Article

History of Hymns: “Our Parent, by Whose Name”

by C. Michael Hawn

"Our Parent, by Whose Name"
by F. Bland Tucker
The United Methodist Hymnal, No. 447

F. Bland Tucker

Our Parent, by whose name
all parenthood is known,
who in your love proclaim
each family your own:
direct all parents, guarding well,
with constant love as sentinel,
the homes in which your people dwell.*

Francis Bland Tucker (1895-1984), the son of an Episcopal bishop, was a native Virginian. He received his education at the University of Virginia (B.A., 1914) and Virginia Theological Seminary (B.D., 1920; D.D., 1942), serving in the Medical Corps in World War I between university and seminary education. Ordained a deacon in 1918 and a priest in 1920, Bland Tucker (as he was known) served parishes in Virginia (1920-1925), Washington, D.C. (1925-1945), and Christ Church in Savannah, Georgia (1945-1967), where the missionary John Wesley was a priest.

Interestingly, he decided not to follow in his father’s footsteps when elected bishop in 1945. He declined the position, stating that his ministry in Savannah was not finished. The congregation in Savannah thought so highly of him that they named him rector-emeritus and provided him with a home as a retirement gift.

Having a keen interest in hymnody, Tucker is the only person to have served on two Episcopal hymnal committees in the twentieth century. He was a member of the Joint Commission that produced the Protestant Episcopal Hymnal 1940 and was a language consultant to this hymnal’s successor, The Hymnal 1982. In addition to original hymns, Tucker also contributed several translations of second- and third-century Greek hymns to the corpus of hymnody. For his extensive contributions to hymnody, he was made a Fellow of The Hymn Society in America (now, the United States and Canada) in 1980.

"Our Parent, by whose name" was written in 1939 for the Episcopal Hymnal 1940. Originally, "Our Father, by whose name," Tucker was aware of the changes in language over the decades between the two Episcopal hymnals and supported adaptations of his hymns in later publications. For this hymn on the Christian family, Tucker is to have said that he had his own "father and mother in mind as fulfilling those things for which the hymn prays."

Each of the three stanzas addresses one of the persons of the Trinity. The symmetry of the stanzas is striking. The first half of each stanza describes attributes of God as "Parent" (stanza one), Jesus (stanza two), "Blest Spirit" (stanza three). The second half of each stanza offers a petition in light of the attribute offered earlier. This pattern would be deeply engrained in Tucker, who, as a priest, prayed daily in the form of a collect, a classical prayer structure that begins by addressing God or Christ, followed by a descriptive attribute or characteristic of the referenced person of the Trinity. Only then would a collect make a request or petition.

Tucker does not succumb to the moralizing that characterizes many children's hymns. Between his flight into Egypt as an infant and his appearance in the temple, we know only what Luke 2:52 tells us: "And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man." In the spirit of this verse, stanza two makes no special claims about Jesus' childhood.

Further evidence of the author’s love of the Episcopal tradition may be found in stanza three, which paraphrases the service of matrimony from the United States Book of Common Prayer (BCP). The BCP states, "and so live together . . . that their home may be a haven of blessing and peace." The hymn concludes, "that every home . . . may be the dwelling place of peace."

The hymn was originally written in 66.66.88 meter, but was altered at the request of the Hymnal 1940 Committee to 66.66.888 meter to fit the beautiful Welsh tune RHOSYMEDRE, a parish in northeastern Wales where the composer John David Edwards (1806-1885) served as vicar. Famous English composer Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958) composed an organ prelude on this tune, one of Three Preludes Founded on Welsh Hymn Tunes (1920). While generally a popular setting of the tune, it is a staple of the Anglican and Episcopal organ repertoire, and undoubtedly the Committee wanted to use the tune in their hymnal. The tune’s stepwise movement adds a dignity to the text.

Accolades on Tucker’s contributions are many. During the Episcopal Church’s 1982 Convention, a testimonial was offered, part of which follows: "His distinguished career in the parish ministry would have been enough for most people, but Bland Tucker, through his hymns, has served as a pastor to his national Church and to Christians throughout the world . . .." Tucker received high praise from the late British hymnologist Erik Routley who said, "There is no better twentieth-century writing in either of our countries than is to be found in Tucker." Fellow Episcopal hymn writer Russell E. Schulz offered this tribute to Tucker in The Hymn, the journal of The Hymn Society in the United States and Canada, at the time of his death: "He considered himself to be in many ways an heir of John Wesley who had preceded him by 200 years as rector of Christ Church, Savannah. Like Wesley, he came to realize that the whole world was his parish and that hymn writing was part of his ministry." The Rev. Carlton Young adds, "John Wesley was never instituted as rector, but the principal sentiment is certainly true."

 

 

 

* © 1940, 1943, renewed 1971, The Church Pension Fund. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

C. Michael Hawn is University Distinguished Professor of Church Music, Perkins School of Theology, SMU.

Categories: History of Hymns