Home Worship Planning History of Hymns History of Hymns: "Take This Moment, Sign, and Space"

History of Hymns: "Take This Moment, Sign, and Space"

By C. Michael Hawn

"Take This Moment, Sign, and Space"
by John L. Bell
Worship & Song, No. 3118

John L. Bell

Take this moment, sign and space;
take my friends around;
here among us make the place
where your love is found.*

“Take this moment” is reminiscent of Frances R. Havergal’s “Take my life” (1874):

Take my life, and let it be
consecrated, Lord, to Thee.
Take my moments and my days;
let them flow in ceaseless praise.
Take my hands, and let them move
at the impulse of Thy love.
Take my feet, and let them be
swift and beautiful for Thee.

Like Havergal’s well-known hymn, “Take this moment” is also a hymn of consecration, but with some critical differences. Havergal’s hymn is one of individual piety and personal devotion. Havergal was a child of her time. Personal devotional hymns were very common on both sides of the Atlantic in the nineteenth century, especially among many women hymn writers, who, because of gender, were largely excluded from any public role in the church. John Bell’s hymn certainly has an element of individual consecration to Christ, but also includes relationships with others.

Notice in stanza one that Bell includes the first person plural – “us” – and relationships with “friends around.” Havergal’s hymn speaks exclusively in the first person singular, “I” and “me.” While God’s love may be experienced individually, it is within the Christian community that the love of God is manifest more completely:

here among us make the place
where your love is found.

The second stanza maintains relationships with others as the writer asks to

take the time to mend
who I am and what I’ve been,
all I’ve failed to tend.

Stanza three implies relationships as the writer’s petitions to

let your forgiveness touch
all I can’t forget.

At the same time, Bell uses the language and insights of the later twentieth century, such as found in stanza four:

Take the little child in me,
scared of growing old. . .

This stanza concludes with an allusion to Imago Dei, the theological concept that we are made in God’s image or, as Bell says, “made in Christ’s own mold.”

The final stanza is most similar to Havergal’s hymn of commitment, but with a twist:

Take my talents, take my skills,
take what’s yet to be;
let my life be yours, and yet,
let it still be me.

The last line, while reflecting a deep level of allegiance to Christ, does not assume that all Christ followers are stamped in the same mold. The Creator of a universe of diversity explores the unique gifts that each of us brings to the possibilities and problems of living in this world together.

John Bell provides the modest origin of the hymn in a note to this writer: “. . . it was never written for publication, but for 18 young people to sing in a damp council house when two of their number who had been volunteers in a very poor housing area of Glasgow were being ‘sent out’ after working and engaging for two years with the local community.” In characteristic fashion, the Rev. Bell adds, “It always strikes me as odd when people presume that a song which is widely used must have won a competition! I don't think the psalmists went in for that, or is our present 150 the crème de la crème?”

The hymn first appeared in a collection from the Iona Community entitled Love from Below: The Seasons of Life, The Call to Care, and the Celebrating Community (1989). Notes with the song indicate that it may be “used at times of commitment and re-commitment and also at the celebration of Holy Communion or marriage.”

John Bell (b. 1949) grew up in Kilmarnock, a rural town south of Glasgow. He received degrees in music, English and theology from the University in Glasgow. Upon graduation from Trinity College in 1974, he was ordained in the Church of Scotland and left for Amsterdam to work with English-speaking churches for two years. Rather than serve in more traditional parish work, he returned to Glasgow to do youth work for a presbytery of the Church of Scotland in Glasgow. After organizing youth ministry for the presbytery for approximately five years, John became a Member of the Iona Community in 1980. He was committed to the Community not because it was a place of liturgical innovation, but because it was, as he notes, “a place where the potentials of the socially marginalized as well as the socially successful would be attested.”

Out of this commitment he developed a core of volunteers that planned end-of-the-month youth workshops, bringing together young people for fellowship, reflection and worship. This led to the formation of the Wild Goose Worship Group, a group of people who met almost weekly for many years to plan liturgies and compose songs, and the Wild Goose Resource Group, four people on the staff of the Community who published a wide variety of resources for worship. Today, John Bell continues to travel extensively around the world leading conferences and meeting with Christians as a source of spiritual encouragement and liturgical creativity. Though his primary vocation is that of preacher and teacher, he spends over half his time working in the areas of music and liturgy, both at conferences and in small parishes, work that takes him frequently into Eastern Europe, Asia, Africa and Australia. His many resources may be found at www.giamusic.com. Information on the Iona Community may be found at www.iona.org.uk.

* © 1989 Wild Goose Resource Group, The Iona Community, admin. by GIA Publications, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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