“Hymn for the Church”
You call us out to praise you,
The God who gave us birth,
To gather in communion
And treasure your whole earth;
We are your living story,
To hear and to be heard;
We praise your name, who write us,
The Author and the Word.
For changing hues and textures,
New patterns, still you search,
To weave your seamless garment,
The fabric of your church;
Our tattered faith you cherish,
Reclaim from wear and moth;
We praise your name, who twine us,
The Weaver and the Cloth.
The church that speaks forgiveness
Confesses its own need,
The church that feels its hunger
Finds grace to care and feed;
Our famished world is crying,
Its future filled with dread;
We praise your name, who fill us,
The Baker and the Bread.
The church that offers healing
Discerns its wounds and loss;
The church that faces dying
Shares life beyond the cross;
To people torn and broken
Your mercy is revealed;
We praise your name, who love us,
The Healer and the Healed.
Our feeble voices struggle
To sing your justice clear;
The world is sunk in silence,
Each discord echoes fear;
One voice alone is ragged,
Together we are strong;
We praise your name, who breathe us,
The Singer and the Song.
Words: Anna Briggs © The General Synod of the Anglican Church of Canada*
Suggested tunes: Thornbury (StF 692), Aurelia (StF 690), Ellacombe (StF 311)
*“You Call Us Out to Praise You” is excerpted from Common Praise (#600), copyright 1998 by the The General Synod of the Anglican Church of Canada. Used with permission.
“This hymn is for the Church, and it is about the Church, but it remains primarily a hymn of praise to God,” wrote one member of the Singing the Faith Reference Group about Anna Briggs’s thought-provoking text. “It is a hymn which is meant to invite theological reflection on the meaning and purpose of Church”, Anna writes – and it certainly raised a discussion amongst members of the group, about the imagery and about the use of the verbs in the penultimate line of each verse (“who write us”, “who twine us” etc.).
One member asked: “Those words in the penultimate lines suggest the object is plural – but if the object of the hymn is God, can that be right?” Another suggested that the last line of each verse (e.g. “the Weaver and the Cloth”) might refer to the relationship between God and the Church. However, the conclusion of verse 1 – “the Author and the Word” – clearly indicates a pattern of images all referring to the three persons, or names, of the Trinity that Christians address in order to help them understand the nature and facets of God.
Another group member put it like this:
“Only Jesus is truly Word and Bread, and could in some way be seen in the other parts too (God’s Song, Cloth, and as the Healed – i.e. Resurrected One), while the Father is most definitely the first person referred to… And yet we as the Church are in there too – [members of] ‘the Church’ are the ones who struggle in each verse; we are part of the solution, but not on our own… We have the power to feed, but only as part of a union with God as Baker and Christ as Bread – in which we become Bread too, as [Christ’s] body; we are God’s embroidery project, but only with the Father as Weaver and on the Cloth of Christ…”
Anna herself recognises that the closing lines of each verse raise questions for the singers. She is clear that our praise is addressed to “your name (Trinity), who write us (action of the Spirit), The Author (Creator God) and the Word (Jesus/Saviour).”
“When I wrote it I sent it in [the hymn was the winning entry in a competition run by the Anglican Church of Canada] with the verb in the penultimate line in the plural, the adjudicating committee pointed out that the correct grammar would be ‘We praise the name of you who write us, fill us etc’, so the You in this line refers to God in the second person…
“This formulation leads to the most interesting theology when you get to verse 4: “We praise your name, who love us (Spirit), / The Healer (Creator God) and the Healed (i.e. Resurrected One)”. “You who breathe us” (v.5) came from a workshop with Walter Wink when he talked about the action of the Spirit “breathing us”.