THE PURPOSE OF THIS BLOG

I am the song leader in my church. I am not very proficient as a musician or a choral director. I pray that, someday soon, God will send someone more capable, to take this ministry from me. But for the time being it is my responsibility to select the music and lead the congregation in the singing every week.

I take that responsibility seriously. The hymns and songs that I select must be doctrinally sound, they must be appropriate for worship with a God-centered worldview, and, withing those parameters, I try to select music that will reinforce and, support the text and subject of my pastor’s messages.

Some of us have been singing the hymns for years; the words roll off our lips but the messages often don't engage our minds or penetrate our hearts. With the apostle Paul, I want the congregation to "sing with understanding."

So for the past couple years, it has been my practice to select one hymn each week, research it, and then highlight it with a short introductory commentary so that the congregation will be more informed regarding the origin, the author's testimony, or the doctrinal significance of the hymns we sing.

It is my intention here with this blog, to archive these hymn commentaries for my reference and to make them freely available to other church song leaders. For ease of reference, all the hymn commentaries in this blog will be titled IN ALL CAPITAL LETTERS. Other posts (which will be music ministry related opinion pieces) will be printed in lower case letters.

I know that some of the comments contain traces of my unique style, but please feel free to adapt them and use the content any way you can for the edification of your congregation and to the glory of God.

All I ask is that you leave a little comment should you find something helpful.


Ralph M. Petersen

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Monday, November 21, 2016

*WE GATHER TOGETHER

WE GATHER TOGETHER is listed as a Thanksgiving hymn in most modern hymnals but its origin predates our first American Thanksgiving.  It began as a Dutch folk song and was crafted into a celebration hymn of petition and praise to God for His guidance and deliverance through times of religious persecution in 1597. 

Some of the political overtones in this hymn are apparent. For example, the phrase, “The wicked oppressing now cease from distressing,” is an allusion to the persecution of Christians under the policies of Spain.  The Dutch Protestants struggled against Spain for their political independence, and against the Catholic Church for their religious freedom.   Thousands had been massacred and hundreds of homes burned by the Spanish in 1576 during the siege of Antwerp.

In 1597, in the Battle of Turnhout, Prince Maurice of Orange defeated the Spanish occupiers of a town in, what is now, the Netherlands. 

Prior to that battle, they had been prohibited from worshiping under the Spanish king, Phillip II.   The Dutch Christians celebrated the victory by borrowing a familiar folk melody and giving it new words.  The very first line, “WE GATHER TOGETHER,” was a bold, political declaration of their new freedom to worship together. The hymn first appeared in print in a 1626 collection of Dutch patriotic songs.

Had Prince William of Orange, the brother of Maurice, not led the Dutch to throw off King Phillip’s rule, there, likely, would not have been any safe haven for English, Welsh, and Scottish Protestants who had fled from persecutions under the Roman Catholic and the Anglican national leadership. 

Some of those Dutch Christians were the Puritan Pilgrims.  They brought the hymn with them to the New World in 1620. 

The Thanksgiving feast held at the Plymouth Bay Colony might never have occurred had there not been victories like the one this hymn celebrates.

Dutch Christians rarely sang anything, in their church services, that was not directly from the pages of Scripture (primarily the Psalms).  But in 1937, the Christian Reformed Church made a controversial decision to permit other hymns to be sung in church.  WE GATHER TOGETHER was chosen as the first entry in their new hymnal.

Today, even though much of our nation has turned away from God, our “gathering together” in the name of the Lord still stands as a remembrance of those times of oppression, persecution, and death, in Scotland and England.  And, so we give thanks to God for His protection, for His providential care, and for His abundant blessings.


1 comment:

  1. I've really been enjoying the histories of these hymns.

    This one is probably the first hymn I learned -- at least it's the first one I remember. That was back in the days when we could sing such in the public school. Every Thanksgiving time we would sing this song in school. This was in the late 1950s and early 1960s in Ohio, because I don't remember singing it after we moved to Denver, CO in 1964 (when I was 12).

    Back then I didn't know anything about the Christian faith. I was taught that there was a God and that he punished you if you weren't good -- my parents were not believers.

    All I ever remembered was the first verse, and every year at Thanksgiving time I remember it. It became one of the first hymns I decided to learn on the bagpipes.

    Now to learn of its history -- wow.

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