Hymn of Promise: Forging Connections during Misfortune
#52Ancestors Week 12 – March 19, 2018
By Marilyn Sears Lindsey with help from Claire Lavina Sears, Pam Sears Cooper and Ray Sears
When we look at the hymnal used at the First United Methodist Church of Seminole, Oklahoma, where the Lindseys live now, we see the date 1986 listed for #707 Hymn of Promise. But I know the story behind this hymn.
It Really Began…
in 1985 in St. Petersburg, Florida where my Dad and Mom had retired after their being in the military for 25 years. Angelica and I joined them in attending Pasadena Community Church which was part of the United Methodist Church. Rev. Edward Norman was our head minister and Rev. C. Frederick Harrison was the Music Director.
Angelica had been baptized in this church by Rev. Mackey in November, 1977 and now it was 7 years later.
During the planning for the 32nd annual spring concert, Fred expressed a hope to Natalie Allyn Sleeth (nee Wakeley) that she might write an anthem to be premiered at our church’s Starlight Musicale, which was a music festival weekend of her work that year.
Natalie Sleeth was a gifted poet and creative composer whose work Fred admired. She was married to Rev. Ronald E. Sleeth, a professor of Homiletics and the president of West Virginia Wesleyan College in 1977. After their marriage, they moved to Nashville first and then to Dallas, Texas where Ronald was a professor at Perkins School of Theology at Southern Methodist University (SMU).
In 1965, Ms. Sleeth became the director of the children’s choirs at Highland Park United Methodist Church (HPUMC). Encouraged by Lloyd Pfautsch, under whom she studied at SMU and Jane Marshall, Natalie began arranging music in 1968. As a musician and a poet, Natalie wrote both the words and music for all her songs.
And now we have a connection to HPUMC with Alissa attending Perkins School of Theology at SMU and having her graduation ceremony at this church in May, 2018. Dad would have been 90 then. How much we have missed having him part of our lives!
In 1985 Natalie and Ronald arrived in St. Petersburg prepared to teach the choirs at Pasadena the new anthem 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?
The choir learned the anthem and performed it for its premiere at the music festival. The result was a simple, yet profound and beautiful anthem that was theologically sound. It was immediately a new favorite for everyone involved; especially me.
A few weeks after Starlight, 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.
The next morning was Good Friday. Mom was helping him move a bookcase full of real estate books so he could paint the wall behind it when she saw him wince in pain. She thinks a blood clot broke away from the black-and-blue bruise he had on his chest.
He continued the painting project and when he took a break to look out on fascinating 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. Rev. Norman and Fred Harrison visited; Jerry Butler, one of Dad’s long-time Army friends and tennis buddies advised on information to include in the obituary.
Bob Duke, who had just come for a visit, returned. He was Dad’s oldest friend and the best man at Mom and Dad’s wedding on March 17, 1951.
Russ Chapin arrived from Virginia. He is shown here in Arlington, Virginia in August, 1973 with Pam. He also joined us on the Cape for the second funeral.
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. 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.
Obituary from The Washington Post – DEATHS
SEARS, LESLIE R. RET. MAJ. GEN. USA
On Friday, April 5, 1985, in Treasure Island Fla., formerly of Arlington, Va., husband of Claire Sears; father of Leslie Ray Sears, III, of Duncan, OK., Marilyn of St. Petersburg, FL and Pamela Cooper, of Kittery, ME; brother of Sabra Martin, S. Yarmouth, MA; grandfather of Angelica Leal, of St. Petersburg, FL.
Funeral services will be conducted Monday at 1 p.m. at the Pasadena Community Church with Dr. Edward Norman officiating. Interment Bourne National Cemetery, Bourne, MA.
Expressions of sympathy may be made to the Cottage Children of Pinellas Association of Retarded Children, 3100 75th St. N, St. Petersburg, FL 33710. Arrangements by Mohn Funeral Home, Seminole, FL.
Gen. Sears was born in S. Weymouth, MA. He came to Treasure Island in 1977 from Arlington, Va.
Gen. Sears was commissioned a 2nd Lieutenant in the Artillery Reserve after graduating from Boston University in June 1950 with a Bachelor degree in Business Administration. He entered active military service in 1951 as a Lieutenant, having previously served in the Navy during WWII.
During his military career he held many finance and budget positions in Europe and the Far East and served on the Department of Army General Staff.
