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I VOW TO THEE MY COUNTRY
I vow to thee, my country, all earthly things above, Entire and whole and perfect, the service of my love;
The love that asks no question, the love that stands the test, That lays upon the altar the dearest and the best;
The love that never falters, the love that pays the price, The love that makes undaunted the final sacrifice.
And there’s another country, I’ve heard of long ago, Most dear to them that love her, most great to them that know;
We may not count her armies, we may not see her King; Her fortress is a faithful heart, her pride is suffering;
And soul by soul and silently her shining bounds increase, And her ways are ways of gentleness, and all her paths are peace.
PUBLISHED: 00:37, 9 November 2013 – Daily Mail
‘Obscene’: Reverend Gordon Giles claims the words of I Vow to Thee My Country are obscene, offensive and unfit to be sung by Christians
A leading Church of England vicar yesterday condemned the words of one of the country’s best-loved hymns as obscene, offensive and unfit to be sung by Christians.
The Reverend Gordon Giles, one of the Anglicans’ leading authorities on hymns, declared that I Vow to Thee My Country should be rewritten if it is to be sung by modern congregations.
His verdict was delivered in advance of the remembrance weekend when the hymn, which is especially valued by military families, will feature in thousands of services across the country and the Commonwealth.
Its patriotic words, written in the final year of the First World War, speak of the ‘final sacrifice’ made by those that love their country, and end with a promise of peace in heaven.
But Mr Giles – a former succentor responsible for hymns at St Paul’s – called I Vow to Thee My Country ‘dated’ and ‘unjust’.
He said in an article in the Church Times: ‘Many would question whether we can sing of a love that “asks no question”, that “lays on the altar the dearest and the best” and that juxtaposes the service of country and that “other country” of faith.
‘The notion of vowing everything to a country, including the sacrifice of one’s life for the glorification of nationhood, challenges sensibilities today.’
Valued: His verdict was delivered in advance of the remembrance weekend when the hymn, which is especially valued by military families, will feature in thousands of services across the country and the Commonwealth
Mr Giles said that the hymn had a ‘dated military concept of fighting for King and country.
This, he said, ‘gives offence, as it is based on the idea of a king as head of an empire, whose bounds need to be preserved for the benefit of subjects at home and abroad.
‘In post-colonial Britain this comes across as patronising and unjust. Associating duty to King and Empire with a divine call to kill people and surrender one’s own life is a theologically inept reading of Jesus’ teaching.’
Mr Giles, who is vicar of St Mary Magdalene in Enfield in North London, added: ‘Furthermore, if the cause is wealth, power, influence, national pride, then the sacrifice is diminished and its connection to the pride of suffering is, for me, almost obscene.’
The hymn is based on a poem written by British diplomat Sir Cecil Spring-Rice in 1908. Sir Cecil became ambassador in Washington charged with persuading America to enter the war against Germany, and heavily re-wrote his poem in January 1918, shortly before he died.
The new emphasis on sacrifice came in the final months of a war which saw more than three million British Empire casualties, including over 900,000 deaths.
Composer Gustav Holst, who was director of music at St Paul’s Girls School, where Spring-Rice’s daughter was a pupil, set the words to a slightly altered version of the Jupiter theme from his Planets suite in 1921.
With its stirring new tune, called Thaxted, it rapidly became a staple of Anglican worship.
However left-wing and liberal teachers turned against it after the Second World War, and nine years ago a Church of England bishop, the then Bishop of Hulme, the Right Reverend Stephen Lowe, described it as ‘heretical’ and accused it of having ‘echoes of 1930s nationalism in Germany and some of the nastier aspects of right-wing republicanism in the United States.’
Its unpopularity with some Church of England clergy mirrors the fate of another hymn that dates from World War One. Blake’s Jerusalem, set to music in 1916 by Sir Hubert Parry, is now often regarded by Anglican leaders as unsuitable for Church use.
While frowned on by some clerics, both songs remain treasured by millions.
I Vow to Thee My Country has been used as an anthem by England sports teams and featured in the opening ceremony of the Paralympics last year.
Former defence minister Sir Gerald Howarth said that churchmen who dislike the hymn are out of touch with their congregations.
