Sunday School Favourites (1)


I WANTED to write about the songs we used to sing at Sunday School but all the versions I could find on YouTube sounded like pop songs with modern accompaniments and garish cartoons. Then I was reminded that my dear friend Helen Oliver, who used to run a girls’ choir at Christ Church Beckenham, had a brilliant idea in 2001. She canvassed the older members of the congregation for their favourite Sunday School songs and made a CD of them, called Down Memory Lane, with her choir. Helen plays the slightly battered church hall piano. The recording technique was not very advanced but that adds to the charm as they sound just as I remember. Here is a first selection and I will do another one or two later.

I will make you fishers of menAudio Player00:0000:00Use Up/Down Arrow keys to increase or decrease volume.

This is based on Matthew 4, 18-22. As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, He saw two fishermen, Simon Peter and his brother Andrew, casting a net into the sea. Jesus said to them: ‘Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.’ At once they left their nets and followed Him.

The words and the music were written by Harry D Clarke (1888-1957). He was born in Cardiff and orphaned at a young age. Sent to an orphanage, he ran away and had a hard life as a youth. He worked at sea for ten years, then with the help of a brother he got to London, then Canada, and finally the United States where he was converted. He attended the Moody Bible Institute in Chicago then went into composing, music publishing, and evangelism.

Count Your BlessingsAudio Player00:0000:00Use Up/Down Arrow keys to increase or decrease volume.

Like many Sunday School songs, this is the chorus to a longer hymn. In this case the first line is When upon life’s billows you are tempest tossed. I had a terrible job finding a sensible recording of this with words on the screen – for some reason it seems to be treated as a piece of pop music. This one by Burl Ives is the best I could do.

The words were written in 1897 by Johnson Oatman Jr (1856-1922). He was born in New Jersey, and he loved to sit with his father, an excellent singer, and hear him sing the songs of the church.

He was ordained a Methodist Episcopal minister, but because he also worked full-time with his father in the family mercantile business, Johnson Oatman and Son, he never had a parish of his own. He was 36 before he started writing hymns, and went on to write at least 5,000 gospel songs. However by his request he was paid only one dollar per song.

The music is by Edwin Othello Excell (1851-1921), a prominent American publisher and composer. He compiled or contributed to about 90 secular and sacred song books and is estimated to have written, composed, or arranged more than 2,000 of the songs he published. His 1909 stanza selection and arrangement of Amazing Grace is the most widely used setting.

Follow! Follow!Audio Player00:0000:00Use Up/Down Arrow keys to increase or decrease volume.

Another chorus from a longer hymn, this one being known as Down in the Valley with my Saviour I Would Go or I Will Follow Jesus, written in 1878 by American clergyman William Orcutt Cushing (1823-1902). I don’t think this is very familiar in Britain but here it is from St Andrew’s Anglican Cathedral, Warri, Nigeria.

After serving as a Unitarian minister for 27 years, Cushing developed a ‘creeping paralysis’ which robbed him of the power to speak and forced his retirement. He was then aged about 48. He asked God for guidance on what he should do with his time and found he had a talent for hymn-writing. About Down in the Valley he wrote:

‘Longing to give up all for Christ who had given his life for me, I wanted to be willing to lay everything at his feet, with no wish but to do his will, to live henceforth only for his glory. Out of this feeling came the hymn, Follow On. It was written with the prayer and the hope that some heart might by it be led to give up all for Christ. Much of the power and usefulness of the hymn, however, are due to Mr Lowry, who put it into song.’

Mr Lowry was Robert Lowry (March 12, 1826 – 25 November 1899), an American Baptist minister who also wrote hymn tunes. He considered his musical work to be a sideline, but it is as a hymn writer that he is mainly remembered. He is credited with 500 tunes, and he wrote the words for many of them, one of the first hymn composers to do so.

The hymn’s music has been adopted for the anthem of the Glasgow football club Rangers.

The original hymn was sung at the 2011 memorial service for the 66 victims of the 1971 Ibrox Stadium disaster, which you can read about here.

Jesus Bids Us ShineAudio Player00:0000:00Use Up/Down Arrow keys to increase or decrease volume.

This was written by Susan B Warner (1819-1885), an American writer of religious fiction, children’s fiction and theological works. She is best remembered as the writer, under the name Elizabeth Wetherell, of the novel The Wide Wide World, often acclaimed as America’s first bestseller.

Jesus Bids Us Shine was published in 1868. The tune now used was written in 1884 by Edwin Othello Excell, whose career is outlined above in Count Your Blessings.

Here are the words:

Jesus bids us shine with a clear, pure light,
Like a little candle burning in the night;
In this world of darkness, we must shine,
You in your small corner, and I in mine.

Jesus bids us shine, first of all for Him;
Well He sees and knows it if our light is dim;
He looks down from heaven, sees us shine,
You in your small corner, and I in mine.

Jesus bids us shine, then, for all around
Many kinds of darkness in this world abound:
Sin, and want, and sorrow—we must shine,
You in your small corner, and I in mine.

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