Worship & Music Ministry

What's Going On This Month

What's up at St. Mark Lutheran Church? In addition to our Saturday and Sunday services, choir, and hand bells, we've got some special things coming up. You can find more information about these 'happenings' on the Events page.

Our Hymns - A Little of the Backstory

The origins for some of the Hymns scheduled for this month are presented here. Some will be sung at one of our services. Others are suggestions to be sung as a personal 'Hymn Sing' on Sunday.

Shall we gather at the river - Robert Lowry (1826-1899)


Often called “The Good Doctor,” Robert Lowry was a cheerful man with a big beard and a quick mind. He pastored churches in the Eastern U.S. in the mid-1800s. One friend said, “Very few men had greater ability in painting pictures from imagination. He could thrill an audience with his vivid descriptions, inspiring them with the same thoughts that inspired him.”


But he is best remembered for his hymns. Even in childhood he had composed tunes, and as he became acquainted with leaders in American hymnology – many of them based in New York – he realized he could reach more people through his songs than through his sermons.


He set man of Fanny Crosby’s hymns to music, including the classic “All the Way My Savior Leads Me.” And he wrote both words and music to the popular gospel song: “What can wash away my sins / nothing but the blood of Jesus.”

The doctor’s best known hymns is “Shall We Gather at the River?” Though often used at baptisms, it’s actually a song about heaven. It came to Lowry on a mid-summer’s day in New York, when, in the sweltering heat, he began musing about the cool, crystal river that flows through the city of God as described in Revelations 22.


One afternoon in July, 1864, when I was pastor at Hanson Place Baptist Church, Brooklyn, the weather was oppressively hot, and I was lying on a lounge in a state of physical exhaustion. I felt almost incapable of bodily exertion, and my imagination began to take itself wings. Visions of the future passed before me with startling vividness. The imagery of the apocalypse took the form of a tableau. Brightest of all were the throne, the heavenly river, and the gathering of the saints. My soul seemed to take new life from that celestial outlook. I began to wonder why the hymn writers had said so much about the “river of death” and so little about the “pure water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding out of the throne of God and the Lamb.” As I mused, the words began to construct themselves. They came from a first as a question of Christian inquiry, “Shall we gather?” Then they broke out in a chorus, “Yes, we’ll gather.” On this question and the answer the hymn developed itself. The music came with the hymn.

Source: Then Sings My Soul

God of our Fathers - Daniel Crane Roberts (1841-1907)


Six years before his death in 1907, Danial Roberts wrote, “I remain a country person, known only within my own small world.” This hymn was penned while he pastored a rural church in Brandon, Vermont. He wrote it in 1876 to commemorate the one-hundredth birthday of the Declaration of Independence, and it was sung for the first time at Brandon’s Fourth of July celebration.


Because the people of Brandon enjoyed the hymn, Roberts submitted it to the committee planning the Constitution’s centennial celebration. The committee chose it as the official hymn for the occasion and sent it to the organist at St. Thomas Episcopal Church in New York City to compose an original tune. The new tune, with dramatic trumpet fanfare, helped make this hymn unique. 

The One Year Book of Hymns

Canticle of the turning – Rory Cooney (1952 - current)


Ever since I first heard it, Canticle of the Turning has been one of my favorite hymns. Inspired by a traditional Irish melody and Mary's beloved Magnificat, the lyricist has captured beautifully what it means to be in Advent:


My soul cries out with a joyful shout that the God of my heart is great, And my spirit sings of the wondrous things that you bring to the one who waits. You fixed your sight on the servant's plight, and my weakness you did not spurn, So from east to west shall my name be blessed. Could the world be about to turn?


Advent has often been explained to me as a time of waiting: "We are waiting for the baby Jesus to be born," for example. I remember that, as a child, this was quite the let-down-- waiting to hear the end of a story you already know is not engaging. It does no justice whatsoever to the palpable tension of the season. Advent is not a time of waiting; it is a time of anticipation, expectation, an electric buzz in the air that reminds us that something great is afoot. It is a misleadingly quiet and reflective time, and for that I have always loved it more than any other liturgical season (or secular season, for that matter). We the church are like Mary, pregnant with a tremulous hope for change.


Though I am small, my God, my all, you work great things in me. And your mercy will last from the depths of the past to the end of the age to be. Your very name puts the proud to shame, and to those who would for you yearn, You will show your might, put the strong to flight, for the world is about to turn.


As we sing the words of this hymn, we are reminded of our own doubts, insecurities, and smallness. Yet, for me, the miracle of Christmas is this: There seem to be few figures from history or literature as humble as Mary, in either demeanor or circumstance; but, it is she who bears Christ into the world. I hear it often, but register it infrequently: however ordinary or irrelevant we may feel at times, the work of the Sacred in us -- the work that we do -- makes us extraordinary. We draw strength, vitality, and purpose from the Spirit that inspires us to act.


My heart shall sing of the day you bring.

Let the fires of your justice burn.

Wipe away all tears,

For the dawn draws near,

And the world is about to turn.


...Mary's [words] are as relevant now as they were two thousand years ago, gaining increasing significance as we engage a century in which major changes are taking place every day. We are on the accelerated path to radical reformation in our world. In this way, Advent is a time of pregnant expectation for the relevation of the living and present Christ in each of us.

Commentary is taken from the blog by Clare Brauer-Rieke > http://earthministry.blogspot.com/2009/12/canticle-of-turning.html


Now Thank We All Our God - Martin Rinkart (1586-1649)

With the exception of “A Mighty Fortress is Our God” this is the most widely sung hymn in Germany. Like so many other great hymns, it was forged in the crucible of the Thirty Years War. Martin Rinkart was the only pastor in the walled city of Eilenberg. Many refugees fled there, hoping the walls would protect them, only to see the city overrun by Swedes, Austrians, and Swedes again. In the crowded conditions, hunger and plague were chronic problems. In 1637 Rinkart conducted funerals for 5, 000 residents – including his wife. So when he prays, “Guide us when perplexed,” he is not talking about minor inconveniences.

Yet thanksgiving erupts from this stately song. The tune, by Johann Cruger, was introduced with the text in 1644 while the war still raged. It has a majesty that few other works can match. We can thank god even during the most trying times. We can know God is with us “in this world and the next.”

The One Year Book of Hymns

Join the Fun

Make Wednesday night your music night

Consider joining one or both of these music ministries

with instrument and/or song.

A place in the choir...

We have revved up the old Victrola and start singing on a regular basis in the balcony or on the floor and occasionally ringing those bells and chimes. 

Don’t you want to be part of this incredible, fun ministry? It is our position that we present the word of the Lord in prayerful song to open the hearts, minds and ears of the congregation in order for them to receive the message of the day. We are just one instrument to deliver the good news of the love of Christ. The more instruments, the louder the band. The louder the band, the better they hear! 

Please consider joining us.  On Wednesdays, hand bells begin from 6pm-7pm and the Trinity Choir Choir from 7pm-8pm.

See Melinda or any member of the choirs for more information.  It could be the best hour or two you spend with us!

1953 - Stuart Hine - How Great Thou Art

​​​​​​​1966 - Duke Ellington - Come Sunday