Home History of Hymns: "Draw Us in the Spirit's Tether"

History of Hymns: "Draw Us in the Spirit's Tether"

"Draw Us in the Spirit’s Tether"
Percy Dearmer
The UM Hymnal, No. 632

Percy Dearmer

Draw us in the Spirit’s tether,
for when humbly in thy name,
two or three are met together,
thou art in the midst of them.
Alleluia! Alleluia!
Touch we now thy garment’s hem.*

The journey that a hymn must make before it appears in the pages of a hymnal is sometimes as interesting as the hymn itself. Such is the case for this text by Percy Dearmer (1867-1936).

The Rev. Carlton Young, editor of the United Methodist Hymnal, tells us Dearmer was “one of the most influential leaders in twentieth-century English hymnody.” He was born in Kilburn, Middlesex, England, and died at London’s Westminster Abbey.

Educated at Westminster School and Christ Church, Oxford, Dearmer served as a British Red Cross chaplain in Serbia during World War I. After the war he became a professor of ecclesiastical art at King’s College, London, and later served as canon of Westminster.

He distinguished himself in the field of hymnology as the editor, with composer Ralph Vaughan Williams, of The English Hymnal (1906). He also co-edited Songs of Praise (1925), The Oxford Book of Carols (1928) and Songs of Praise Enlarged (1931) with Vaughan Williams and musician Martin Shaw. Editions of each of these works can still be found today in English churches.

Dr. Young describes the unusual circumstances behind the composition of this hymn:

“In 1874 George H. Bourn privately published Seven Post-Communion Hymns for use in the chapel at St. Edmund’s College, Salisbury. One of the hymns, ‘Lord, Enthroned in Heavenly Splendor,’ was included in Supplement to Hymns Ancient and Modern (1889), and late in The English Hymnal (1906), set to the powerful Welsh tune ‘Bryn Calfaria’ (sadly missing from our hymnal).

“Percy Dearmer thought this popular tune lacked the desired quiet devotional qualities for a post-Communion hymn. Consequently, he composed three new stanzas and set them to an ancient melody. . . . Apparently, for reasons related to his task as editor, Dearmer printed his text under the nom de plume ‘B.R.,’ curiously calling it part 2 of Bourn’s hymn, now reduced to stanzas 1 and 2, and printed them side by side in Songs of Praise Enlarged (1931), number 274.”

Before the hymn text was published in the U.S. in Hymnbook for Christian Worship (1970), it gained popularity because of Harold Friedell’s 1957 anthem setting. Friedell (1905-1958) was a professor of theory and composition at the School of Sacred Music, Union Theological Seminary, New York City.

Jet E. Turner, a master of sacred music graduate at Union, arranged a portion of the music of the anthem as a hymn for the United Methodist Hymnal, and named the tune UNION SEMINARY.

The text beautifully links the singer with the disciples who gathered with Christ at the table (Matthew 18:20). We are joined by a “tether”—an archaic word but an appropriate image of the work of the Holy Spirit that links Christians of every time and place at the table.

In the final stanza, Dearmer makes a beautiful and powerful statement that “All our meals and all our living make as sacraments of thee.” Through “caring, helping, giving, we may true disciples be.”

Thus, the hymn begins in the upper room with the disciples and comes full circle as we join them around the table and are nourished to serve others in the world.

* © 1957, 1985, Oxford University Press, The H.W. Gray Co. Used by permission.

Dr. Hawn is professor of sacred music at Perkins School of Theology, SMU.

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