Preparing for Worship – Darren Dement, associate pastor.
Our opening congregational hymn this morning, Brethren, We Have Met to Worship, has a bit of a murky history. The text has been variously attributed to either George Askins or George Atkins, both known to be itinerant Methodist ministers. The tune, Holy Manna, is attributed to William Moore, of whom virtually nothing is known, and was first published in The Columbian Harmony in 1823. The pairing of the tune and text appear in both The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion and The Sacred Harp, rooting it firmly in the American folk-hymn tradition.
It was a common opening hymn at revivals and camp meetings and has been closely associated with shape note and Sacred Harp-style singing. If you’ve never heard Sacred Harp singing, I invite you to do a quick YouTube search when you get home, but suffice it to say it is quite different from the style of singing we are accustomed to here at Wilshire. And despite the difference in style, this hymn can find its way into both traditions.
One of the many reasons I love hymns is that they have the ability to transcend musical styles. A hymn like Brethren, We Have Met to Worship can be equally at home at a shape-note singing or accompanied by a pipe organ because the truths conveyed cannot be limited by genre, style or tradition.
As we sing this hymn today, pay attention to the emphasis placed not only on the worship of God, but on the concern we should have for those slumbering on the brink of woe and for the struggling, trembling mourners all around us. Pay attention to the reminder in the final stanza that love of God and love of neighbor are both expected of us. Allow yourself to be encouraged by the reminder that God is always active among us, working to make all things new. Rest in the knowledge that there is always room enough for all at God’s table.
Regardless of the style in which this hymn is sung, the message is timeless and certainly worthy of our attention.