Home Worship Planning History of Hymns History of Hymns: 'God the Spirit, Guide and Guardian'

History of Hymns: 'God the Spirit, Guide and Guardian'


Carl daw1
Carl P. Daw, Jr.

“God the Spirit, Guide and Guardian”
by Carl P. Daw, Jr.
The United Methodist Hymnal, 648

God the Spirit, guide and guardian,
wind-sped flame and hovering dove,
breath of life and voice of prophets,
sign of blessing, power and love:
give to those who lead your people
fresh anointing of your grace;
send them forth as bold apostles
to your church in every place.*

* Words © 1987 Hope Publishing Company, Carol Stream, IL 60188. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

“God the Spirit, Guide and Guardian,” written by Episcopal priest Carl P. Daw Jr. (b. 1944), was first published in The United Methodist Hymnal (1989). Now we can find this text transcending denominational lines in eleven different hymnals.

Carl P. Daw Jr. committed “God the Spirit, Guide and Guardian” to paper in 1987 for the consecration of Jefferey Rowthorn (b. 1934) as bishop suffragan of the diocese of Connecticut in the Episcopal Church in the United States. Rowthorn is himself a Welsh Episcopalian hymnwriter who helped establish the Institute of Sacred Music at Yale University (Daw, 2016, p. 305).

Daw was born a Baptist pastor’s son in Louisville, Kentucky. He received degrees from Rice University (B.A., 1966), the University of Virginia (M.A., Ph.D., 1970), and University of the South, Sewanee (M.Div., 1981). Before entering seminary, Daw taught for eight years in the English Department of the College of William and Mary, after which he served congregations in Virginia, Connecticut, and Pennsylvania. Daw served on the Text Committee for the Episcopal Hymnal 1982 (1985) as well as the Editorial Advisory Committee for the Hymnal 1982 Companion (1990). This work inspired him to start writing and translating hymn texts. From 1996 to 2009, he was the Executive Director of The Hymn Society in the United States and Canada and, until 2019, Curator of the Hymnological Collections and Adjunct Professor of Hymnology at Boston University School of Theology.

In addition to publishing several collections of hymn texts with Hope Publishing Company, Daw has contributed to Liturgical Music for the Revised Common Lectionary, Years A, B, C (2007–2009). Recently, he prepared Prayer Rising into Song: Fifty New and Revised Hymns (2016) and authored Glory to God: A Companion (2016) for the Presbyterian Church (USA). Currently, Daw has embarked upon a multi-volume project to provide metrical paraphrases of all 150 psalms. The first volume Praise, Lament, and Prayer: A Psalter for Singing (2018) covers the first 50 psalms. He was elected Fellow of the Hymn Society (2007) and Fellow of the Royal School of Church Music (2011), and he received honorary Doctor of Divinity degrees from Virginia Theological Seminary (2009) and the University of the South (2012).

“God the Spirit, Guide and Guardian” ( D meter) sparkles as a hymn rich in theology, sincerity, and purpose. The hymn is, according to Daw, “an attempt to paraphrase the Greek term Paraklëtos (John14:26),” drawing inspiration from the traditional language of ordination rites, including classical ordination hymns like Veni creator spiritus and Veni sancte spiritus. Each successive invocation addresses God in a new role—as Spirit, Savior, Creator, and finally Triune God. The first stanza cited above begins with the third person of the Trinity and draws upon images of Christian Pentecost (Acts 2:1-4), including “wind-sped flame” and “hovering dove” (Daw, 2016, p. 305). The second stanza focuses on the second person of the Trinity with the central image of the Good Shepherd (John 10:11-16). This image serves as a model for “all pastors” (the original was “all bishops”). The third stanza explores broader metaphors for God in the spirit of gender-free language. This includes “Life-bestower,” drawn from the early Greek evening hymn, Phos Hilaron. “Womb of mercy” has a deeper meaning, drawn from the Hebrew and Aramaic term for “mercy,” which is derived from the word for “womb” (Daw, 2016, p. 305). The fourth stanza ponders how the nature of God and God’s expansive love is “deeper than our minds can fathom.”

Each of the four stanzas begins with an invocation to God and transitions midway through to a petition. The petitions that follow each invocation pray for leaders of the church to be filled with grace, compassion, and attentiveness. The concluding phrases petition that, in our varied callings, “our ministries uniting may give glory to [God’s] name.” This hymn of consecration empowers us to seek God in all of creation, embrace our differences, and be apostles to the world.

The United Methodist Hymnal pairs Daw’s text with the Welsh tune HYFRYDOL. Indeed, almost fifty percent of other hymnals do likewise. HYFRYDOL, meaning “cheerful” or “melodious,” is an incredibly pervasive, popular hymn tune, found in more than 400 hymnals. Typically, in F or G Major, this tune is commonly associated with texts like “Alleluia, Sing to Jesus” by William Chatterton Dix and Charles Wesley’s hymns “Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus,” and “Love Divine, All Loves Excelling.”

Amateur Welsh musician Roland Huw Pritchard (1811-1887) wrote the tune in 1830 at the youthful age of twenty. Pritchard was a fairly well-known precentor (as in, cantor) in Graienyn who also worked in the textile industry for most of his life. The tune was first published in Pritchard’s 1844 collection of music for children, Cyfaill y Cantorion (“The Singers’ Friend”), and later harmonized by Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958) for the English Hymnal (Luff, Canterbury Dictionary, n.p.). Though artful twists and turns disguise the fact, the tune consists of only the first five notes of a major scale, with only one exception in the last phrase. Perhaps Pritchard had the untrained, yet agile, voices of small children in mind as he composed this tune. Other tunes set to this text include BETHANY, HYMN TO JOY, CHURCH UNITED, BLAENWERN, or SHALLOWFORD.

In many ways, “God the Spirit, Guide and Guardian” is a companion hymn to Jeffery Rowthorn’s majestic “Lord, You Give the Great Commission,” also written in 1978 (The UM Hymnal, 584). This hymn is often used in the context of commissioning candidates for ministry, exploring the gifts of Spirit to “empower us for the work of ministry.”


Carl P. Daw, Jr., Glory to God: A Companion (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2016).

“Carl P. Daw Retires as Executive Director of The Hymn Society,” Episcopal News Service (July 28, 2009), https://episcopalchurch.org/library/article/carl-p-daw-retires-executive-director-hymn-society. Accessed March 21, 2002.

“Carl P. Daw, Jr.,” Boston University, http://www.bu.edu/sth/profile/41019. Accessed March 21, 2002.

Alan Luff, “Rowland Huw Prichard,” The Canterbury Dictionary of Hymnology. Canterbury Press, http://www.hymnology.co.uk/r/rowland-huw-prichard. Accessed March 21, 2020.

Hannah Cruse is an organist, oboist, composer, and writer with a Master of Sacred Music (2019) from Southern Methodist University. She is the founder of The Church Musician’s Assistant, an online resource providing flexible sheet music, educational courses, and coaching for church music-makers. She currently resides in the woods of Tennessee with her partner, Matt, and dog, Bub.

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