A tale of two churches, and one splendid hymn

Hazzard’s United Church is the place to be this coming Sunday for a service that begins at 2 p.m. – and come half an hour early if you like a good old-fashioned hymn sing.

There is a terrific community/church event taking place in the Queensborough area this coming Sunday (Aug. 19). It is the annual summer service at historic Hazzard’s United Church in Hazzard’s Corners, and Raymond and I will be there. As you can see from the photo, Hazzard’s is a beautiful old church, and people in the community have lovingly kept it in good shape even though it was closed for regular use way back in 1967. There is a service there every summer and also at Christmas.

This Sunday’s service starts at 2 p.m., if you’re interested (and if you’re a member of my family, you should be), and is preceded by good old-fashioned hymn-singing starting at 1:30. Afterwards there’ll be a social time and refreshments. I am really looking forward to being in that gracious old sanctuary once more and seeing old friends and perhaps meeting new ones.

The Church on the Cape in Cape Porpoise, Maine – packed with worshippers on the Sunday I visited.

But mention of good old-fashioned hymn-singing and historic churches reminds me of the service I attended this month in scenic Cape Porpoise, Maine. The Church on the Cape is a United Methodist congregation and the church itself, historic and extremely well-maintained – Cape Porpoise is a pretty wealthy area – is not unlike Hazzard’s, actually. I arrived a few minutes before 10 a.m., when the service was to start, to find myself in the midst of a rousing congregational hymn sing. The pews were absolutely packed (something most Canadian churches would envy) and people would call out the number of  the hymn they wanted. The church Raymond and I attend here in Montreal is pretty staid (as are Raymond and I), so this was a bit of a shock to the system, but I kind of got into it after a while.

It turned out to be a very fine service with a memorable sermon (which you can watch here, thanks to the wonders of the internet) by a visiting minister, The Rev. Dr. Clay Schmit (a distinguished Lutheran, if you please). But the highlight for me was the choir’s anthem (you can watch them perform it here), a very slightly embellished version of the Charles Wesley hymn And Can It Be That I Should Gain.

Now, while the Sedgwicks are of Methodist stock (before the Methodists became part of the United Church of Canada) and are thus very familiar with and appreciative of the hymns of the incomparable Charles Wesley, this is a hymn that I had never in my life sung or heard of until we sang it once at our church in Montreal three or four years ago. I think it was in the service at the request of the minister who was speaking that day, The Rev. Dr. Dale Woods, who mentioned it warmly in his sermon as one of the greatest of hymns with one of the greatest of tunes. That tune is called Sagina, and very little is known about its composer, one Thomas Campbell. But what a powerful tune it is! A good match for Wesley’s powerful words, such as: “‘Tis mercy all, immense and free / For O, my God, it found out me!”

You’ll see what I mean if you watch the video below, which I heartily encourage you to do. I have watched it a whole bunch of times, and inevitably it brings tears to my eyes. It’s the great words and the stirring tune, but also the evident joy that singing it brings to those in the congregation, who are as diverse as can be: men and women, young and old, black and white. Whether you are Christian or not, I think you will find it moving, if only on a musical level. So watch and enjoy (and turn the volume up); and meanwhile, perhaps I shall call out the number (276 in the old black Hymnary) at the Hazzard’s United Church hymn sing!

2 thoughts on “A tale of two churches, and one splendid hymn

  1. Inspiring! I vaguely recall singing that sometime in my church-going past. The language of Charles Wesley’s hymns raises us above daily life, the voices, transcendent! One of my favourite spots is old Hay Bay church, a 1792 Methodist church north of Adolphustown in L&A township. (I have blogged about it). Friends of mine spend a week there in summer, as custodian/interpreters. I can imagine this incredible hymn sung in that spartan little church, a reminder of where treasure lies.

    • The Hay Bay Church is one of my favourite spots too, Lindi, and if I’m not mistaken the annual service there is to take place this coming Sunday (Aug. 26). I had very much hoped to be there – and maybe I would have met you! – but circumstances have dictated otherwise. I will, however, have a blog post on a Hay Bay theme, and I will pull out the stops to be there next year. You’re right – one can easily imagine Charles Wesley’s inspiring hymn being sung lustily in that venerable but happy place.

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