Home History of Hymns: "To a Maid Engaged to Joseph"

History of Hymns: "To a Maid Engaged to Joseph"

"To a Maid Engaged to Joseph"
Gracia Grindal
The United Methodist Hymnal, No. 215

Gracia Grindal

To a maid engaged to Joseph,
the angel Gabriel came.
“Fear not,” the angel told her,
“I come to bring good news,
good news I come to tell you,
good news, I say, good news.”*

“To a maid engaged to Joseph” by Gracia Grindal (b. 1943) is a paraphrase of Luke 1:26-38, the Common Lectionary reading for the Fourth Sunday of Advent in Year B. This Scripture passage tells the story of the Annunciation.

The music was composed in 1984 by Lutheran minister Rusty Edwards at the request of Ms. Grindal specifically for this text. Ms. Grindal’s collection Singing the Story (1983) is where the hymn first appeared.

The Annunciation took place when the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary and told her she was going to bear the Son of God. The Scripture passage portrays three distinct characters: the angel Gabriel, Mary and the narrator.

Ms. Grindal maintains and clearly distinguishes between each of these characters. Three soloists can introduce the hymn to the congregation and allow the congregation to distinguish each character and follow the story easier, or if sung as a congregational hymn, the effect can be achieved by using separate instruments or by singling out each character with a distinct sound on the organ.

“To a maid engaged to Joseph” makes use of several stylistic features commonly employed by Ms. Grindal. She experiments with the organization of her hymns and often repeats key words and phrases instead of using rhyme. Within this structure, some lines are given freedom to resist repetition. She consciously uses contemporary vocabulary while presenting a message that is straightforward and honest.

Ms. Grindal was born in North Dakota where she lived until age 12. She and her parents then moved to Salem, Oregon, where she finished high school. In 1965, Ms. Grindal graduated from Augsburg College and then spent a year in Oslo, Norway. She continued her education at the University of Arkansas where she received a M.F.A. in 1969.

During the summers of 1967 and 1969, Ms. Grindal worked for Augsburg Publishing House as an editorial assistant. She was a member of the English department and poet-in-residence from 1968-1984 at Luther College in Decorah, Iowa. She also earned a master’s degree from Luther Seminary in 1983 and joined the faculty in 1984 as a professor of pastoral theology, and is currently teaching there.

Ms. Grindal was a member of the hymn text committee of the Lutheran Book of Worship (1978). She has written articles on topics that include the history of Scandinavian-American Lutheran hymnody, the women of the Norwegian-American Lutheran churches and how to write hymns. Some of her books include We Are One in Christ, Sketches Against the Dark, Pulpit Rock, Lessons in Hymnwriting and A Treasury of Faith.

Ms. Grindal wrote and translated many hymns that appear in mainline hymnals including Episcopalian, Lutheran, Mennonite, Methodist and Presbyterian. Currently she is focusing on hymns to accompany the scriptures for Years A, B, and C in the Common Lectionary.

The process of writing hymns and educating others about this process is important to Ms. Grindal. She emphasizes the significance of paraphrasing and translating texts to help inexperienced writers learn their craft.

To Ms. Grindal, great hymn writing is more than being a great poet. She says that “[t]he best hymnody comes from those whose sense of the biblical story and language allows them to set their experience of daily life into the language of Scripture.”

Ms. Grindal’s feels that the hymn should not point to the poet, but become the voice of the community. Ms. Grindal has greatly impacted hymnody not only as a writer but also as a teacher.

*© 1984 Hope Publishing Co., Carol Stream, IL 60188; All rights reserved. Used by permission.

Ms. Mash is a student in the Master of Sacred Music program, Perkins School of Theology, SMU, and studies hymnology with Dr. Michael Hawn.