Personal Connections in a Story: Hymn of Promise (2017)
By Marilyn Sears Lindsey
When we look at the hymnal used at the First United Methodist Church of Seminole, Oklahoma, we see the date 1986 listed for Hymn of Promise. But I know the story behind this hymn.
It really began in 1985 in St. Petersburg, Florida where my family and I attended church at the Pasadena Community Church which was part of the United Methodist Church. It’s where my dad and mom retired after his being in the military for 28 years.
Rev. Edward Norman was our head minister and Rev. C. Frederick Harrison was the Music Director. We had an annual spring concert and during the planning for the 1985 extravaganza, Fred expressed a hope that Natalie Sleeth might write an anthem to be premiered at our church’s music festival weekend of her work.
Natalie arrived prepared to teach the choirs at Pasadena the new hymn she’d written: Hymn of Promise. My mother,
Claire and father Les Sears were in that choir. And would you believe that the festival fell on their 34th wedding anniversary? They learned the anthem and performed it for its premiere at the music festival in March, 1985. It was immediately a new favorite hymn for everyone involved; especially me.
A few weeks after that, Dad fell while playing tennis with his 3 buddies from the neighborhood and had a huge bruise on his chest. Not much could ever stop my Dad! So he kept on with his usual activities.
Then it was Holy Week and the choirs at Pasadena were preparing for Easter Sunday service. At their usual rehearsal on Thursday nights (Maundy Thursday in this case), Dad helped move the huge wooden altar pieces and was surprised that the “young guys” always seemed to disappear when there was heavy lifting to be done.
At home that night, he and Mom moved a bookcase so he could continue painting the living room the next day. She noticed him wince in pain as he lifted.
The next morning, which was Good Friday, he continued his painting and when he took a break to look out on Boca Ciega Bay from the back porch, he took his last breath. It was April 5, 1985.
Family and friends were called…a wake was planned and then the funeral was on Easter Monday. We were all in such a state of shock that the details are foggy but the reassuring words from Hymn of Promise gave us just that – PROMISE. So we requested it again during Dad’s funeral. How could a man who enjoyed life so much and who was only 57 years old be gone? We didn’t know but were sure that God would explain it all to us one day.
Believe it or not, Pasadena Community Church is one of the only drive-in churches in the U.S. So on Easter morning we drove to church but never got out of the car. We heard the service from the huge loudspeakers mounted in the grassy areas that served as parking lots. That was the best we could manage under the circumstances. And we knew in our hearts that God had called Dad home for his eternal rest.
Our family roots are on Cape Cod, Massachusetts. I am 10th generation in America – descended from Richard Sears who arrived here about 1630. We’d spent some years living on the Cape and many years vacationing there. So that’s where we buried my Dad on a cold, cloudy morning in the Bourne National Cemetery in Barnstable, Cape Cod, Massachusetts which is just west of Camp Edwards. There was an honor guard and a 21-gun salute and my Mom was presented with the flag that had draped Dad’s coffin.
We returned to the cottage where we were staying and my Mom remembered with such joy the Hymn of Promise that she and Dad had been practicing just a few short weeks ago. She taught the song to my brother and they both kept singing the hymn over and over.
On my 37th birthday in 1991, I had asked my guests to bring a poem as their gift to me. I told them it could be an original one or one they loved. My sister-in-law Rosanne pulled a book off my shelf entitled Adventures for the Soul by Natalie Sleeth and God helped her open the page to Hymn of Promise. As Rosanne read the lyrics to me, tears ran down my face. How wonderful to feel the presence of my Dad at my birthday party again. I had been missing him.
On March 21, 1992, Natalie Sleeth died – almost exactly on the anniversary of the premiere of her famous hymn. She was only 61 – another person taken from us too soon. I can just hear the choir singing this anthem to her.
We are approaching Good Friday and Easter Sunday again and this hymn comes to mind – as it does every year.
I am writing my Dad’s personal life history and while assembling all the facts and stories, I came across this video online of the 25th anniversary of the premiere of Hymn of Promise being sung by the choir at Pasadena Community Church again. We’ve come full circle – as life always does.