Opening Voluntary: Intermezzo – Eric H. Thiman (1900-1975)
There’s a wideness in God’s mercy #469 – ST. HELENA
The text for the offertory hymn today, “There’s a wideness in God’s mercy,” is selected and adapted from a 19th century hymn by Frederick William Faber, born 1814 in Calverly in the West Riding of Yorkshire. He enrolled in Balliol College at Oxford in 1832 where he became acquainted with the Anglo-Catholic preaching of the Oxford Movement that was beginning to develop within the Church of England. Faber himself received Holy Orders in the Church of England in 1839. In 1843, he became rector at a church in Elton where he introduced catholic practices such as auricular confession and the use of the sanctoral cycle. There was, however, a strong Methodist presence in the parish, and a number of disaffected persons began to pack his church each Sunday in order to ridicule his catholic leanings. After a prolonged period of struggle, Faber left Elton and entered the Roman Church in 1845. He is remembered particularly in Anglican and Episcopal churches for his hymns, of which several are included in The Hymnal, 1982, perhaps the most famous of which is #558, “Faith of our fathers!”
Today’s offertory hymn, #469, “There’s a wideness in God’s mercy,” contains only six quatrains from a larger work published in Faber’s Oratory Hymns of 1854. It is believed that this hymn was first used during parish missions conducted in England as well as in Ireland which was still wheeling from the great potato famine in which as many as a million died and a million more emigrated. In that setting, such strophes as “There is no place where Earth’s sorrows are more felt than up in heaven” take on a particular poignancy. Faber’s text soon became popular in the hymnals of many different denominations, and this hymn was even translated into Swedish. Hardly any of the borrowers selected the same stanzas for their use, and it was paired with various tunes. The tune we use today, ST. HELENA, was newly published in The Hymnal, 1982 and was composed by Calvin Hampton in 1978 specifically for this text. The tune name honors the Sisters of the Order of St. Helena who were resident for a number of years at Hampton’s church in New York.