Serene Sunday: London Edition

Sadly enough I had no time to tour any churches on the London Trip.  I wondered what hymn mostly exemplifies the UK to me but very few came to mind that were particularly British.  However, with some free  associating, David Tennant > Doctor Who> Series 3 > Gridlock (see, British!), I finally settled on a famous one, Abide with Me.

According to Wikipedia, Abide with Me was written by Scottish Anglican Henry Francis Lyte.  It is most often sung to William Henry Monk’s tune “Eventide.”  Lyte wrote the poem in 1847 and set it to music while he lay dying from tuberculosis; he survived only a further three weeks after its completion.  The hymn is a prayer for God to remain present with the speaker throughout life, through trials, and through death.


1. Abide with me; fast falls the eventide;
the darkness deepens; Lord, with me abide.
When other helpers fail and comforts flee,
Help of the helpless, O abide with me.

2. Swift to its close ebbs out life’s little day;
earth’s joys grow dim; its glories pass away;
change and decay in all around I see;
O thou who changest not, abide with me.

3. I need thy presence every passing hour.
What but thy grace can foil the tempter’s power?
Who, like thyself, my guide and stay can be?
Through cloud and sunshine, Lord, abide with me.


Servetus on her blog suggested this hymn was fitting to commemorate 9/11 today.  I agree.



14 thoughts on “Serene Sunday: London Edition

  1. A quintessential English hymn is from William Blake’s Jerusalem, 1804. It was set to music by Sir Hubert Perry in 1916. As much an anthem as a hymn, it has been regarded in modern times as jingoistic, redolent of the British Empire of the time age – colonisation, nationalism, etc. It is all that, and is a militant anthem. It is also rousing and continues to be performed in Anglican services on St. George’s Day.

    • “Jerusalem” is exactly the hymn I thought of when Judi asked. Of course, I always picture it with Monty Python singing it…

      The other one is “Onward Christian Soldiers” which was sung by Scott’s men in [i]The Last Place on Earth[/i]. (Yes, much of my knowledge of England/Britain is informed by British TV…)

      (I wonder if the italics will show up…)

    • Thanks for sharing. Not being religious I don’t know many hymns. As you can see, I was stretching trying to find something British. 😀

    • Holy cow! I had no idea – seriously.

      People link ‘Jerusalem’ to jingoism? I am baffled. I always think of it as a deeply subversive call to fundamentally disrupt social norms and strive for an ideal society free of institutionalised inequality, injustice, and greed. Blake was such a radical – so unutterably opposed to the social and religious establishment (from the crown to the church to marriage), so thoroughly revolutionary in his outlook – that I can’t imagine he’d be thrilled with it being interpreted that way.

      It’s weird – I always thought it was a little bizarre that the hymn’s so popular with people whose views are diametrically opposed to Blake’s, but I kind of assumed that it’s just because of a combination of terrific poetry and tune and people not really taking notice of what they’re singing. How dense can a person be?? (Yes, I know: pretty dense)

      • That interpretation (jingoism) has a lot to do with the contexts in which the hymn is often sung. Sending all those boys who sang it at “public school” to take up the White Man’s burden and so on.

        I should also add — the hymn itself is a lot more recent than the poem. So the meaning has changed with the historical context, too.

        • Well, yes, it gets played everywhere, all the time. It’s just… I managed all these years singing it at church and Brownies and the Women’s Institute and funerals and weddings and baptisms and at sporting events, and it never for one moment struck me that people were interpreting it as jingoistic because the lyrics just aren’t. It just felt odd, and I assumed that people were just going through the motions, never that they actually associated the song with nationalistic sentiment. Seriously, seriously dense woman.

  2. Unfortunately for you, you stumbled on a topic of high interest to me.

    Here’s a link to Jerusalem as sung at the royal wedding this summer 🙂

    I have many, many, many memories associated with “Abide with Me.” It has been sung at the funeral of every relative I’ve ever attended. I can’t sing it without crying, esp., “thou hast not left me, oft as I left thee / In life, in death O Lord, Abide with me.”

    There’s also the question of C of E vs Methodist hymns. Many of the Methodist hymns have become standard in the C of E repertoire, but at the beginning they were considered raucous and uncouth (some Methodist hymns: Love Divine all Loves Excellent, Jesus Christ is Ris’n Today) in comparison to the more sedate, liturgically influenced style of the C of E (Hail thee Festival Day, He who would valiant be, etc.)

    I think the big London churches are not so interesting as many of those in the hinterlands, at least the ones that most people think of. St Martin in the Fields for great evening concerts, often free ones. When I took my parents I took them to Vespers in Westminster Abbey and then the Easter morning service (we had a vehement discussion about whether or not they could take communion there). St Etheldreda’s (oldest church in England). But the Reformation and the Fire were hard on the old church fabric of London. I’ve also been to St Helen’s Bishopgate, which was recommended to me. No doubt there are other hidden treasures there for me to discover sometime.

    • Thanks for the lesson. As you know, I’m not religious; most of the songs I was exposed to were gospel or Catholic hymn and not much of that. When I heard this on Doctor Who, I considered it one of the most beautiful I’ve ever heard. I went to Evening song at St. Martin in the Fields but unfortunately I was jetlagged that day and don’t remember much. I should visit more services next trip.

      • The English choral / liturgical tradition is so wonderful. I imagine it will be gone soon. Every time I’ve gone to a cathedral for choral evensong I’ve ended up being one of the youngest people there of perhaps two dozen or so. But it is beautiful.

        I’m a religion geek as you know. And I love studying hymnody — and learning the circumstances under which particular hymns were written.

        • You think it will die out? I don’t think so. I suspect as long as humans survive, they will preserve religion and its songs.

          • It’s really expensive, and not that many people partake on a regular basis. I think religion and its songs will remain, and I think choirs will continue to record the stuff, but I don’t think there’ll be regular choral evensong in all the British cathedrals as there is now. The cathedrals tend to hang on longest because they are administrative centers, but all over Europe the church bodies are closing churches and selling or renting the buildings for other functions.

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