout this year’s Proms season. In my prayer diary for these weeks I am reflecting in these ways:

1, One of the readings for the morning;

2, Reflecting on a hymn or another piece of music by Vaughan Williams, often drawing, admittedly, on previous postings on the composer;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary, ‘Pray with the World Church.’

‘Or what woman having ten silver coins (drachmae) …’ (Luke 15: 8) … old drachmae coins in a tin box outside an antiques shop in Rethymnon in Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Luke 15: 1-10 (NRSVA):

1 Now all the tax-collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. 2 And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, ‘This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.’

3 So he told them this parable: 4 ‘Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? 5 When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. 6 And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbours, saying to them, “Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.” 7 Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who need no repentance.

8 ‘Or what woman having ten silver coins, if she loses one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? 9 When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbours, saying, “Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.” 10 Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.’

Today’s reflection: ‘At the name of Jesus’ (‘Kings Weston’)

For my reflections and devotions each day these few weeks, I am reflecting on and invite you to listen to a piece of music or a hymn set to a tune by the great English composer, Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958).

As I prepare for another medical procedure this week, and as I read this morning’s Gospel passage, I am also listening to Caroline Noel’s hymn, ‘At the name of Jesus,’ for which Vaughan Williams composed the tune Kings Weston. This arrangement was published in Songs of Praise (1925), and the combination of text and tune in a hymn-anthem has become a favourite for choirs in many cathedrals, churches and colleges.

Kings Weston is marked by distinctive rhythmic structures and a soaring climax in the final two lines. Like many of Vaughan Williams’s tunes, it is best sung in unison with moderate accompaniment to support this vigorous melody.

The name of the tune refers to a manor house on the River Avon River near Bristol. It was built in 1712-1719 was designed by Sir John Vanbrugh for Edward Southwell on the site of an earlier Tudor house, remodelled in 1763-1768 by Robert Mylne and again in 1845-1850 by Thomas Hopper. A significant architectural feature of the house is the grouping of all the chimneys into a massive arcade.

The house passed through several generations of the Southwell family until the estate was sold in 1833 to Philip John Miles for £210,000, and became his family seat. During the World War I, the house was converted into a hospital, although the house continued as a family home until 1935.

The last member of the Miles family to live at Kings Weston, Philip Napier Miles (1865-1935), who lived there with his wife Sybil. He was a gifted musician and composer who had a wide circle of friends from a musical background, many of whom came to stay at the house. The long library at Kings Weston was such a frequent venue for recitals that it was better known as the music room.

Napier Miles was a great-grandson of the peninsular war general from Celbridge, Co Kildare, General Sir William Francis Patrick Napier (1785-1860), a first cousin of Lord Edward FitzGerald and a direct ancestor of Archbishop Justin Welby of Canterbury. He studied music in Dresden, and on his return to England studied under Hubert Parry. He was a recognised composer, and his work included several operas. Westward Ho! (1913) received positive reviews after it was performed at the Lyceum in London. Another opera, Markheim, received a Carnegie award in 1921.

His friends included some of the great composers, conductors and musicians of the day. Vaughan Williams was among the regular visitor to Kings Weston, and on one visit in 1920 he revised and completed one of his most famous pieces, ‘The Lark Ascending,’ with the help of the English violinist Marie Hall (1884-1956), who had studied under Edward Elgar and was Napier Miles’s musical protégé.

They were staying at Kings Weston as guests of Napier Miles, and Vaughan Williams arranged ‘The Lark Ascending’ to showcase her skills, dedicating it to her. The piano-accompanied premiere was on 15 December 1920 in Shirehampton Public Hall, near Bristol, which was built by Napier Miles in 1902. While it received little attention at the time, today it is regularly voted Britain’s favourite piece of classical music.

Vaughan Williams also published a melody in 1927 that he named after Kings Weston. This was written especially for Caroline Noel’s hymn, ‘At the name of Jesus.’

When Philip Napier Miles died, Kings Weston was bought by Bristol Municipal Charities and leased for use as a school. It later became the Bristol Technical College School of Architecture and then the Bath University School of Architecture. In 1970, Bristol Corporation bought the house for £305,000 to set up a police training centre. The house was abandoned from 1995 for five years before it was leased and partially restored by local businessman John Hardy.

Since 2012, the house has been extensively renovated again and is a conference and wedding venue.