He graduated from Harvard Business School in 1960, obtaining an MBA degree and was designated a Baker Scholar for his academic achievements. He was promoted to Major General in July 1972 and served as Comptroller of the Army Materiel Development and Readiness Command, Washington, D.C. until his retirement in 1976.
Gen. Sears worked professionally as a realtor and an appraiser consultant with several realty firms in St. Petersburg. He was past President of Isle of Palms Civic Association and Past Commodore of the Bath Club Yacht Club. He was a member of the Pasadena Community Church and also an active member of its chancel choir.
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 numerous grassy areas that served as parking lots. That was the best we could manage under the circumstances. And even though we were struggling to admit it, we knew in our hearts that God had called Dad home for his eternal rest.
The first funeral for Dad was on Easter Monday at our home church. Our new favorite hymn was sung that day by Rev. C. Fred Harrison. I remember we sat in the front row which was so unusual. No one ever sat in the front row except for Starlight performances. I remember being handed the prayer card listing information on Dad’s life and I remember Rev. Norman reading…
1 Corinthians 13 (New International Version)
13 If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.
4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
8 Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. 11 When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. 12 For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.
13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.
I don’t remember much else.
Our family’s 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 Mom decided Dad would be buried.
After the first funeral, Uncle Bob Sanders picked Angelica and me up in his new T-bird at the Logan Airport in Boston and drove us to the cabin on Cape Cod where we stayed for a few days.
Pam’s friend Grover Tasker met the plane Dad’s body was on and drove him to the cemetery in his hearse. He later told her that he was honored to do that and wouldn’t take anything for his time or expenses.
On the day of the funeral, Mom’s cousin John Quirk volunteered to drive Angelica and me to the Bourne Cemetery and he got lost on the way there. We drove around and around, up and down and in the days before cell phones, we couldn’t call anyone. Everyone we knew was at the funeral. It was so frustrating. God must have helped us because we were really lost. We were so late for the funeral but they held up all the cars for the processional until we arrived. Thank you, God.
So that’s where we buried my Dad on a freezing, cloudy April morning in the Bourne National Cemetery in Barnstable, Cape Cod, Massachusetts which is just west of Camp Edwards.
Reverend William (Bill) Baran conducted the funeral service. He is from Vermont and was a farmer. One day he was out on his tractor and he was “called.” He got down, went into the house and said: Betty, we need to move to Bangor, Maine so that I can go to seminary. So they did.
Rev. Baran was the pastor at the Second Christian Church when Pam first started going there. As a matter of fact, her first Sunday was his last.
Then he went to the Congregational Church on Cape Cod that we visited in 2011 when we traveled up for Aunt Sabra’s memorial service.
He’s Pastor Emeritus now back in Kittery and attends the Second Christian Church. He continues to ask after Mom whenever Pam sees him.
One day the postmaster of Andover, New Hampshire told Pam that a man and his grandson had been looking for her. She imagines it was Rev. Baran. Connections are everywhere when we look for them.
This was the second funeral. I will forever remember the metal chairs we sat on and how they made us shiver with cold because it was below freezing. Whenever I hear Taps played now, I am immediately transported back to Dad’s funeral on that sad day.
There was an honor guard just on the other side of a small rise which gave Dad a 21-gun salute, which is 7 guns being fired simultaneously three times. Mom remembers thinking that we’d better warn Angelica so she wouldn’t be afraid of the gunfire. Angelica wasn’t a General’s General like Mom was and hadn’t attended military funerals before.
To this day, I can’t listen to Taps without tearing up. “While originally the tune had meant that the soldiers’ day of work was finished, it had little to none of the connotation or overtone of death, with which it so often is associated today. During our Civil War, Union General Daniel Adams Butterfield decided that the “lights out” music was too formal to signal the day’s end. One day in July 1862 he recalled the tattoo music and hummed a version of it to an aide, who wrote it down in music format. Butterfield then asked the brigade bugler, Oliver W. Norton, to play the notes and, after listening, lengthened and shortened them while keeping his original melody.”
This music was made the official Army bugle call after the war, but not given the name Taps until 1874. The first time taps was played at a military funeral may also have been in Virginia soon after Butterfield composed it. Union Capt. John Tidball, head of an artillery battery, ordered it played for the burial of a cannoneer killed in action. Winston Churchill had Taps played at his funeral, followed by “Reveille.” When we think about it, that’s how a Christian’s life is. As we say goodbye to this world with Taps, we say hello to our new world in heaven with Reveille. The tune is also sometimes known as Butterfield’s Lullaby.
