History of Hymns: “In the Midst of New Dimensions”
“In the Midst of New Dimensions,” by Julian B. Rush;
The Faith We Sing, No. 2238
“In the Midst of New Dimensions,” sometimes called “Ours the Journey,” and its associated tune, NEW DIMENSIONS, were written by Julian B. Rush (b. 1936). Rush was an ordained minister in the United Methodist Church, serving as Minister of Education at First United Methodist Church of Boulder, Colorado, in the late 1970s. According to his friend Donna Hamilton in her article “‘Ours the Journey’ Complete at Last,” published in The Hymn in the summer of 2010, this hymn was written for the 1985 Rocky Mountain Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church, the theme of which was diversity. According to Carl P. Daw, Jr., in Glory to God: A Companion, the congregation at First UMC, Boulder, was itself diverse, made up of people of many cultures. At the 1985 Rocky Mountain Annual Conference meeting, Rev. Roy Sano was commissioned as the first Japanese-American United Methodist bishop.
During his seventeen years of ministry with youth in churches in Texas and Colorado, and prior to his coming out as a gay man, Julian Rush wrote many songs and plays. Typically performed by the youth, these plays embodied the angst he felt in his search to find his own identity, but without blatantly expressing these feelings. However, the congregations for whom these plays were written and performed did not get the underlying message. When he separated from his wife, acknowledged his homosexuality, and informed the church leaders at his current appointment, he was staunchly opposed by many, even those who had been avid supporters of his ministry. Leadership of the Boulder church vehemently opposed him staying there, and there was no other appointment available for him at the time. In order to bring in an income during this tumultuous time, he began working at Montgomery Ward, but missed being able to use his gifts in church ministry. Eventually, an unpaid position was created for him at St. Paul’s United Methodist Church in Denver. This church was one of the first United Methodist Churches to declare itself a Reconciling Congregation, the UMC term for a church “open and affirming” of the LGBTQ community. Years later, in 1997, First United Methodist of Boulder also began to identify as Reconciling.
According to Daw, the hymn was first published in Chalice Hymnal in 1995. It has since been included in The New Century Hymnal (1996), The Faith We Sing (2000), Sing the Faith (2003), and Glory to God: the Presbyterian Hymnal (2013). The five stanzas are identical in all but the first publication, which omitted two of the five, and added another not found elsewhere. The hymn is also published in a book of worship resources titled Shaping Sanctuary: Proclaiming God’s Grace in an Inclusive Church, which included six stanzas.
In her 2010 article about the hymn, Donna Hamilton compiles seven stanzas in the order specified by Rush. The tune was presented as unison with accompaniment in Chalice Hymnal, but was harmonized in four parts for the subsequent publications.
As Hamilton notes, these are seven stanzas of rich and dense text. Rush uses many allusions to Scripture and vivid imagery to describe the weaknesses of humanity and the power of God. He touches on many facets of the human condition: “starving people” (2.1), “warring factions” (2.2), “world divided” (3.1), “self-seeking” (3.2). In other portions of the text, he names the healthier characteristics of humans. These include “global village” (3.3), “all persuasions” (4.2), and “each a gift” (4.3). The two stanzas omitted in The Faith We Sing contain perhaps more controversial ideas. In them, Rush describes the “rainbow coalition” to include black, Asian, Indian, Hispanic, and white, who are “all of value in [God’s] sight.” He also includes “gays and lesbians together fighting to be realized.” Whether listed specifically in the stanzas or not, the refrain names everyone together as “we your people” and declares that unity “now and evermore.”
The entirety of the text can be viewed as a prayer. Some stanzas end with questions addressed to God, and some conclude with statements of the necessity to have “wider dreams” (3.4). The refrain answers the stanzas’ prayers by naming the covenant promises of God to humanity. “God of rainbow” refers to God’s promise to Noah following the great flood found in Genesis 9. The Israelites were assured of God’s constant presence through a “fiery pillar,” recorded in Genesis 13. Exodus 19:4 and Deuteronomy 32:11-12 show God as an eagle caring for God’s people. All humans are God’s people, and God is always faithful, present, and caring for those people.
While the text is quite complex and thought-provoking, the music is contrasting in its simplicity. With a limited vocal range and AA’BB’ form, the tune is easy for any congregation to learn.
“In the Midst of New Dimensions” is just as relevant today as it was at its creation, now thirty-three years ago. The first stanza begins “In the midst of new dimensions, in the face of changing ways,” which certainly describes the present world. The prayers of many Christians include the sentiments of Rush’s text, and God still guides all of God’s people. As the subtitle of Shaping Sanctuary declares, this is truly a hymn for inclusive worship.
For further reading:
Bennett, Doug. Riverview Friend. https://riverviewfriend.wordpress.com/2013/05/12/a-new-hymn-in-the-midst-of-new-dimensions.
Bryant, Linda K. “In the Midst of New Dimensions.” Chalice Hymnal: Worship Leader's Companion. St. Louis, MO: Chalice Press, 1998. No. 458.
Daw, Carl P. Jr. “In the Midst of New Dimensions.” Glory to God: A Companion. Louisville, KY: Westminster/John Knox Press, 2013. No. 315.
Forman, Kristen L., ed. “In the Midst of New Dimensions.” The New Century Hymnal Companion: A Guide to the Hymns. Cleveland, OH: The Pilgrim Press, 1998. No. 391.
Hamilton, Donna. “'Ours the Journey' Complete at Last.” The Hymn 61, no. 3 (Summer 2010): 41-43.
“In the Midst of New Dimensions.” Hymnary.org, https://hymnary.org/text/in_the_midst_of_new_dimensions.
Trillin, Calvin. “Let Me Find a Place.” The New Yorker, Jan. 25, 1982. 80-88.
Turney, Kelly, ed. Shaping Sanctuary: Proclaiming God's Grace in an Inclusive Church. Chicago, IL: Reconciling Congregation Program, 2000.
About this week’s writer:
Kelly Tennille Grooms holds a Doctor of Ministry degree from Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond and a master’s degree and bachelor’s degree in organ performance from Indiana University, Bloomington, and Mars Hill College, respectively. She and her husband own and operate Grooms & Payne, Ltd. Pipe Organ Builders. She is an active recitalist and hymn festival leader.
This article is provided as a collaboration between Discipleship Ministries and The Hymn Society in the U.S. and Canada. For more information about The Hymn Society, visit thehymnsociety.org.