St. Stephen’s Pro-Cathedral, Wilkes-Barre
O Zion, haste, thy mission high fulfilling
Hymn 539, The Hymnal 1982
The words of the hymn “O Zion, haste,” are by Mary Ann Thomson (1834 – 1923), a native of London who eventually moved to Philadelphia and was married to the librarian at that city’s Free Library. The tune Tidings is by James Walch (1837 – 1901), an English organist who was taught by his father as well as the noted Victorian English composer Henry Smart (1813 – 1879), perhaps best known for his hymn tune Regent Square, which most of us know as the tune we sing to the Christmas carol, “Angels from the realms of glory” (#93 in The Hymnal 1982). Mrs. Thomson wrote the following about how she came to write the words of this hymn:
I wrote the greater part of the hymn, “O Zion, haste,” in the year 1868. I had written many hymns before, and one night, while I was sitting up with one of my children who was ill of typhoid fever, I thought I should like to write a missionary hymn to the tune of the hymn beginning “Hark, hark, my soul, angelic songs are swelling,” as I was fond of that tune; but as I could not then get a refrain I liked, I left the hymn unfinished, and about three years later I finished it by writing the refrain which now forms part of it. By some mistake 1891 is given instead of 1871 as the date of the hymn in the (Episcopal) Hymnal. I do not think it is ever sung to the tune for which I wrote it. Rev. John Anketell told me, and I am sure he is right, that it is better for a hymn to have a tune of its own, and I feel much indebted to the composer of the tune “Tidings” for writing so inspiring a tune to my words.
It is interesting to note that the tune Mrs. Thomson had in mind for her text was Pilgrims, composed by James Walch’s teacher, Henry Smart. Her words are still sung to Smart’s tune in Great Britain, while Walch’s tune is used almost exclusively in this country.
Evangelism does not come easily for those of us who are admittedly not overtly demonstrative about our faith. This energetic hymn certainly provides some inspiration … and perhaps even a gentle kick … for Christians like me who tend to be more introverted and less likely to get out there and invite people to join us in our shared ministries. The fact of the matter is that we are going to have to do a lot more of this if we hope to keep our churches healthy, relevant, and thriving.
Source: The Hymnal 1982 Companion, Raymond F. Glover, editor; published by The Church Hymnal Corporation, New York, © 1984.
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