This hymn almost got ruined for me in 2009.
That spring, Saratoga Springs’ minister, Linda Hoddy, went on sabbatical, leaving a congregation well prepared to hold the fort down. As chair of the worship committee, I was also on the sabbatical team, and after a fall spent ensuring we had all our ducks in a row, our meetings were usually ten minutes of checking in on everything, then another half hour or so of general chatter.
Our longest meeting was the one about halfway through the sabbatical, when we all realized that while as a team the worship committee was doing a good job of attracting a wide variety of speakers and tending the scope of topics over the six-month period, we failed to track the week-to-week use of music, and we had been singing Gather the Spirit extremely frequently – easily two out of every three weeks. I know why it was chosen – it’s popular, it’s general in its scope, and – unless it’s played like a dirge – it’s a joy to sing.
But we were singing it a LOT. And it didn’t help that as we were gearing up for our first cluster-wide worship service, the obvious choice for the opening processional hymn was… Gather the Spirit. As worship coordinator for the service, I gulped, wondered if we could find another song, but realized that no, this was exactly the right hymn.
Back in Saratoga, we started waving speakers off this hymn, asking them to choose something else (and eventually offering a few other options that the congregation was familiar with and do the same kind of work). And as I stood at the stairs of the stage our choir and speakers processed onto in the cluster-wide service, I didn’t need any lyrics, because I realized I knew them all. Because we just. kept. singing. this. song.
I still know them by heart, partly because of that spring, but also because it really is a terrific song. And while some of UU songwriter Jim Scott’s pieces can be complex and tricky to sing, this one gets it right.
Gather the spirit, harvest the power.
Our sep’rate fires will kindle one flame.
Witness the mystery of this hour.
Our trials in this light appear all the same.
Gather in peace, gather in thanks.
Gather in sympathy now and then.
Gather in hope, compassion and strength.
Gather to celebrate once again.
Gather the spirit of heart and mind.
Seeds for the sowing are laid in store.
Nurtured in love, and conscience refined,
with body and spirit united once more.
Gather the spirit growing in all,
drawn by the moon and fed by the sun.
Winter to spring, and summer to fall,
the chorus of life resounding as one.
This is a song of warm, open welcome. Just don’t overuse it… and by all that is holy, do not play it as a dirge! It is meant to dance in a gentle waltz, ushering us in with gentleness and love.
And I am glad it didn’t get ruined for me.
Photo is of our first joint service in 2009, with members of the four congregations (Albany, Schenectady, Glens Falls, and Saratoga Springs) coming together for the first time to worship. We asked each congregation to bring their chalices, from which we lit a common chalice. Then St. Lawrence District Executive Tom Chulak (pictured) joined Tom Owen-Towle as our first speakers. The cluster has now expanded, and we continue to hold a service each year, featuring an outside speaker (past speakers have included Thandeka, Kim and Reggie Harris, and Scott Alexander). This year, our service will feature the amazing Glen Thomas Rideout – and I am privileged to be back as worship coordinator.
I totally agree — you CAN get too much of a good thing. Another one that’s frequently overdone is “Spirit of Life,” which was ruined for me during a period when my congregation sang it EVERY Sunday for several months. Thankfully, after a little time off, I’ve been able to renew my love of it. Oh, and one comment about Gather: many congregations sing it like a regimented, rousing march, which is fine, but when Jim does it, he leads it in more of a slow “gospel swing” style, which is better, IMO. (Compare the metronome setting on his original arrangement with the one in STLT.)
[…] are many wonderful Jim Scott songs in our hymnals – from the very familiar Gather the Spirit to the hardly sung Tradition Held Fast, along with others we’ve sung/will sing. But I think […]