Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Come Come Ye Saints

I was attending a Eagle Scout Court of Honor at a local Church of Christ in Chapel Hill, Tennessee last week. While I was waiting for things to get started, I picked up the hymal and began thumbing through it. I was curious because a friend of mine told me that if I ever got the chance to hear a Church of Christ congregation sing, that I should do so. The members of the Church of Christ, once known as Campbellites, learn to sing from a young age. Many learn to sing a cappella as some denominations do not allow accompaniment during services; a point of contention that led to at least one schism. As a result of this training they develop wonderful singing talents. I wasn't going to hear any singing that night but I was curious about the hymnal itself.

I opened it up and saw there were 999 hymns, far more than the 341 in ours, almost three times in fact. I wondered if I might recognize some of the hymns. My daughter sitting next to me followed suit and picked up a hymn book herself and started looking as well. In short order she found one: "Come Come Ye Saints"

What!? I expected to find "Go Tell it on a Mountain" or perhaps "Come Thou Fount". Not an LDS hymn.

The hymn was written in 1846 by William Clayton as his pioneer company crossed Iowa. But as I soon leanred it was latter picked up and included in other church hymn books; not just the Church of Christ - with altered verses- but also in a 1985 edition of the Seventh Day Adventist hymnal, and the Mennonite hymnal as well (h.t to Coffinberry)

I found it fascinating the hymn has found such a wide audience considering it's origin. I wondered if there are any other hymns that have an specific LDS origin that have spread beyond those limits.


Christopher said...

Fascinating find, Bruce. Were all of the verses included? Were all of the lyrics original?

Re: other LDS hymns used by other Christian churches, the one that comes immediately to mind is the Christmas song, "Far, Far Awar on Judea's Plains."

Coffinberry said...

Bruce, I posted this at Keepa yesterday, but after your comment, so you may not have seen it:

"It also appears in the Mennonite hymnal. It was selected for inclusion by a former pastor of a Mennonite congregation along the Mormon Trail in Lee County, Iowa. [added today, since I'm at home... it appears at # 312. My copy is the 1985 printing of the 1969 hymnal.]

Also, if you visit the museum near Newton, Kansas commemorating the rescue of starving Mennonite immigrants from Russia in 1874-75 (the Mennonite version of the rescue of the Martin-Willie Company), the hymn is used as the theme of the interpretive video. (Or at least that was the case in 2003 when I visited.)"

What is not commonly known is the intertwined historical events affecting the earliest history of the now Mennonite USA church and the LDS Church. Mennonite migration from Germany (etc.) happened in successive waves and created clustered communities. Many people know of the settlements around Lancaster, Pennsylvania, which began in the mid- to late-1700s. Another wave happened in the 1830s-1840s, and three major settlements were taken up at that time, the first in Ohio, the second in Iowa, and the third in Illinois.

The Iowa settlement commenced about 1839, in Lee County (the county on the opposite bank of the Mississippi River from Nauvoo). By 1844 there were enough folk in the settlement that the community petitioned other Mennonites in Ohio and in Germany to send a pastor. The pastor arrived in 1845 and was preparing to preach his first service at Pentecost. The night before the long anticipated church service, a marauding band of Mormons swept through the town and killed the pastor.

This story was passed down for years among the sorrowing congregants there. Of course, a new pastor was eventually sent for; he recorded the story in his history of their congregation (I am descended from this pastor and his wife who was a member of the congregation at the time the first pastor was killed). By the 1860s, this same pastor was influential in gathering representatives from Mennonite congregations across the US to come to Lee County Iowa, where they formed the General Conference Mennonite Church (which recently became the Mennonite USA church).

Sometimes I wonder what would have happened if the Pastor had not been killed (at the hands of Mormons or whomever), whether the shape of the Mennonite church would have been different. (Let alone my own ancestral history.) Because I know this history, it was profoundly meaningful to me to discover that the hymn Come Come Ye Saints had been adopted by their church, and more especially knowing that the head of the hymn selection committee had been a later pastor in that same congregation and had to know full well (as he was also a historian) the history of how the chaos surrounding events at Nauvoo had affected this congregation's beginning.

In their hymnal, there are three verses; they were altered by Joseph F. Green in 1960 as follows:

Come, come, ye saints, no toil or labor fear;
But with joy wend your way.
Though hard to you the journey may appear,
Grace shall be as your day.
We have a living Lord to guide,
And we can trust Him to provide.
To this, and joy your hearts will swell:
All is well! All is well!

