History of Hymns: Hymn sings praises of “new beginnings”

by C. Michael Hawn

“This is a Day of New Beginnings”
Brian Wren
UM Hymnal, No. 383

This is a day of new beginnings,
time to remember and move on,
time to believe what love is bringing,
laying to rest the pain that’s gone. *

Brian Arthur Wren (b. 1936) provides an account of the composition of this text in notes provided in one of the collection of his texts, Faith Looking Forward (1983). The hymn was “written for a New Year’s Day service [1978] at Holy Family Church, Blackbird Leys, Oxford. In itself, the new year is an arbitrary convention, its “newness” a mere mark on the calendar. The recurrent awakening of life in nature is not a strong enough foundation for hope of real change. Yet by faith in the really new events of the Christian story, a day, or a month, or an hour can become charged with promise, and be a springboard to a changed life.”

The hymn is appropriate for any time that the church, the congregation, or an individual discerns the need to make a fresh start in faith. Stanza one appeals to us to “lay . . . to rest the pain that’s gone.” Stanza two reminds us that the life and death of Christ made it possible for all to have a new beginning as “faith and hope are born again.

Stanza three draws upon 2 Corinthians 5:16-17: “So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” (NIV) In the spirit of this passage, Dr. Wren asks us to . . . leave behind.

our disappointment, guilt, and grieving,
seeking new paths, and sure to find.

Brian Wren

The closing stanza is offered in two forms. The first is a general affirmation of hope that begins with “Christ is alive and goes before us.…” The second is offered if the hymn is sung in the context of Holy Communion: “In faith we gather round the table….”

United Methodists first encountered the hymn in Hymnal Supplement II (1984). The editors, in preparation for this publication, requested that the author change the original first line from an interrogative form—“Is this a day of new beginnings?”—to the declarative statement that now begins the hymn. According to UM Hymnal editor, the Rev. Carlton Young, the poet also unified the text on a single theme by eliminating some of the original hymn and making a few other subtle changes.

As one of the leading hymnwriters of our time, Dr. Wren has contributed more hymns to the UM Hymnal (1989) than any other hymnwriter currently living. This text is supported by a melody composed by Dr. Young (b. 1926), one of the leading tune writers of this day.

Dr. Young, a composer of anthems, cantatas and hymn tunes, is unusually versatile in his eclectic choice of musical styles. He describes the musical origins of this tune Beginnings written for this text as well as explicit instructions for how it is to be sung: “The tune’s parallel and altered harmonies are in the style of a 1930s warm, Broadway ballad. It was written in 1983 for Dr. Wren’s original text in which the first two stanzas are questions. To accommodate the questions as well as the answers, the composer ended all stanzas except the last on a dominant V [most hymn tunes end on the tonic or home chord]. The tune should not be sung any faster than the quarter note = 110. At the last ending the singers may choose to sing any note in the Eb chord, holding it indefinitely without accompaniment.”

Thus the hymn of “new beginnings” is set to a fresh and unexpected tune that swings with the energy of a Broadway ballad.

© 1983, 1987 Hope Publishing Co. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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

Categories: History of Hymns

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