Mary Ann Thomson (1834-1923). James Walch (1837-1901)
1. O Zion, haste, your mission high fulfilling, To tell to all the world that God is light; That he who made all nations is not willing One soul should perish, lost in shades of night. R/Publish glad tidings, tidings of peace; Tidings of Jesus, redemption, and release.
2. Behold how many thousands still are lying, Bound in the darksome prison-house of sin, With none to tell them of the Savior's dying, Or of the life he died for them to win. R/
3. Proclaim to ev'ry people, tongue, and nation That God, in whom they live and move, is love: Tell how he stooped to save his lost creation, And died on earth that we might live above. R/
4. Give of your own to bear the message glorious; Give of your wealth to speed them on their way; Pour out your soul for them in pray'r victorious; And all your spending Jesus will repay. R/
This altar painting (not the best photograph) of Jesus ascending looking down at his disciples to whom he has just given the Great Commission is mine. It was done in 1893 by Andreas Pedersen, an immigrant painter, no Rembrandt, but faithful, for Trinity Congregation, in Minneapolis, the mother church of Augsburg Seminary. Mission was a big emphasis of the members of the congregation and this portrait was the setting for many a sermon and gathering to support missions, especially to Madagascar. At the time the congregation was moving to English language worship and “O Zion, Haste“ that had just come into English hymnals was among the hymns that were sung many a time as people challenged to support a missionary looked up and saw this painting.
The author, tending her daughter who was suffering from typhoid fever, wanted to compose a mission hymn to a melody she liked, but found it impossible. So she set the hymn aside for some years, but finally finished it. Then it got its own melody, something that helped her realize the truth she had heard—it is best for a hymn text to get its own tune. That is certainly the truth in this case.
The nineteenth century was the great century of the mission movement from Europe and America to Africa and Asia, especially. Many of the pastors who came from the Lutheran North seriously considered whether to go to Africa or America—both were seen as mission fields. C. L. Clausen, the Danish teacher who came to Muskego in the 1840s considered a call to Africa before deciding on Wisconsin. Hans Andreas Stub, his successor in 1848, had had to make the same decision.
The congregations they founded in America, like Trinity, generously "gave of its wealth to speed them"—missionaries—"on their way" as the hymn has it. They supported the mission efforts of the church and prayed that Zion would haste to bring the good news that God was love to all the world.
Now the Gospel is spreading like wild fire in the southern hemisphere. Philip Jenkins in his book The New Christendom 2003, described the growth of the church in the south, noting that Christian Europe and America were going cold while the south was heating up. He has continued writing such books and articles over the past two decades all of which look at the growth of Christianity around the world.
The daughter churches in the South who see the growing secularity of the mother churches are sending missionaries and Christians to the frozen north. The growth of the Catholic churches in Protestant Europe because of immigration Is significant. Jenkins in a recent article in Christian Century gives evidence of that with the story of the pilgrimage site in Aylesford in Kent, England. Pilgrimages began there in 1240 and are still flourishing.
Like the shrine in Santiago de Campostela, it has attracted pilgrims from all nationalities in England. During the past summers there were gatherings for Indians, Tamils, Goans, Keralans, Nigerians, Brazilians, Italians, Portuguese, Poles and the largest from the Caribbean. Similar pilgrimages are held all around England to say nothing of the rest of Europe.
What happens in these events is that people attending them are drawn together as brothers and sisters in Christ. It is not blood, race or clan. It is Christ. A somewhat secular version of this can be seen in the film The Way, starring Martin Sheen. Although the pilgrims do not all become Christians at the end, they are changed by the journey.
God is doing something new in the world, as always. While many in the north think the church is dying, the number of Christians around the world is growing. Mission work is being done differently, the gatherings of Christians look different and not so official, but vital. God will continue to surprise us with new Christians from every corner of the world. When we meet them we will know that we have new brothers and sisters no matter where they have come from. When I see that painting of Christ ascending, and think of the thousands of people that have come to know Christ because of the efforts of that one congregation, and the people it sent out, I am grateful and surprised. And thankful that my family and I going way back have been a part of Christ’s mission. O Zion, haste!
HYMN INFO Mary Ann Thomson, born in England, emigrated to America where she married John Thom
son, the librarian at the Philadelphia Free Library, a venerable institution. She wrote a number of hymns, none of which has had the success of this hymn. James Walch, the tune writer, was born in Bolton, and spent his life as an organist and musician in Wales. He wrote this tune in 1875. It appeared first in the Protestant Episcopal Book of 1892.
LINKS Philippines choir https://youtu.be/AxhP1zTQqhs
Evangelical Church in Formosan https://youtu.be/dLrb_QMvyDU
First Methodist Church Midland https://youtu.be/B8tmGLUNBvA
St. George Episcopal Church Choir https://youtu.be/Otmdb-afNJM