Hymn of the Week: September 26
by David Sinden,
Organist & Director of Music
St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, Ladue
Hymn 609: “Where cross the crowded ways of life”
Frank Mason North (1850–1935) worked in missions in New York City at the turn of the last century. One of the 1905 Methodist Hymnal editors suggested that North would be ideally suited to write a new missionary hymn.
North had recently preached on a verse from the Parable of the Wedding Banquet: “Go ye therefore into the highways” (Matthew 22:9), and this inspired the hymn, “Where cross the crowded ways of life,” as well.
The hymn, which North titled “A Prayer for the Multitudes,” speaks to the urban reality of life at the turn of the last century, but, as Michael Hawn notes
“The hymn is as current as it was when first written over 100 years ago. We still struggle with the divisiveness resulting from the ‘cries of race and clan.’ Our cities are still ‘haunts of wretchedness and greed’ and places that ‘lure… with greed.’
The Episcopalians first encountered this hymn, paired with the hymn tune “Gardiner” in the 1916 Hymnal.
The tune is named for William Gardiner (1770–1853), an amateur musician who played some of the first Beethoven ever heard in England. Gardiner tried to introduce the music of Haydn, Beethoven, and Mozart to the English church and put forth this tune, called “Subject Beethoven,” with a metrical version of Psalm 23. Though the hymn tune never caught on in England, the Lowell Mason helped popularize it in the United States. Finding no Beethoven work on which the melody was based, the editors of the Hymnal 1916 changed the tune name from “Beethoven” to “Gardiner.”
View the hymn as sung in liturgy at St. John’s, Detroit: