The day the universe was started
Source: Singing the Faith: 540
Words: Andrew Murphy
Music: “St Clement” by Clement Cotterill Scholefield
Note: Michael Boxall observes that there is more than one version of Andrew Murphy’s text available. Elsewhere, verse 2, line 1 reads: ‘And over time, with things expanding’. He asks, which is the author’s preferred version?
In response, Andrew writes:
“The line quoted above was my original version but, being a late entry to Singing the Faith, the words were altered in the process… I decided to let this go, as on a scientific technicality “things” don’t expand as such, only the space in between molecules expands. My original wording was deliberately meant to be ambiguous so as not to lead to a particular “big bang expansion” understanding of the universe – but someone obviously disagreed! So, it will be that some websites will have my original (and, I think, preferred) line. But of course the ‘definitive’ version will now always be the STF version.”
Ideas for singing
Given the familiarity of the tune “St Clement” to many (not least those who discovered it through Rick Wakeman’s 1973 concept album, The Six Wives of Henry VIII!), C.C. Scholefield’s tune and Andrew Murphy’s words make a useful combination for use at services of baptism, perhaps when there are visitors present not familiar with many congregational hymns.
An effective alternative to singing the entire hymn together might be to take a cue from Andrew’s first verse (with its emphasis on the smallness of beginnings) and to “grow” the number of voices singing as the verses progress. E.g. v1: solo, high voice; v2: choir or women only; v3: men only etc. Use the combinations of voices best suited to your congregation.
Similarly, it might be appropriate to begin the hymn unaccompanied, adding instruments as the hymn develops.
Andew Murphy says that “’The day the universe was started’ over the weekend of 4 November 2007 as I was thinking about the birth of my nephew. It was originally called ‘A Song for Daniel’.
“It came about while I was still at ministerial training college and we were on a retreat in Northumberland. We were asked to think about the creation of the universe and the amazing processes involved in God making each one of us. My thoughts turned to my sister, Fiona, who was in labour at the time with her first child.
“As my imagination went out to the depths of the cosmos, the tune of ‘The day thou gavest’ (StF147) came into my head and the words came to me quickly after that. I gave the completed song as a gift to my nephew when I first met him.
“It was during the following year, on 26 October 2008, while conducting my first baptism service at Barwell Methodist Church (in the Hinckley Circuit), that the hymn was first sung by a congregation. The child being baptised was called Selina Rose and, fittingly, my nephew Dan was also present. The hymn proved to be very popular with the congregation and I have used it at many baptism and dedication services since then.”
The tune “St Clement” has a quality of longing and hopefulness that, in its second half, develops steadily into determination. This has the effect of making each individual verse into a small pilgrimage, a notion well-suited to Andrew Murphy’s words of creation, growth and development.
Andrew writes of his hope that the hymn will speak to many families “about the love of God that reaches out way before any of us are born, forms us and nurtures us, and ultimately saves us through Jesus, who comes with his ‘suffering love and endless grace’”.