The world of care is with us every day;
Let it no this obscure:
Here we can serve the Master on the way,
And in HIm be secure.
Gird up your loins; fresh courage take;
Our God will never us forsake;
And so our song no fear can quell;
All is well! All is well!

We'll find the rest which God for us prepared,
When at last He will call;
Where none will come to hurt or make afraid,
He will reign over all.
We will make the air with music ring,
Shout praise to God our Lord and King;
O how we'll make the chorus swell:
All is well! All is well!

Coffinberry said...

Ooops... yes, I see the hat tip... glad you saw it (never mind)...


BruceCrow said...

Y'all make me wish I had copied down the lyrics while I was sitting there. They are different. Many of the very specific LDS references were removed. And there were enough of them that I briefly thought it wasn't even the same hymn. Perhaps a third are changed.

Wow, Coffinberry. I had no idea. I have run across various stories of Mormon depredations but this one struck me.

Ardis E. Parshall said...

That sounds like a sort of Twilight Zone experience -- both to see the hymn in an unexpected place and, to read, Coffinberry's transcription of the altered words, to find the hymn not so familiar after all. Cool all the way around.

I wonder how many people who sing this in other churches have any idea of its origin?

Coffinberry said...


When I first encountered in a Mennonite encyclopedia in the late 1990s the story of the death of the first pastor, I found myself wrestling with it. Though it brought about the circumstances of my own ancestors meeting and marrying, my heart mourned for that senseless death, especially in light of the centrality of non-violence to the Mennonite faith. I could not imagine any scenario that would justify it. I felt embarrassed that the religion my father embraced (baptized in the Mississippi River at Nauvoo, no less) and in which I had been raised and that I accepted with my whole heart, would be accused of doing such a heinous horrible thing.

Naturally, I wanted to know the source of the encyclopedia's entry. I eventually found it when on a vacation to a library (historians do that kind of thing!) in Kansas. The source was the history written by my ancestor, in German, shortly after arriving in the settlement in the early 1850s. To this point, I have been unsuccessful at learning anything more about the events. Sometimes, I like to imagine that it was mobbers who did it and blamed the Mormons, or folks who were frustrated that the Mennonites wouldn't join with them in harassing the Mormons; but maybe it was actual believing practicing Mormons who did it for some reason unfathomable to me. I do not know.

BruceCrow said...

Ardis, I can't help but wonder how often the hymn is sung in other congregations. There are plenty of hynms we don't sing in ours.

Coffinberry said...


Believe me, it was very surreal when I sat down in that museum to watch that video, only to hear Come Come Ye Saints being sung.

It made sense to me that they would use it there, though, because when the specifics of the trail experience are removed, the purpose of the song remains: to give courage to those who are struggling with impossible circumstances to achieve a distant but religiously fraught goal. If I recall correctly, the fourth verse, about dying before the journey was through, was used as part of the interpretive video; this also made sense to me because that's exactly what happened to many of the 1874-75 immigrants. They died along the way in hopes that their children would come to a place where they could worship as they believed. I am pretty sure that those who chose the song for the interpretive video were aware of the song's origins.

BruceCrow said...

I have thought the very same things you did. I would only add that as a historian, amateur though I may be, I don't have the luxury of dismissing it out of hand. We don't know what happened, but we want to know.

Coffinberry said...

Bruce, that's why I must say thanks for letting me express this in the comments of your blog post. Maybe someday, someone who has access to better sources than I, might come across an answer that I cannot find. (Because, yes, I want to know.)

BruceCrow said...

I've long since realized that just because someone says it, doesn't make it true. Even what we think of as primary sources are frequently wrong and tell us more about their prejudices than about what really happened.But then you already know all this.

Amy said...

A few years ago I stepped into Care and Share, the Mennonite equivalent of Deseret Industries, and they were playing Come, Come Ye Saints as background music -- all four verses, just as they came from the pen of William Clayton.

It is a very appropriate hymn for them, given their history of persecution (even some long-ago practice of polygamy!) and being driven from their homes in Europe and forced to flee west to America.

But I doubt a nearby Mennonite congregation (the largest of many Mennonite congregations in our area) sings Come, Come Ye Saints, even though it's in one of their two hymnals since they use a more modern hymn style. But some of the other local congregations including the Schwenckfelders have a more traditional style and may sing some of these "old fashioned" hymns. For an example you can see this video:

As far as the story of the murder of the Mennonite pastor, like Coffinberry said it's hard to think that it could be true and not a misstatement of some sort.

BruceCrow said...

I was not aware of much Mennonite history before this post. Thanks.