It was January, cold and even snowy in Virginia.
The phone call was from the Rector, Dr. Bailey. They needed help with the music on a Sunday and were going down the American Guild of Organists list of possible substitutes where my name was listed. They were located in the town of Tappahannock, about an 60 miles or so from Richmond on the Rappahannock River. Also, the Bishop was to visit them which made it doubly difficult with no organist. It captured my attention and stirred my compassion. I agreed literally to go the extra mile.
Rather than travel so much in bad weather, we decided that I would go on Saturday afternoon, work with the choir, and stay the night in the parish house. Little did I know what a memorable experience it would be.
I gathered music and an overnight bag and headed out Saturday afternoon on Highway 360. It was a pleasant drive, but the approach to the little town kind of took my breath away. As I took the bridge across the River, I could see the lovely church on the other side, traditional vertical siding of English Gothic style of the most picturesque of the Episcopal churches. I drove up and went inside the church, and met the Rector, an older, dignified, man. He introduced me to the choir, a small and faithful group ready to do whatever I said. They were so o o o thankful that I came, and it made my time with them the most pleasant.
After a good workout and planning with the choir, I got familiar with the organ and practiced awhile until was time to go next door to the parish house. It was cold outside, but they had a blazing fire going in the fireplace. Mrs. Bailey was preparing supper. She was like a lovely storybook character with her British accent, full of kindness, the lines in her face where smiles had occurred. They both welcomed me to their cozy little house. Then the Rector asked if I would like some sherry before the meal. How unusual, I thought, that the minister would offer an alcoholic drink. This all has to do with the way I was raised. But I knew this was part of their best hospitality they were offering me, so we shared a glass of wine and had an easy conversation about things that we had in common. When it was time to eat, we gathered around the fire and ate on folding trays, and the soup was delicious. Everything about it was delightful and homey and surpassed my expectations.
When I went upstairs to the tiny comfortable room prepared for me, they had one last surprise. Almost unnoticed, on the shelves full of interesting books, was a miniature vase with little white flowers in it. I touched them and they were real and this was January. Later, Mrs. Bailey gave me the story. They are snowdrops. And they will come up through the snow! They grow in the parish yard and around the big tree out there.
Everything went well the next day. The Bishop was there, music was lovely, and everyone happy about the day, and no one would have known the challenge that preceded it. How glad I was that I said yes!
A Hymn to Help
After that I became a somewhat permanent substitute. They called again when they had a special challenge at the time of the Easter season. That was when I learned more of the beautiful hymns from the Episcopal tradition that they loved. I began to love them too. Most memorable for me is the hymn “I Bind Unto Myself Today,” a hymn about getting close to our God. I love the idea of binding myself closely together with the strong Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. There is a departure from the song toward the end which goes into another melody in a major key. In it, I recognized Grandma Clark’s words as she used to pray for us. She must have known this hymn from her earlier days, because she would pray protection over us asking that God be over us, under us, all around us, just like the words here.
I bind unto myself today
The strong Name of the Trinity,
By invocation of the same,
The Three in One and One in Three.
I bind this day to me for ever.
By power of faith, Christ’s incarnation;
His baptism in the Jordan river;
His death on Cross for my salvation;
His bursting from the spicèd tomb;
His riding up the heavenly way;
His coming at the day of doom;
I bind unto myself today.
I bind unto myself today
The power of God to hold and lead,
His eye to watch, His might to stay,
His ear to hearken to my need.
The wisdom of my God to teach,
His hand to guide, His shield to ward,
The word of God to give me speech,
His heavenly host to be my guard.
Christ be with me, Christ within me,
Christ behind me, Christ before me,
Christ beside me, Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort and restore me.
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me,
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.
I bind unto myself the Name,
The strong Name of the Trinity;
By invocation of the same.
The Three in One, and One in Three,
Of Whom all nature hath creation,
Eternal Father, Spirit, Word:
Praise to the Lord of my salvation,
Salvation is of Christ the Lord.
Here is a nice rendition of this hymn by the Corpus Christi Male Chorale.
St. John’s Episcopal Church in the town of Tappahannock is located in the heart of historic Tidewater area. Situated on the south side of the Rappahannock River, it was built in 1849 and is the only purely Gothic Revival structure in the County.
Elaine is the founder of hymnserve.com. Her website provides downloadable hymn accompaniments for congregations, small groups and individuals.