Caroline Marie Noel (1817-1877) wrote this hymn originally as a processional hymn for Ascension Day.

The text is based on the confession of faith Saint Paul quotes in Philippians 2: 6-11, which may well have been an early Christian hymn. Stanza 1 announces the triumph of the ascended Christ to whom ‘every knee should bow’ (Philippians 2: 10). In Stanza 2, Christ is the ‘mighty Word’ (see John 1: 1-4) through whom ‘creation sprang at once to sight.’ Stanzas 3 and 4 look back to Christ’s humiliation, death, resurrection, and ascension (Philippians 2: 6-9). Stanza 5 is an encouragement for submission to Christ, for us to have the ‘mind of Christ.’ Stanza 6 looks forward to Christ’s return as ‘King of glory.’ The text is not only concerned with the name of Jesus, whose saving work it confesses, but also with the glory and majesty that attends ‘the name of Jesus.’

This hymn was first published in 1870 in an enlarged edition of her collection The Name of Jesus, &c. It appears in the Irish Church Hymnal as ‘In the name of Jesus’ (No 94), but in the New English Hymnal it has the title ‘At the Name of Jesus’ (No 338).

Why does this popular hymn have two different names?

The verse in Philippians 2: 10 says in the original Greek: ἐν τῷ ὀνόματι Ἰησοῦ (en to onomati Iesou). This is translated in the Authorised or King James Version of the Bible as: ‘at the name of Jesus.’ However, when the Revised Version (RV) of the Bible was published in 1881, mainly under the guidance of the Cambridge theologians Brooke Foss Westcott (1825-1901) and the Dublin-born Fenton John Anthony Hort (1828–1892), these words were translated more accurately as: ‘in the name of Jesus.’

Fenton Hort entered Trinity College Cambridge in 1846, and in 1852 became a Fellow; Westcott too had been an undergraduate and later a Fellow of Trinity, where Vaughan Williams would later become a student.

Caroline Noel died four years before Westcott and Hort published the Revised Version in 1881. She must have used the words found in the KJV, but when the hymn was published in the 1903 edition of Church Hymns (London), her family asked for the change, and this is how it was introduced to the repertoire of the Church of Ireland in 1915. So an Irish-born Cambridge theologian may have influenced the change of name in one of the most popular Anglican hymns.

Caroline Maria Noel was born in Teston, Kent, on 10 April 1817, the daughter of Canon Gerard Thomas Noel (1782-1851), and niece of the hymn writer the Revd the Hon Baptist Wriothesley Noel (1798-1873). These two brothers, who were born into a large, aristocratic family of 18 children, were evangelical hymn writers in their own right; although Gerard was an Anglican priest all his life, Baptist was a barrister who later became a Church of England priest before becoming a Baptist minister and later President of the Baptist Union.

At the age of 17, she wrote her first hymn, ‘Draw nigh unto my soul.’ Over the next three years she wrote about a dozen hymns or poems. Then, from the age of 20 to the age of 40, she wrote nothing. At age of 35, she became an invalid, and five years later, she once again picked up her pen to write hymns that would comfort people in their sickness and illness. In her last 20 years, she wrote the rest of her hymns and poems.

The first edition of her hymns was published as The Name of Jesus and Other Verses for the Sick and Lonely (1861). This was enlarged from time to time, and its title was subsequently changed by her publishers to The Name of Jesus and Other Poems (1878).

Caroline Noel, like Charlotte Elliott, suffered greatly, and many of her verses reflect those days of pain. They are specially adapted ‘for the Sick and Lonely,’ and were written for private meditation rather than for public use, although several are suited to the public worship of the Church.

She died at 39 Great Cumberland Place, Hyde Park, on 7 December 1877, and is buried beside her father in Abbey Church, Romsey, Hampshire, where he had been the vicar for many years.

Strangely, this hymn is not what we would expect in a collection aimed at comforting the sick and the lonely. Instead, it is a hymn about Christ and how he bore his suffering on the cross so that he might rise victorious over death.

