We Gather Together…and other Pre-Meal Customs

Each of us have our own special family customs and traditions…be it when you have your thanksgiving meal, driving to see the lights on Christmas Eve, on and on the list could go…My hunch is that for every one of us, there are also different customs for how mealtime begins.


I’ve come to appreciate those occasions when I’ve been gathered with friends around the meal table to sing a blessing over our food and our fellowship.  Maybe you have a song or songs that you sing prior to your meal, but one that I’ve sung around the table on a few different occasions (and that was number 1a in the hymnal of my youth) was originally titled “Prayer of Thanksgiving.”  Though it’s largely fallen out of circulation in my hymnological experience, “We Gather Together” has long been considered a hymn invoking and celebrating the blessing of God.

0351=351“We Gather Together” [Find the rest of the story here]
Anonymous 17th-c
entury Dutch, translated by Theodore Baker

“We gather together to ask the Lord’s blessing;
He chastens and hastens his will to make known.
The wicked oppressing now cease from distressing.
Sing praises to his name; he forgets not his own.”

In many hymnals, “We gather together” appears as a Thanksgiving hymn. Perhaps this is because of the opening line and the idea that God is with us regardless of our circumstances. However, the hymn speaks more about God’s providence throughout life’s trial and experience.

This hymn is a late 16th-century expression of celebration of freedom by The Netherlands from Spanish oppression. Like many older hymns, it found its way to North American hymnody through a rather circuitous route.

“It was first published in Nederlandtsch Gedenckclanck (1626), a collection by Adrianus Valerius in Haarlem. Austrian Edward Kremser (1838-1914) included it in Sechs Altniederländische Volkslieder (Six Old Netherlands Folksongs) in 1877 for his men’s chorus, all six anonymous songs taken from the Valerius collection 250 years earlier.

According to hymnal editor Carlton Young, the performance of these tunes led to their popularity and the inclusion in many hymnals.
The story extends to the U.S. through Theodore Baker (1851-1934), a New York-born musicologist who studied in Leipzig and authored the famous Biographical Dictionary of Music and Musicians. Baker translated the hymn from German for an anthem entitled “Prayer for Thanksgiving” published in 1894. It is from Baker that the hymn gets its traditional Thanksgiving connection.

Some of the political overtones in this hymn faithfully translated by Baker are apparent. Hymnologist Albert Bailey suggests that the phrase, “The wicked oppressing now cease from distressing,” is an allusion to the persecution of the Catholic Church under the policies of Spain. Thousands had been massacred and hundreds of homes burned by the Spanish in 1576 during the siege of Antwerp.

In stanza two, the writer states, “so from the beginning the fight we were winning,” stressing that Protestants had always been assured of winning the cause. The truce of 1609 proved that the Lord “wast at our side.”

The final stanza is a series of petitions—

“ …pray that thou still our defender will be.
Let thy congregation escape tribulation;
thy name be ever praised! O Lord, make us free!”

This is an eschatological stanza. The ultimate battle has not been won and will not be won until all battles cease.

An interesting sidebar was that Baker’s anthem inspired another hymn.

A young Julia Cady Cory (1882-1963) heard this text in 1902 at her church, Brick Presbyterian in New York City. Cory’s “We praise thee, O God, our Redeemer, Creator” is a more general hymn of praise and thanksgiving that also uses the Dutch tune KREMSER. Cory’s hymn did not include any reference to nationalism, making it a more general ecumenical hymn of thanksgiving.

A Heart Full of Thanks

My heart is overwhelmingly full of memories today…from fresh, new memories like cuddling with Mackenzie in my arms while watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, eating Mamaw’s lemon and/or chocolate pies (which my sister has thankfully mastered), making dressing with Nana (that’s Turkey, Sage and Ham Dressing, mind you), hunting with Bapaw and eating Thanksgiving at the kettle in Junction, snowy Chicago mornings with Meghan & her family, Thanksgiving with a view of the bog in Hilton Head with Mackenzie’s Great Grandma Ginny, my parents coaxing me that the puréed onions and celery wouldn’t ruin the dressing (and I made them this morning, Derald and Lesa)…memories of dear friends like Brent who’ve made the world a little brighter by their “Jesus Light…” and friends in places like Atlanta and new friends in Coppell with our Riverside family.

I could go on and on.  Suffice it to say that on this 2015 Thanksgiving day, never has the Psalmist’s worshipful refrain in Psalm 118, the very refrain of the People of Israel been as true to me as it is today.

