O God Our Help in Ages Past

The traditional mariners’ service was clearly Anglican.  The alter cloth was the British Red Ensign, the nation’s merchant marine flag with the Union Flag in the upper left corner of a red field.  It was billed as a “traditional maritime service” with the Captain presiding.  It was mostly straight out of the Book of Common Prayer.

The service was held in the Royal Court theater which has an LED wall.  The lighting/set designer had an abstract stained-glass pattern with a cross, the drapes were slightly asymmetrical.  Well done!  It hardly seemed the same venue where, that same evening, we watched a Rock ‘n Roll show by “England’s premier Rock Band” the Blue Jays.  (I think the Stones would disagree.)  The magic of theater. 

It was probably a better venue than the illuminations theater forward that had bas reliefs of lesser Gods.  The congregation would have been looking Mercury as they entered and at Zeus starboard of the alter.

I had wanted to go to the “traditional maritime service,” to, as Suzi said, be with my grandfather.  In our sailing together days we never missed a service.  And this service conjured up memories of the first maritime service we attended together on a British Furness liner.  Although there had been a protestant service earlier in the morning with a proper pastor there is something about bring on a British Ship with the Captain leading a prayer for fair winds and following seas.  I was also pleased that he had a special collect for the safety of refugees and for them finding safe haven and added a fervent Amen.  A prayer the British Prime Minister needs to listen to.

We sang, what the Captain called “The mariner’s hymn” 

“Eternal Father strong to save,

Who’s hand has bound the restless wave,

Who bids the mighty oceans deep

Their own appointed limits keep

Oh, hear us when we cry to thee

For those in peris on the sea.”    

We did not sing the other popular Anglican hymn associated with sailors and seafaring:

              Oh God our help in Ages Past, Our hope for years to come.

              Our shelter from the stormy blast and our eternal home.

I had hoped we would sing that hymn because of a memory it brings. 

I was sailing with my grandfather on a British Furness ship.  It was the stormy North Atlantic and the ship was rocking and rolling.  We all gathered for the Sunday service, which was in a lounge on the Sun Deck near the top of the ship.  Along the front all the page boys, in their red uniform jackets, white gloves tucked into their epilates, pill box has secured on their heads were standing at parade rest, legs apart and swaying with the ship.  The sway of the ship did not meet the tempo of the hymn and watching them move back and forth with the ship and not the hymn was disorienting for a congregation already sorely disoriented.  One by one people started leaving the congregation, some urgently.  Some made it to the head, some to the rail and, well they had to hose the sun deck before the rest of us left the service. Whenever in a congregation singing that hymn I naturally sway and, given my sense of rhythm not always in sync with the organist.

2 thoughts on “O God Our Help in Ages Past

  1. Loved your post this morning. What first caught my eye was the title. “O God Our Help in Ages Past” is my favorite hymn. But I was also moved by the words to the “mariners hymn”. I am enjoying your crossing and the stories you tell.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.