I like to think of Dad hearing Butterfield’s Lullaby and how we have another connection in our lives between a Civil War funeral and Dad. Dad entered the Army in 1951 and was assigned as a radar officer, 685th Anti-Aircraft Artillery Gun Battalion.
The official military version is played by a single bugle or trumpet. An alternative explanation, however, is that the terms Taps carried over from a term already in use before the American Civil War. Three single, slow drum beats were struck after the sounding of the Tattoo or Extinguish Lights. This signal was known as the Drum Taps, The Taps, or simply as Taps in soldier’s slang.
Taps is a bugle call – a signal, not a song. As such, there is no associated lyric. Many bugle calls had words associated with them as a mnemonic device but these are not lyrics.
A Horace Lorenzo Trim wrote a set of words intended to accompany the music:
Day is done, gone the sun,
From the lake, from the hills, from the sky;
All is well, safely rest, God is nigh.
Fading light, dims the sight,
And a star gems the sky, gleaming bright.
From afar, drawing nigh, falls the night.
Thanks and praise, for our days,
‘Neath the sun, ‘neath the stars, neath the sky;
As we go, this we know, God is nigh.
Sun has set, shadows come,
Time has fled, Scouts must go to their beds
Always true to the promise that they made.
While the light fades from sight,
And the stars gleaming rays softly send,
To thy hands we our souls, Lord, commend.
Pam remembered that the troops didn’t fold the flag that draped Dad’s coffin very well. In fact, it was the worst she’d ever seen; they didn’t seem to know what they were doing and were so slow. Ray explained that troops don’t get much time to practice that and even now there aren’t enough soldiers to do salutes and play Taps. Mom was presented with the flag and we filed out to commiserate with our family and friends. Ron alone followed the coffin to the gravesite.
Dad’s sister Sabra and her husband Allen held the collation at their home in South Yarmouth, Cape Cod. My memory is only of these photos that I saw later that Dolly Sears and Pam Cooper took and nothing of the event itself – except Angelica playing with her Cabbage Patch Doll. She was the one bright spot in this whole sad affair. She was only 7 at the time and while she could certainly comprehend that all the adults were so sad, she stayed in character and tried hard to cheer everyone up by being her usual cute self.
There were so many family and friends there: Aunt Mabel Thurston, Dick and Deb with Baby Kyle, Steven, Seth and Debbie, Carl and Evelyn Frazer. It was so good to see them yet at the same time, it wasn’t a party.
We returned to the cottage that John Quirk had arranged for us and 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 Ray and they both kept singing the hymn over and over. What a comforting video plays over and over in my head as I remember those days!
Mom remembered that on an extended walk with Angelica they saw the weeping willows were beginning to put out new growth and that seemed appropriate somehow.
“Strange the things one remembers and equally strange the things we forget. I used to wonder how anybody could talk about losing a loved one but they also say you never get over it, you just get used to it and it takes as long as it takes.”~ Claire Sears
We forge connections as long as we live and if we pay attention, we begin to notice God’s hand in our lives as a constant.
On Natalie and Ronald’s return home from St. Petersburg, Natalie’s husband was diagnosed with cancer and died 25 days later on April 16, 1985. They planned his funeral service together and he only requested 1 song – Hymn of Promise.
I was so caught up in my own grief, I didn’t even know that Natalie had lost her husband. Grief has a way of enveloping me in a dark cloud where I am impervious to the outside world.
Several years later…
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 – Natalie Allyn Wakeley Sleeth (Oct 29, 1930 – March 21, 1992). Or does God see it a different way? I can just hear the choir singing this anthem to her even now.
We are approaching Good Friday and Easter Sunday again and this hymn comes to mind – as it does every year. When I asked Mom, Ray and Pam about their memories of Dad’s death, Ray said: When I unfolded Dad’s flag about two years ago to fly it on his birthday, three of the shell casings from the salute fell out. I didn’t know they were in there. I folded it back and put them back inside. My little flagpole could barely handle that big old flag. Fortunately it wasn’t too windy.
The biggest misfortune of this life is that Dad’s 6 other granddaughters and 3 great-grandchildren never got the chance to meet him.
But the promise in this hymn is that they will meet in heaven.
I am working on illustrating my Dad’s personal life history with family photos and while assembling all the facts, photos 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. But that’s another story…
In this video, Fred talks about the church being around for 85 years.