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Discontent with Remembrance hymns

by
15 November 2013

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From the Revd Jonathan Page SCP

Sir, - The Revd Dr Gordon Giles (Comment, 8 November) advocates changing the words of "I vow to thee, my country" so that it can be "sung with integrity"; thereby, he questions the integrity of those who sing it as printed in their hymn-books.

While I acknowledge that the line referring to "the love that asks no question" is difficult for some, when it is applied to the armed services, where the questioning of orders would be absolutely disastrous for both safety and discipline, it makes sense. It is our duty, the duty of the civilian electorate, to ask searching questions of our political leaders and to hold them to account for their decisions.

The words, as Dr Giles points out, contain no [explicit] mention of God. Nevertheless, the reference to "King" is surely not too difficult to interpret. He goes on to say that the notion of "vowing"to a country challenges sensibilities today. Whose sensibilities? In my experience and for my congregations, it is one of the most popular hymns we sing, up there with "And did those feet . . ." and "Onward Christian soldiers".It is worth noting that the hymn is also extremely popular among those who serve in the armed forces.

JONATHAN PAGE
Christ Church Vicarage
Bridge Street, Belper
Derbyshire DE56 1BA

 

From the Revd David Hewlett

Sir, - The real problem is making subtle changes that are acceptable to bereaved families and wedding parties and yet remove some of the unwanted theology.

I concluded that simply changing line 3, removing the "love that asks no question" sentiment, to "the love that's shown in service, the love that stands the test," serves this purpose.

I also found that preaching on this on Remembrance Sunday a couple of years ago, saying that freedom and justice demands that we ask questions, helped this transition.

DAVID HEWLETT
The Vicarage, Greencroft Avenue
Corbridge
Northumberland NE45 5DW

 

From Mr Brian Coomber

Sir, - The article by the Revd Dr Gordon Giles about this hymn raises some interesting points. Has anyone, however, thought about the Remembrance Sunday hymn "The Supreme Sacrifice"? To me this was the ultimate Remembrance hymn, sung only once a year: inspiring words and a moving tune. I am aware that revisionists would like to remove it.

I first sang it as a chorister, aged nine, until I changed parishes some 40 years later. The new parish did not use it, and the priest explained that there was only one Supreme Sacrifice, and that was that of Jesus. After a change of priest, it crept in last year. Of course, at the Cenotaph, even this year, the tune to this hymn was played, but the hymn was not sung.

The only objection I have to the "I vow" hymn is that the tune was purloined from Holst's The Planets and is somewhat throat-stretching.

BRIAN COOMBER
57 Buckingham Road
Shoreham-by-Sea BN43 5UB

 

From Mr Andrew Smith

Sir, - The Revd Dr Gordon Giles raises the question whether the continued use of "I vow to thee, my country" is appropriate in the form in which we have it today.

Similar questions can be asked about "O valiant hearts", a favourite of Margaret Thatcher, now dropped from most commonly used hymn books, but still resurrected in some churches on Remembrance Sunday. "Proudly you gathered, rank on rank to war, As who had heard God's message from afar," it declaims, drawing a parallel with Jesus's self-sacrifice: "While in the frailty of our human clay, Christ, our Redeemer, passed the self-same way."

As we approach the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War, and reflect on the millions of lives lost in this most pointless conflict of empires, is it not time that this hymn, which seeks to equate lives sacrificed violently in the service of the State with the non-violent sacrifice of Jesus on the cross, is finally laid to rest?

ANDREW SMITH
4 The Weir
Whitchurch
Hampshire RG28 7JA

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