STJ#1061, For So the Children Come

In this exciting episode: Jason Shelton did a great innovative thing and I just had to go and innovate it further.

This may be one of my favorite liturgical pieces – a chorus by Jason Shelton to make new the stunning piece by Sophia Lyon Fahs that most of us use at Christmastime, often on Christmas eve. The melody is sweet and simple, warm and peaceful. Jason’s response turns the ‘ho hum, we’ve heard it before’ recitation into an interactive, musical responsive reading. And the truth is, we need more of this kind of thing – I play a lot with unexpected sung responses, but I’m not a composer, so I’ve interleaved pieces. Jason just goes right ahead and composes something. Bless him for that gift.

Anyway. The piece as Jason envisioned it is as follows, interleaving with each stanza of the Fahs poem:

Chorus:
Each night a child is born is a holy night:
A time for singing,
A time for wondering,
A time for worshipping,
Each night a child is born is a holy night.

Reader:
For so the children come
And so they have been coming.
Always in the same way they come
born of the seed of man and woman.

Chorus

Reader:
No angels herald their beginnings.
No prophets predict their future courses.
No wise men see a star to show where to find
the babe that will save humankind.

 

Chorus

Reader:
Yet each night a child is born is a holy night.
Fathers and mothers–
sitting beside their children’s cribs
feel glory in the sight of a new life beginning.
They ask, “Where and how will this new life end?

Chorus

And when you sing it with the congregation, that’s perfect.

However, the first time I used it, in December 2005 at my home congregation, we didn’t yet have a full complement of STJ, nor did the minister think we had time to teach the congregation a new piece for Christmas Eve. So I involved the choir… and yes, I innovated. I imagined an a capella setting, with the choir singing parts as written in STJ, and then landing on a hum to underscore the reader. Here’s how I have done it:

Choir (singing):
Each night a child is born is a holy night –
A time for singing,
A time for wondering,
A time for worshipping.
Each night a child is born is a holy night.
(hum final chord under reader – don’t do bass tag)

Reader:
For so the children come
And so they have been coming.
Always in the same way they come
born of the seed of man and woman.

Choir (singing):
(
Back to beginning of song)
Each night a child is born is a holy night…
(hum landing chord under reader)

Reader:
No angels herald their beginnings.
No prophets predict their future courses.
No wise men see a star to show where to find
the babe that will save humankind.

Choir (singing):
A time for singing,
A time for wondering,
A time for worshipping.
(hum landing chord under reader)

Reader:
Yet each night a child is born is a holy night.
Fathers and mothers–
sitting beside their children’s cribs
feel glory in the sight of a new life beginning.
They ask, “Where and how will this new life end?
Or will it ever end?”

Choir (singing)
(back to full chorus)
Each night a child is born is a holy night –
A time for singing,
A time for wondering,
A time for worshipping.
Each night a child is born is a holy night.
(include bass tag)

It goes a little faster, for sure. It also lines out the song so the next time the congregation encounters it, it’s a bit more familiar. But mostly, it helps introduce Jason’s innovation in an innovative way.

Yes, there’s a gender binary issue here – many change “fathers and mothers” to “loving parents” or some variation.  I don’t think it changes the meaning or sentiment to ensure all are included here. It’s worth making that expansive change, because this is a gorgeous piece – whether read as a poem, as a responsive reading, or with some variation on the sung response.

I have no idea who this baby is – it’s just a great photo from Pixabay.

 

 

3 Comments

  1. Like many of us, I’ve used this poem many times on Christmas Eve. However, I always have thought that the last lines are creepy. What parents think “Where and how will this life end, or will it ever end?” when they are gazing lovingly at their newborn? Not anyone I know! The closest they might come (if it’s a firstborn) is “Is she still breathing?” It’s always given me pause, and then I go ahead and use it anyway because I LOVE the lines “Each night a child is born is a holy night.” YMMV

  2. I love this setting too! Just a note that I’ve been involved in some online communities discussing the line “always in the same way they come; born of the seed of man and woman.” Lots of folks in the queer community are feeling like that line needs a new look with 2018 eyes. There are some innovations out there (Lisa Bovee-Kemper: “Always in the same way they come; born of the womb, the greatest mystery”, for example) or I just leave it out lately when I do this reading.

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