History of Hymns: 'Child of Blessing, Child of Promise'
By Mark Hixon
“Child of Blessing, Child of Promise”
by Ronald S. Cole-Turner
The United Methodist Hymnal, 611
Child of blessing, child of promise,
baptized with the Spirit’s sign;
with this water God has sealed you
unto love and grace divine.
© 1981 Ronald S. Cole-Turner. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
The sacrament of baptism holds an important significance in a person’s life. Whether a person is baptized as an infant, child, youth, or adult, that individual’s baptism symbolically marks the beginning of a new chapter on the spiritual journey. Baptism signifies a person’s choice to reject sin and live as a disciple of Jesus Christ. Parents who bring their infant or child to be baptized vow to raise that child in a Christian environment. Since the service of baptism is performed within the community of the church, the congregation witnesses these declarations and vows to help those who have been baptized with their spiritual journeys.
Written by Ronald S. Cole-Turner (b. 1948), “Child of blessing, Child of Promise” is a hymn often sung in preparation for or as a response to the baptism of an individual. Cole-Turner penned this hymn when his United Church of Christ (UCC) tradition issued a call for new inclusive-language hymns to be considered for publication in a forthcoming hymnal. Some of his inspiration came from watching his young daughter play outside the parsonage home in Syracuse, New York. After several days, Cole-Turner felt he had the right text and the right metrical pattern. He then went to the metrical index of hymns found in his denomination’s hymnal. To his surprise, many of the tunes he found that fit the metrical pattern of his words (87.87) had the accent on the wrong syllable. Finally, he came to the tune STUTTGART. Both the metrical pattern and the syllabic stress fit perfectly. He sketched out the musical lines, typed in the first stanza under the music, listed the other stanzas below, and sent the hymn off for consideration. About six weeks later, he received a response from the selection committee that they would publish his hymn. “Child of Blessing, Child of Promise” first appeared in Everflowing Streams (1981), edited by Ruth C. Duck and Michael G. Bausch, a hymnal supplement for the UCC. Alternate wording was provided in stanza 1, lines two and three, of this source for traditions that follow the practice of child dedication: “consecrated and assigned, / to the care of God who claims you.”
The point of view of the text is of someone who is witnessing the baptism. This could be a pastor, parent, sponsor, guardian, or member of the congregation. The words are directed toward the person being baptized. In stanza one, the baptismal candidate is referred to as a “child of blessing, child of promise.” The American Heritage Dictionary defines “blessing” as “a special favor granted by God.” Parents often view their children as gifts from God, something miraculous, filled with potential. The stanza also refers to water as the “Spirit’s sign,” a symbol of God’s divine grace and love. In the Services of Baptismal Covenant in The United Methodist Book of Worship and The United Methodist Hymnal, the congregational response to the act of baptism is: “Through baptism you are incorporated by the Holy Spirit into God’s new creation and made to share in Christ’s royal priesthood” (Baptismal Covenant 1). It is through the work of the Holy Spirit that we become “members of the family of Christ.”
The second stanza refers to the baptismal candidate as a “child of love.” When parents choose to start a family, it usually grows out of their love for each other. Raising a child, whether through birth or through adoption, means making a conscious effort to expand one’s love not just for one other person, but to share that love with someone who will depend on you for nurturing.
“Child of joy” describes the baptismal candidate in the third stanza. While parenthood can be challenging, it can also be filled with excitement and joy. Parents relish sharing their excitement of a child’s “firsts”—first steps, first words, first day at school, first Communion, first date, and so on. Watching a child mature and grow into an individual can bring a parent a great deal of joy. This stanza also acknowledges the parents’ acceptance that the child is not only theirs, but also God’s. The stanza concludes with “Back to God we humbly give you; / live as one who bears Christ’s name.” The parents vow to nurture their child physically and spiritually. According to the Baptismal Covenant 1, as parents present their child for baptism, they are asked, “Will you nurture these children in Christ’s holy church, that by your teaching and example, they may be guided to accept God’s grace for themselves, to profess their faith openly, and to lead a Christian life?” Through their affirmation, the parents choose to partner with God in raising their child.
In the fourth and final stanza, the baptized person enters a new relationship with God: “Child of God your loving Parent...”. Not only is the child born of human parents, but, through the gift of creation, the child is also a child of God. Parents wish many things for their child. They want to see their child succeed. God wishes many things for us. God wants us to succeed, to be happy, to love, and to be loved.
The tune chosen by Cole-Turner, STUTTGART, has been attributed to Christian Friedrich Witt (c.1660-1716). A German composer and keyboardist, Witt served the court in Gotha. He compiled a collection of sacred texts and 356 melodies, Psalmodia sacra (1715), considered one of the most important hymnals of the period. One hundred of the pieces were believed to have been composed by Witt.
It is believed the tune’s title, STUTTGART, originated from an incident when Rev. C.A. Dann was removed from his pulpit at St. Leonard’s Church in Stuttgart. Upon his return, the congregation greeted him with “Sollt’ es gleich” (“Sometimes it should seem the same”), set to Witt’s tune.
Rev. Dr. Ronald Cole-Turner is the H. Parker Sharpe Professor of Theology and Ethics at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, a position he has held since 1996. A graduate of Wheaton College (B.A.) and Princeton Theological Seminary (M.Div. and Ph.D.), he is an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ. His research focuses on the relation of theology and ethics to science and technology, including the theological significance of human evolution and technologies of human enhancement. His hymn has found its way into several denominational hymnals, including the Presbyterian (PCUSA) Glory to God (2013).
Bernd Baselt and Karl-Ernst Bergunder, “Witt [Witte], Christian Friedrich,” Grove Music Online (2001), www-oxfordmusiconline-com.proxy.libraries.smu.edu/grovemusic/view/10.1093/gmo/9781561592630.001.0001/omo-9781561592630-e-0000030451?rskey=XJDrir&result=3[cac1] , Accessed 3 February 2020.
Ronald Cole-Turner, “Re: Child of Blessing, Child of Promise.” Received by Mark Hixon, January 19, 2020. Email Interview.
“Services of the Baptismal Covenant of The United Methodist Church,” The United Methodist Hymnal (Nashville: The United Methodist Publishing House, 1989), 32-54.
“STUTTGART,” https://hymnary.org/tune/stuttgart_witt. Accessed 3 February 2020.
Mark Hixon is Director of Music and Fine Arts at Manchaca United Methodist Church, Manchaca, Texas, a position he has held since 2001. A graduate of Texas Wesleyan University (BME, 1988) and Texas State (MM in Choral Conducting, 2015), he serves as an officer of the Rio Texas Conference Chapter of the Fellowship of United Methodists in Music and Worship Arts.