Criticism: Former defence minister Sir Gerald Howarth said that churchmen who dislike the hymn are out of touch with their congregations
Sir Gerald, Tory MP for Aldershot, said: ‘Any Church of England vicar should know that the Supreme Governor of the Church of England is the Queen. I am not sure a Church of England cleric should be taking this view of Her Majesty.
‘He is completely out of touch with the spirit of the times. There are more poppies being worn this year than ever and the armed forces have never been held in higher regard.
‘A vicar of all people should not be so insensitive at a time of remembrance of those who have made the final sacrifice, for the freedom of vicars to say insulting things.’
The Meenister’s Log
On holiday in Buckinghamshire one year, visiting Windsor, and my mobile phone rings.
“Hello, it’s Anne from the switchboard – are you enjoying your holidays?”
“Yes, indeed, and the sun’s shining”
“Oh, it’s a bit dull here”
“Well, I’m in a lovely part of the world and am just crossing the bridge to Eton”
“Oh, it sounds lovely”
And so the conversation continued, until she said “I know you’re on holiday, but there’s a staff nurse in Ward **, who would like to speak to you;I’ll put her through”
“Hello, this is xxxxx from Ward ** – hope you’re enjoying your holiday; I wonder if you have your diary to hand – I’ve just got engaged and we’d like you to conduct our wedding” Doh!
Phone rings. “Hello, we’re getting married and we’d like you to conduct the ceremony”
“When is it?
“Saturday, August 5th at 3.00 p.m at St.Michael’s”
“Let me check my diary” ….. “Oh, sorry, there’s already a wedding at the Kirk at that time”
Panic – “but we’ve already booked the reception!”
(putting the cart before the horse — or something like that)
The Meenister’s Log
One Christmas Day, we had just sat down to lunch, with the first forkful of turkey just about to be popped into my mouth, when the phone rings – it’s about 1.30 p.m. The local friendly Funeral Director, Peter Ness.
Hi, Sandy, it’s Peter – “Merry Christmas; hope you enjoy your lunch later”
“I’m actually eating it just now, Peter”
“Oh we’re off to a restaurant for ours at three o’clock”
“Peter, you didn’t phone me up on Christmas Day in the afternoon to talk about what we and when we were eating”
“Er no, one of your parishioners has just died – you don’t know them; they’re not members of your congregation – but they’d like a visit from you this afternoon. Listen, don’t rush – you can have your main course just now, and save the Christmas pudding for when you come back from seeing them!”
On holiday in Glossop, Derbyshire staying with my father-in-law.
We were just about to set off home, when the car wouldn’t start, and the AA were taking ages to come.
Phone call from my Session Clerk, “Thought that you were back today?”
Yes, but the car won’t start and I’m waiting for the AA, so will be a while yet”
“It’s just that old Miss Jones is in hospital and is very ill; her sister wants you to visit her. Can you come as quickly as you can?”
OK, the car got fixed, I drove quickly up the motorway, dropped Helen and the boys at the Manse, got changed into something more “ministerial” and raced off to the hospital for this urgent visit at 9.00 p.m or thereabouts.
And there was Miss Jones, sitting up in bed, drinking a cup of tea, and reading a magazine
She lived for about a dozen or more years thereafter!
Following a long drive from Suffolk where we’d spent a holiday with Helen’s parents, we arrived home (near Stirling), tired and weary and with two small boys, one just a toddler, to find one of my Elders waiting for me at the Manse gates.
“Ah thoucht ye’d be back by this time” he said earnestly and somewhat gravely.
“What’s happened, Willie, is Mary (his wife) all right?”
“Aye, she’s no bad, thanks. It’s just to let ye know that her physiotherapy session at the Hospital on Monday has been cancelled and you’d said ye wid drive her there”
This was a Friday evening. I would be at home on the Saturday, preparing my sermon – ever heard of a phone, Wullie? Oh yes, and the day after Saturday is Sunday, last time I looked – when both would be at the Kirk.
The Meenister’s Log
and these were shared by friends on FB’s OneKirk page:
At the Crematorium – “Colours of Day” (chorus – ” So light up the fire and let the flame burn“)
“Give me oil in my lamp”(keep me burning)
“Light my fire” – the Doors
“Another one bites the dust” – Queen
Johnny Cash – “Ring of Fire”
“Reveille” would be interesting when played at the grave side.