We’re often asked at Co-op Funeral Directors in Essex for advice on what are the most popular Christian hymns to play at funerals. Here, we compile a list of those most commonly requested, to provide inspiration when putting together an Order of Service for a loved one.
Hymns can be sombre or uplifting – and often people will choose a combination of the two. Importantly, the congregation will be pleased if you choose something they know. Many churches and crematoria will have pianos or organs to accompany the hymn; others will use the Wesley Media music database, which provides recordings of the music.
► 1. Jerusalem
Jerusalem takes its words from a poem by William Blake, written in 1804. It starts with the line ‘And did those feet in ancient time’ and is well known because it is played at the Last Night of the Proms. The music was written by Sir Hubert Parry in 1916 and was seen as an uplifting anthem during the gloom of WW1.
2. Morning has broken
‘Morning has broken like the first morning’ is sung in many primary schools and was later recorded by folk singer Cat Stevens (and others), making it very familiar to many people in a congregation. Written by author Eleanor Farjeon, it was published in 1931 and set to a traditional Scottish Gaelic tune known as ‘Bunessan’.
3. The Lord is my shepherd
Popular with all denominations, The Lord is my shepherd is based on Psalm 23 in the Bible and was written by James Montgomery, a Scotsman born in 1771. Its lyrics are seen as comforting, with God by our side in our time of need: ‘The Lord’s my Shepherd, I’ll not want; He makes me down to lie. In pastures green; He leadeth me. The quiet waters by.’
4. Amazing Grace
Amazing Grace was written in 1779 by John Newton, who became an Anglican clergyman after a near brush with death at sea. While a sailor, his ship had been battered by a violent storm and he called out for the help of God, thus beginning his spiritual conversion, hence the lyrics: ‘Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound; That saved a wretch like me; I once was lost but now am found; Was blind, but now, I see.’ Since 1835, it has been associated with the music ‘New Britain’.
5. Abide with me
Abide with me was originally written as a poem by Scottish Anglican Henry Francis Lyte in 1847 and is most often sung to the tune of ‘Eventide’, a tune by English composer William Henry Monk. The opening line refers to Luke 24:29; ‘Abide with us: for it is toward evening, and the day is far spent’, and the second to last verse draws on text from 1 Corinthians 15:55, “O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?”. The hymn is a prayer for God, and will stick with the speaker throughout life, through difficulties, and through death.
6. Dear Lord and father of mankind
The words from Dear Lord and father of mankind have been taken from a longer poem by American Quaker poet John Greenleaf Whittier called The Brewing of Soma. In 1884 Garrett Horder made the adaptation in his Congregational Hymns. English hymnologist J.R. Watson said that compared to other hymns, which usually ‘encourage activity and energy’, this hymn expresses the ‘need for quiet meditation’ and encourages a ‘mystical contemplation of the peace of God’.
7. Love divine, all love excelling
Love divine, all love excelling was written by Charles Wesley, a prolific hymn writer of the 18th century. Wesley came from a musical background and is said to have written at least 10 poetic lines a day for 50 years, writing a total of 8,989 hymns. Some feel that this hymn was his best, he describes the day in heaven when ‘we take our place, till we cast our crowns before thee, lost in wonder, love, and praise’ and describes the love for God that surpasses any love ever known.
8. I vow to thee my country
Written in 1908 or 1912 by Sir Cecil Spring Rice, I vow to thee my country was originally a British patriotic poem entitled ‘Urbs Dei’ (The City of God). Rice was recalled to Britain after the US entered The Great War, and this was when he altered the first verse to focus on the themes of love and sacrifice, rather than “the noise of battle” and “the thunder of her guns”. The poem was set to music by Holst and was published as a hymn in 1925 in the Songs of Praise hymnal (no. 188).
9. Praise, my soul, the King of Heaven
The text from Praise, my soul, the King of Heaven draws directly from Psalm 103 which begins ‘Praise the Lord, my soul’. The hymn was written by Anglican divine clergyman Henry Francis Lyte and is frequently sung in the United Kingdom. The hymn featured in the wedding of H.R.H. in 1947 and has a real sense of jubilation as well as highlighting God’s divine intervention.
10. Lord of all hopefulness
Lord of all hopefulness was written by Jan Struther in 1929, at the request of Canon Percy Dearmer of Westminster Abbey, for his new edition of Songs of Praise. The text uses the classic collect form which describes an attribute of the Lord followed by a request, relating it to our daily lives – ‘Lord of all hopefulness, Lord of all joy, whose trust, ever childlike, no cares could destroy. Be there at our waking, and give us, we pray, our bliss in our hearts, Lord, at the break of the day’. The hymn is commonly sung to one of the much-loved melodies in hymnody – Irish ballad, Slane, and is known as one of the religious treasures of the Christian hymn tradition.