Home History of Hymns: "Jesus, We Want to Meet"

History of Hymns: "Jesus, We Want to Meet"

"Jesus, We Want to Meet"
A.T. Olajide Olude
Trans. by Biodun Adebesin; versification by Austin C. Lovelace
The United Methodist Hymnal, No. 661

“Jesus, we want to meet on this thy holy day;
We gather round thy throne on this thy holy day;
Thou are our heavenly Friend;
Hear our prayers as they ascend;
Look into our hearts and minds today, on this thy holy day.”*

A.T. Olajida Olude (1908-c. 1986) was a Nigerian Methodist minister educated at Wesley College, Ibadan, and at the Mindola training school. He was awarded the Order of Niger, and from the University of Nigeria, the Mus.D. degree.

A.M. Jones, a Roman Catholic musical missionary and hymnologist, described Olude as “profoundly upset by the way European-type hymns murdered his language.” According to Jones, Olude built up a collection of at least 77 hymns whose melodies followed precisely the speech tones of the Yoruba language “in every verse.”

While in a Mission School in the 1940s, Olude learned a text by Elizabeth Parsons, “Jesus, We Love to Meet,” dating from 1840. He based his Yoruba translation (“Jesu a fe pade,” 1949) on Parsons’ text and composed his own melody. Olude presented the song in Abeokuta, Nigeria, in 1949 at a service designed to popularize indigenous Yoruba music in Christian worship—a clear reaction against the exclusive use of colonial hymnody, according to hymnologist Emily Brink.

Austin C. Lovelace’s versification of Biodun Adebesin’s (b. 1928) translation is the version most commonly found (“Jesus, We Want to Meet”); this version appeared initially in the Methodist Hymnal (1966) and subsequently in Erik Routley’s 5th edition of Cantate Domino (1974), an ecumenical hymnal prepared for the World Council of Churches, as well as several hymnals since that time. It is the West African hymn most frequently found in Western hymnals. Some hymnals have paired Olude’s tune with the original English-language poem by Parsons.

Though a few hymnals have unfortunately attempted to harmonize this hymn, it is more successful in its original monophonic (melody only) form. In its original form, a soloist sings everything except the congregational response “on this thy holy day.” The call-response pattern makes it relatively easy for congregations to sing because their short sung response is the same virtually throughout the entire hymn.

The angular melody, best sung by a solo leader, reflects the Yoruba tonal language with its three tones—low, medium and high. The additive rhythms alternate between what feels like 3/4 and 6/8 to Westerners. The drum pattern provided in many hymnals as “optional” is a basic Yoruba beat found in many traditional songs and should be used if at all possible.

The poet takes us through a worship service—gathering “round thy throne” (stanza one); kneeling in “awe and fear” (stanza two); rejoicing in God’s blessing (stanza three); and consecrating ourselves (stanza four). The fourth stanza also has a line that asks God to “bless the sermon in this place”—the only hymn I know that offers this petition.

Imagine singing this in a Yoruba congregation in western Nigeria. The congregation would not need to hold hymnals and there would be no need for any piano or organ accompaniment. The people would respond to the leader’s solo with the phrase “on this thy holy day” by memory, freeing them to clap and dance. An ensemble of at least five drummers would provide additional energy. Each stanza invites increasingly complex cross-rhythms by the drummers and the congregation as they clap a variety of different patterns simultaneously. The choir might start the song with a processional—dancing down the aisle in a slow, rhythmic manner.

This lively hymn is not just for African Christians, but also for all Christians who wish to express their faith fully with their bodies, minds and hearts.

*Trans. by Biodun Adebesin and versification by Austin C. Lovelace © 1964 Abingdon Press (Administered by The Copyright Company, Nashville, TN) All rights reserved. Used by permission.

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