“Hope you’ll soon feel better”
“Hope to see you next week”
“Hope you get through your driving test/ exam/interview alright”
A million expressions of hope trotted out each day, deep-seated, unconscious optimism expressing a desire for the best of outcomes. Hope is universal, and as old a human response as humanity itself. The prophet Jeremiah gives us the first mention of hope in the Bible. The Lord promises the nation: “Plans to give you a hope and a future” (29:11). And down the centuries hymn writers have taken this theme to encourage and enable Christians to ‘keep calm and carry on’ in the face of national and personal traumas.
For more than half a century hymns have fascinated, inspired and comforted me and played a huge part in my journey of faith. I would even say hymns were the starting point for my faith.
So come with me now for a fleeting dip into the hymn book and remind yourself of the hope that burns within us as we strive for better times ahead and a closer walk with our God.
Singing the Faith (StF) 455
All my hope on God is founded
Joachim Neander 1650-1680
The German poet, theologian and teacher Joachim Neander had a comparatively short life. For 5 years he was principal of a Grammar school in Dusseldorf and loved to go walking in the secluded Dussel river valley. He wrote many poems there and so revered was his reputation that the valley was later renamed Neanderhohle. Aged 29 he moved to Bremen as assistant preacher at the church of St Martini but, sadly, probably from the pandemic of that time, the plague, he died the following year. The tune ‘Michael’, was written especially for this hymn by Herbert Howells. It is music written from the heart of grief and dedicated to the memory of the composer’s 9 year old son, Michael, who died of polio.
In heavenly love abiding
Anna Laetitia Waring 1823-1910
“My hope I cannot measure, my path to life is free, my Saviour has my treasure and he will walk with me” (end of verse 3).
Anna, born in a village near Neath in Glamorgan, was a prolific Welsh poet and woman of practical Christian faith. She wrote this beautiful hymn in her late twenties but it wasn’t married to David Jenkins’ emotive tune ‘Penlan’ until many years later. Anna became closely involved with the
Discharged Prisoners Aid Society and often visited Horfield Prison, now HMP Bristol. She began writing hymns in her teens with her hymns becoming much loved on both sides of the Atlantic. Even though she lived 87 years, she is said to have known much suffering both personally and amongst her neighbours. Her words are an inspiration for us as her poetry distils the essence of our own hope in Jesus Christ.
Great is thy faithfulness
Thomas Obadiah Chisholm 1866-1960
“Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow” (from verse 3).
Barely a year after the end of the American Civil War, Thomas Obadiah Chisholm was born in a log cabin in Franklin, Kentucky. He attended and later taught in the little local school. At the age of 27 he became a Christian and during his long life wrote over 1,200 sacred poems/hymns. In 1903, Thomas was ordained as a Methodist minister but, due to ill health, his active ministry was all too brief. Here is another hymn writer who knew, for many years, all about poor health yet lived well into his nineties. He spent his last years cared for in a Methodist Home for the Aged, (now tactfully called MHA). Whatever his personal hardships and health problems, this hymn has become a resounding favourite, a comfort in time of need and resounding hope for the future. My husband chose it for his funeral, so you will understand how much it means to me.
O little town of Bethlehem
Bishop Phillips Brooks 1835-1893
“The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight” (end of verse 1).
Standing 6’4” tall and called ‘the greatest American preacher of the 19th. century’, Phillips Brooks was a commanding figure, greatly loved by his congregations with an international reputation. In the 1860s he took a gap year to visit the Holy Land. He rode into Bethlehem on horseback on Christmas Eve, 1865. Returning to his church he composed this carol for the Sunday School children having been greatly moved by his visit to the place of Christ’s birth. Such was his reputation he came to Britain on an invitation to preach at Westminster Abbey and even preached to Queen Victoria at Windsor. Phillips Brooks knew all about poverty, war and devastated lives from his congregation and wider community. His was a very wealthy background but he recognised no amount of money can alleviate fear nor buy hope, but everyone, young and old can take their fears and hopes to Jesus, the everlasting Light of the world. Elevated to Bishop of Massachusetts, he died only two years later aged 58.
Lord of all hopefulness
Joyce Placzek 1901-1953
Joyce, under her pseudonym Jan Struther, wrote the play Mrs Miniver which, in 1942, became an Oscar winning film. Her hymn, written in 1931, sits perfectly with the traditional Irish tune ‘Slane’ and when sung in the televised wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, those words were heard around the world by all ages, by all faiths and none. A hymn with such power in the Lord of all hopefulness. However, besides the great success of ‘Mrs Miniver’, Joyce faced great inner turmoil, the daunting task of new beginnings and her battle with cancer. During World War II she moved to New York with her children and in 1948 married her second husband, Austrian born Adolf Placzek. Her faith leaves us with words of hope as we face the challenges of our own unknown tomorrows.
May the God of Hope go with us every day
Translator Alvin Schutnaat b1989
Here we have a wonderful mix – a traditional Spanish blessing, set to an Argentinian folk melody and translated by a young Columbian musician. Alvin is currently professor of piano and music production at the University of Barraquilla. This is a blessing to bring “light and hope to every land and race”. The bouncing tune lifts the spirit in a jaunty dance and can very quickly become my ’hum of the week’. We see the thread of hope crossing continents, embracing all ages – an ancient theme yet for ever fresh and new for our own needs and longings.
StF 327 v2
We have a hope that is steadfast and certain
Wendy Churchill b1957
To close this fleeting glance at Hope in our hymns we come to a more (almost) local connection. Born in Cheshire, Wendy is the daughter of a Methodist minister and as such had plenty of moves around the country including Southampton. For 15 years she taught at St Anne’s school in Southampton and is a prolific writer of musicals, cantatas and Christian songs as well as the stirring hymn, Jesus is King (327). I’ve put this at the end of my article because that particular line fills me with courage as we hope to emerge out of these uniquely bewildering, frightening and isolating months of Lockdown. Whatever we face, whatever happens, we DO have Hope – nothing wish-washy about it, but a steadfast and certain hope in Jesus OUR King.
So why not pick up your hymn book, pop on a CD, sing your memories, sing your faith and sing your Hope.