Both the New English Hymnal and the Irish Church Hymnal suggest the tune Evelyns, composed by William Henry Monk for this hymn at the publication of Hymns Ancient and Modern in 1875. The Irish Church Hymnal offers as an alternative tune ‘Camberwell,’ which was written in 1960 by the Revd John Michael Brierley (1932-2019) while he was a student at Lichfield Theological College. He named that tune in honour of the Revd Geoffrey Beaumont (1903–1970), then the Rector of Saint George’s, Camberwell. Beaumont is remembered for composing his Twentieth Century Folk Mass in an attempt to make the Mass relevant to churchgoers in the 1950s, while he was the chaplain of Trinity College, Cambridge, where Vaughan Williams was once an undergraduate.

The New English Hymnal uses the tune Evelyns for ‘At the name of Jesus’ (No 338), but offers ‘Kings Weston’ by Vaughan Williams as an alternative setting for this hymn. Instead, The New English Hymnal uses ‘Kings Weston’ as the setting for Godfrey Thring’s hymn, ‘From the eastern mountains’ (No 50).

This tune is marked by distinctive rhythmic structures and a soaring climax in the final two lines. Like many of Vaughan Williams’s tunes, it is best sung in unison with moderate accompaniment to support this vigorous melody. The combination of Noel’s words and Vaughan William’s tune make this a festive hymn or anthem, and it is a favourite among many choirs.

At the name of Jesus
Every knee shall bow,
Every tongue confess him
King of glory now;
’Tis the Father’s pleasure’ We should call him Lord,
Who from the beginning
Was the mighty Word.

At his voice creation
Sprang at once to sight,
All the angel faces,
All the hosts of light,
Thrones and dominations,
Stars upon their way,
All the heavenly orders,
In their great array.

Humbled for a season,
To receive a name
From the lips of sinners
Unto whom he came,
Faithfully he bore it
Spotless to the last,
Brought it back victorious
When from death he passed;

Bore it up triumphant
With its human light,
Through all ranks of creatures,
To the central height,
To the throne of Godhead,
To the Father’s breast;
Filled it with the glory
Of that perfect rest.

In your hearts enthrone him;
There let him subdue
All that is not holy,
All that is not true:
He is God the Saviour,
He is Christ the Lord,
Ever to be worshipped,
Trusted, and adored.

Brothers, this Lord Jesus
Shall return again,
With the Father’s glory,
With the angel train;
For all wreaths of empire
Meet upon his brow,
And our hearts confess him
King of glory now.

Fenton Hort, a portrait by George Percy Jacomb-Hood in Trinity College, Cambridge … his Biblical scholarship changed the title and wording of the hymn ‘At the name of Jesus’

Today’s Prayer (Sunday 11 September 2022, Trinity XIII):

The Collect:

Almighty God,
who called your Church to bear witness
that you were in Christ reconciling the world to yourself:
help us to proclaim the good news of your love,
that all who hear it may be drawn to you;
through him who was lifted up on the cross,
and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

The Post Communion Prayer:

God our creator,
you feed your children with the true manna,
the living bread from heaven:
let this holy food sustain us through our earthly pilgrimage
until we come to that place
where hunger and thirst are no more;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

The theme in the USPG prayer diary this week is ‘Holy Cross Day,’ and is introduced this morning with a prayer written by Naw Kyi Win, a final year undergraduate student at Holy Cross Theological College in the Church of Province of Myanmar:

‘Our heavenly Father,

‘We thank You for giving us safety in our lives with grace and mercy. We give thanks that we have been able to study about mission and theology at Holy Cross Theological College. We give thanks for Your children, who are working in evangelism and mission. These servant leaders, trained at the theological college, are spreading the Good News in local villages. As a result, many villagers are experiencing God’s love and churches are being established in these areas.

‘We pray for the teachers who are teaching at mission schools across the Church of the Province of Myanmar. Lord, give the teachers wisdom and knowledge to be good servants to You. Help them to lead their communities, guiding students and their families to live healthy and fulfilled lives. Bless the children at these schools to learn and study well. May they be supported spiritually and materially in all they do. Let us pray that where the schools are established, Your kingdom is also established there. In Jesus’ name, we pray. Amen.’

The USPG Prayer Diary invites us to pray today in these words:

Lord of All,
Forgive us when we judge others.
May we be empathetic to all whom we meet,
and welcome the stranger.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

‘Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost’ (Luke 15: 4) … ‘Paternoster’ or ‘Shepherd and Sheep’, a bronze sculpture by Dame Elisabeth Frink in Paternoster Square, near Saint Paul’s Cathedral, London (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

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