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
    his love endures forever.”  (Psalm 118)

I’m mindful of one of my favorite hymns today…with wonderful verses to express just how deep and broad our thanksgiving is.

Folliot S. Pierpoint and Conrad Kocher (Tune: Dix) have penned it so well (and it was even used in the 1994 Academy Award winning film, Little Women)

For the beauty of the earth
For the glory of the skies,
For the love which from our birth
Over and around us lies.


Lord of all, to Thee we raise,*
This our hymn of grateful praise.

For the beauty of each hour,
Of the day and of the night,
Hill and vale, and tree and flower,
Sun and moon, and stars of light.


For the joy of ear and eye,
For the heart and mind’s delight,
For the mystic harmony
Linking sense to sound and sight.


For the joy of human love,
Brother, sister, parent, child,
Friends on earth and friends above,
For all gentle thoughts and mild.


For Thy Church, that evermore
Lifteth holy hands above,
Offering up on every shore
Her pure sacrifice of love.


For the martyrs’ crown of light,
For Thy prophets’ eagle eye,
For Thy bold confessors’ might,
For the lips of infancy.


For Thy virgins’ robes of snow,
For Thy maiden mother mild,
For Thyself, with hearts aglow,
Jesu, Victim undefiled.


For each perfect gift of Thine,
To our race so freely given,
Graces human and divine,
Flowers of earth and buds of Heaven.


May we all be grateful to this degree…and beyond today!
Happy Thanksgiving to You and Yours!

A New Day Has Dawned: An Update from the Bulls’ Pen


Well, a lot has happened since I last posted here in the blogosphere.


Riverside Church of Christ Coppell, TX

As of July 12, we are back in Texas where I’ve joined the wonderful team at the Riverside Church as their Worship/Music Minister.  After three years with some very special people in Atlanta, God has called us back to the DFW Metroplex where I am serving once again in a full-time ministry role in Coppell…we live in Lewisville and could not be more excited about the road ahead…God’s preferred future for us!

While we miss my students and our friends from Atlanta (and have stayed in touch with our closest friends there on a regular basis), God has showered us with wonderful new friends and a wonderful church family and the ability to be so wonderfully close to long-time friends and our families (well, some of our family) here in Texas.  One of those unexpected blessings is in my friend, and new preacher of the Riverside Church, Corey Trevathan being here along with his wonderful family.  (You can read his blog here.)

A week ago last night, October 29, the world lost one of its best men…and I lost a role model, mentor, friend, and colleague from my years at North Davis in Arlington (and was blessed to remain close to until his untimely passing).  I will somehow find a way to memorialize him at a later date (here’s a great link to a beautifully penned tribute from my friend (and a former member of the junior high small group we led back in the day, Kevin Bain)).  Brent, you’ll be sorely missed…you already are.  You made me a better man, you made the world a better place…with every word and action you ever offered, you put in a good word for Jesus…

In our current sermon series at Riverside, Corey is challenging us to call God by name…so, I’ve added his name in the place of his title in this text as it adds a particular meaning for me in this place and time…I’m leaning into this passage from the book of Lamentations right now as we grieve…
Lamentations 3:19-26 (ESV)
19 Remember my affliction and my wanderings,
the wormwood and the gall!
20 My soul continually remembers it
and is bowed down within me.
21 But this I call to mind,
and therefore I have hope:
22 The steadfast love of Yahweh never ceases;[b]
his mercies never come to an end;
23 they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
24 “Yahweh is my portion,” says my soul,
“therefore I will hope in him.”
25 The Yahweh is good to those who wait for him,
to the soul who seeks him.
26 It is good that one should wait quietly
for the salvation of Yahweh.


Vivaldi @ GACS

To make a really long story short, since July of 2012, I’ve been the Director of Choirs and Music Theory teacher at Greater Atlanta Christian School in Norcross, GA.  I’ve also had the privilege of leading worship at some wonderful churches; Northlake and most recently for the last year+, at Campus.

Last week, I had the privilege of conducting a “first” in our school’s musical history.  For the first (and hopefully not the last) time ever, we collaborated to present a major choral-orchestral work.  We, along with our orchestra directed by Nelson Galarraga, several guest artists & some of our private lesson string faculty, and some friends from Chicago, presented Vivaldi’s “Gloria.”  (Link to video forthcoming here) This was a pivotal moment for our school and for our choral department and I’m so proud of the kids’ hard work that went into this special performance.

I hope to return to blogging more regularly in the very near future…but suffice it to say that my hymnological research continues at a fast pace…the family is well…I’m still arranging music for lots of folks and God is faithful…even when we are not.