The Music Department at St. John’s United Methodist Church helps people make a joyful noise in the worship of our great God. There is a place in God’s house for you to open up and worship through music no matter what level of “musicality” you feel you have or don’t have.
The Chancel Choir
The Joyful Ensemble
Christ is Risen, Alleluia
We Walk by Faith
The King of Love,
My Shepherd Is
Every month we will look at the story behind one of our anthems or hymns or we will learn about a composer/lyricist who provided us with and anthem or hymn from the month. This will give us the opportunity to learn more about what we are singing, listening to, or the people behind the musical gift.
Leaning on the
What a fellowship, what a joy divine
Leaning on the everlasting arms
What a blessedness, what a peace is mine
Leaning on the everlasting arms.
Leaning, leaning safe and secure from all alarms
Leaning, leaning, leaning on the everlasting arms
What have I to dread, what have I to fear
Leaning on the everlasting arms?
I have blessed peace with my Lord so near
Leaning on the everlasting arms.
This popular gospel hymn is also known as “What a Fellowship”. Elisha A. Hoffman (1839-1929 wrote the stanza, and Anthony J Showalter (1858-1924) wrote the refrain. Showalter also contributed the music.
“Leaning on the Everlasting Arms” is the result of an epiphany based on the text of Deuteronomy 33:27, “The eternal God is thy refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms” (KJV). Showalter was a musician who conducted singing schools. He studied music in England, France, and Germany and served as an elder of First Presbyterian Church in Dalton, Georgia. Showalter was inspired by this Scripture after hearing the news that the wives of two of his former pupils had died and were buried the same day. In a letter of sympathy, he created the refrain out of a verse from Deuteronomy and asked Hoffman to write the stanzas. According the hymnologist Carl P. Daw, Jr., it appears that the Baptist Hymnal (1956) appropriately assigned SHOWALTER as the tune name for this song (Daw, 2016, 799-800).
Hoffman composed more than 2,000 compositions and compiled nearly 50 songbooks and hymnals. “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms” was first published in 1887 in the Glad Evangel for Revival, Camp and Evangelistic Meeting Hymnal. Gospel song lovers will recognize other texts by Hoffman, including “Are You Washed in the Blood?”, “Down at the Cross,” and “Is Your All on the Altar?”
“Leaning on the Everlasting Arms” complements cultures that have roots in oral tradition, which makes the hymn easy to memorize. Specific characteristics include poetic devices such as epistrophe – repetition of a word or words at the end of lines or phrases. Notice that the words “Leaning on the everlasting arms” are repeated at the end of each phrase in each stanza. After singing all three stanzas and the refrain three times, the singer will repeat this key phrase nine times.
The first stanza addresses the joy of God’s presence. The hymn writer suggests that even in times of death, peace can be found. The second stanza compares the Christian faith to a pleasant pilgrimage. With the use of the first-person singular pronoun “I” in the third stanza, there is no confusion about who the speaker is.
This hymn can become a personal testimony because of the use of “I” in the third stanza. While the stanzas do not specifically reference Christ, the refrain does when the lower voices sing, “leaning on Jesus.”
The original reference from Deuteronomy takes on a Christian character in the refrain and implies an intimate relationship with Jesus – the friend on whom one can lean. Even though the word “Lord” in the stanzas in ambiguous, the hymn is inherently Christological in its message.
The African American tradition of syncopation, handclapping, and heavy use of percussive instruments enlivens this hymn and gives hymn lovers the freedom to embellish and improvise in worship.
What a Fellowship has become an icon of the gospel song. It was sung in the 1943 movie “The Human Comedy, starring Mickey Rooney. . . Other films that included the hymns are “The Night of the Hunter” (1955), “Phase IV” (1974, “Wild Bill” (1995), “Next of Kin” (1989), “True Grit” (2010) and “First Reformed” (2017) . . . It has also been a part of numerous television episodes.
Gathered from umcdiscipleship.org