There are things in my life that remind me of the people in my life. It could be a recipe, a style of shoes, a particular color, most anything really. Often, it is a song. In some of the churches I have served, the pastor selects the hymns to be sung by the congregation. Pastors, just like everyone else, have favorite songs. A few years ago, I had the honor of serving with a pastor named Joe. He selected this song a lot, and now every time I play it, I am reminded of our service together. Joe and the the text of the song have the same message: we, as children of God, are to work together to be the love that God is. Joe chose well.
Jane Parker Huber (1926-2008), daughter of Presbyterian missionaries living in China, wrote the text for this hymn. It, along with other hymns she wrote, can be found in the 1990 Presbyterian Hymnal, the Chalice Hymnal, the Covenant Hymnal and more.
Huber wrote texts to be used with familiar tunes. For this hymn, the tune BEECHER was used. John Zundel (1815-1882), composed the tune in 1870 to be used with the hymn “Love Divine, All Loves Excelling”. Although the hymntune is sometimes called ZUNDEL after the composer, Zundel named it BEECHER after his pastor, Henry Ward Beecher. Beecher was the pastor of Plymouth Congregational Church in Brooklyn, New York, and Zundel was the organist.
Henry Ward Beecher was part of an outspoken family well-known for their abolitionist views and advocacy of social reform. A sister, Harriet Beecher Stowe, wrote Uncle Tom’s Cabin. A brother, Edward Beecher, was also a preacher. Dr. Edward Beecher was the first pastor of First Congregational Church in Galesburg, Illinois, a town active in the Underground Railroad.
The First Congregational Church was the first brick church built in Galesburg, and quickly became known simply as “the Brick Church” and much later as “Beecher Chapel.” When the tall spire that soared over the town was destroyed by a tornado in 1858, Henry Ward Beecher went on a speaking tour throughout Illinois to help raise funds to repair the church pastored by his brother Edward. Among the members of the church was Mary Ann “Mother” Bickerdyke. It was the preaching she heard in the Brick Church the led her to leave the comfort of her home in Galesburg and begin serving the wounded soldiers of the Civil War, saving literally thousands of lives.
In 1895, First Congregational and its mother church, known locally as “Old First Church,” recombined to form Central Congregational Church. As a result of this union, an exceptionally fine Richardsonian Romanesque church was built in 1898. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is, without a doubt, one of the most significant landmarks in Galesburg. One of the beautiful stained glass windows at Central is dedicated to the memory of Dr. Edward Beecher.
Detail of stained glass window in the South Room, Central Congregational Church, Galesburg, Illinois, memorial to Dr. Edward Beecher
We, indeed, have all been “called as partners in Christ’s service.” Jane Huber, John Zundel, Henry Ward Beecher, Edward Beecher, my friend Pastor Joe and countless others have certainly effectively served as partners in Christ by informing my faith journey. Now when we sing “Called As Partners in Christ’s Service” I am reminded that this partnership spans years as well as miles. I think of Pastor Joe and his love of God, and of the Beecher family and their influence on America and in my hometown, Galesburg.