History of Hymns: “Together We Serve”
By Rev. Don McAvoy, Jr.
Together We Serve
by Daniel Charles Damon
The Faith We Sing No. 2175
Together we serve,
united by love,
inviting God’s world to the glorious feast.
We work and we pray
through sorrow and joy,
extending your love to the last and the least.*
*© 1998 Hope Publishing Co., Carol Stream, IL 60188.
Used by permission. All rights reserved.
In July of 2016, The Hymn Society in the United States and Canada bestowed its highest honor on the Rev. Daniel Charles Damon by naming him a Fellow. Dan has served as the pastor at First United Methodist Church of Point Richmond in Richmond, California, since 1995. Originally from Rapid City, South Dakota, Dan earned a Bachelor of Music Education degree at Greenville College, a Free Methodist institution in Greenville, Illinois, and he later earned a Master of Divinity from the Pacific School of Religion, Berkley, California. In addition to pastoring a congregation, Dan serves as the Associate Editor of Hymnody for Hope Publishing Company, and sometimes you might catch him playing jazz in the San Francisco Bay area or teaching courses at the Center for the Arts, Religion, and Education in Berkley.
As an internationally published author of hymn tunes and texts, Dan has combined his unique gifts as both poet and composer on over 50 published hymns. Furthermore, he has translations in Vietnamese, Portuguese, Japanese, and Shona, and in 2007 he worked with Patrick Matsikenyiri to edit Njalo, A Collection of 16 Hymns in the African Tradition. The Canterbury Dictionary of Hymnology features two articles by Dan—one on social gospel hymnody in the USA and the other on his greatest passion, jazz and congregational song.
“Together We Serve” was commissioned for the 1997 centennial celebration of First Presbyterian Church in San Anselmo, California. Carl Daw notes that there is no mention of an actual church building in this hymn—for the church “is not the building but the people.” Daw further notes that many of the ideas in this hymn will seem familiar because “they have been true of congregations from the very earliest of days, as Ephesians 4:11-16 shows. They are both a celebration and a reminder of what the church is called to be.”
The first stanza is a celebration of congregational life and mission. Dan uses two short phrases followed by a long phrase (55.11 D) to establish the meter and uses three syllable words (together, united, inviting, glorious, extending) to capture the flow of the waltzing tune. The second stanza is flooded with light imagery—“beacon of hope,” “lamp for the heart,” “light for the feet,” and “let love shine through.” The third stanza emphasizes Dan’s love of social justice and reminds us that the church welcomes all—wealthy and poor, busy and lonely, the scarred, and all those who need care. The final stanza is permeated again by togetherness as it enumerates for the church the “sources of energy”—grace, remembering Jesus, and service in Spirit and truth.
The hymn writing process is a new fascination for me. When I contacted Dan about the background information regarding this composition, I shared with him my affinity for this particular hymn and that I had even made an arrangement of it for my choirs. Dan was kind enough to send his sketches. Brian Wren told him “it takes ’many yellow sheets’ to arrive a good hymn text.” It was fascinating to see the four pages of ideas that were eventually crafted, revised and reorganized—always with help from other writers. Dan describes this as his most “churchy” hymn and mentions that it has become his most popular. Originally in three stanzas, the Presbyterians in San Anselmo asked him to “put a little Jesus in it” and Dan believes it became a “stronger hymn for that extra effort.” For those familiar with the Pacific coast, Dan began this text at a retreat center (Asilomar) in Pacific Grove while accompanying Camp Farthest Out.
Finally, Dan offers this advice for all hymn writers: “Be sure to put your entire message in stanza one. There may not be time to sing the whole hymn.” This was certainly the case when Dan was called on to lead this hymn for General Conference last May and it was cut short!
Since the text and the melody were composed for one another, be sure to let the music flow with a strong emphasis on the downbeat. If you are able to slow down the 3rd stanza and if you have a skilled accompanist, embrace Dan’s improvisational leanings and explore the text with some alternate harmonies. The final stanza lends itself to an added coda by repeating the final phrase, “remembering love is the strength of our song.”
Carl P. Daw, Jr., Glory to God: A Companion, Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2016, pp. 730-731.
Press Release – The Hymn Society in the United States and Canada: http://www.thehymnsociety.org/#!dan-damon---fellow/c1c9r
Hymnary.org — https://www.hymnary.org/person/Damon_DC?tab=tunes
Personal Correspondence with Dan Damon
About this week’s guest writer:
Rev. Don McAvoy, Jr. has been a full-time church musician and member of The Fellowship since 1988 and currently serves Christ United Methodist Church in College Station, Texas as Minister of Music & Worship.
This article is provided as a collaboration between Discipleship Ministries and The Fellowship of United Methodists in Music and Worship Arts. For more information about The Fellowship, visit UMFellowship.org/Hymns.