Later this month, we’ll be celebrating the 175th anniversary of the first Episcopal worship service in Madison, WI. As I was looking through old prayer books for hymns that might be suitable, I came across the following:
1 When, Lord, to this our western land,
Led by Thy providential hand,
Our wandering fathers came,
Their ancient homes, their friends in youth,
Sent forth the heralds of Thy truth,
To keep them in Thy Name.
2 Then, through our solitary coast,
The desert features soon were lost;
Thy temples there arose;
Our shores, as culture made them fair,
Were hallowed by Thy rites, by prayer,
And blossomed as the rose.
3 And O may we repay this debt
to regions solitary yet
Within our spreading land:
There, brethren, from our common home,
Still westward like our fathers, roam;
Still guided by Thy hand.
4 Saviour, we own this debt of love:
O shed Thy Spirit from above,
To move each Christian breast;
Till heralds shall Thy truth proclaim,
And temples rise to fix Thy Name,
Through all our desert west.
It was written by Henry Ustick Onderdonk (1789-1858), Bishop of Pennsylvania and a member of the committee that prepared the first collection of hymns for the American Book of Common Prayer. In the Prayer Book I am using, it was appears with the instruction, “For Missions to the new settlements in the United States.”
Accounts of that first service include the fact that apparently no one in attendance was able to carry a tune, so they decided not to sing hymns. But the one that appears above might have been appropriate for the occasion, although “our desert west” hardly describes Madison in 1839. It was surrounded then as now by lakes.