by Jesse Ratcliffe
In the 1982 Hymnal, there are seventeen hymn texts appointed for the season of Epiphany. Of those, I find the hymn O Light of Light, Love Given Birth (Hymn 133) to be the most unique. The text of Hymn 133 is intended for use on the Feast of the Transfiguration, as one will find numerous references to light in the text. Although this isn’t a text or tune that “slaps” like We Three Kings, the descriptive language and creative melody, and harmony make it a thing of beauty.
The original text is believed to be from “no later than the tenth century”. The text found in the 1982 Hymnal is a combination of a Latin translation by Laurence Houseman and the editors of the Hymnal. Houseman, a multi-talented artist: a Victorian playwright, writer, illustrator, translator, and feminist that openly supported women’s suffrage. He produced Art Nouveau illustrations for Christina Rosetti (the author of the beloved carols Love Came Down at Christmas and In the Bleak Midwinter). As a writer, he penned a handful of hymns (one being Father Eternal, Ruler of Creation - hymn 573) and carol texts as well as material for political pamphlets as well as fairy tales. His work as a playwright often garnered negative attention as he would often depict living members of the Royal House.
Cary Ratcliff composed the tune ELMHURST, the name of the street he lived on at the time, originally to be paired with a Charles Wesley text, Forth In Thy Name, I Go. Ratcliff, a native of Rochester, NY is a flexible composer whose output ranges from solo guitar to large choral and orchestral ensembles. He entered this tune into the 1982 National Guild of Organists’ Hymn Tune Competition and subsequently won. Ratcliff employs unique harmonies underneath the tune, which he varies for the last verse. Singers will notice that the first two verses have a different melodic end than the last.
I doubt that this hymn will end up on your “Top Ten Favorite Hymns”, but I am sure that you can agree that the work of Houseman and Ratcliff has left us with a true gem of a hymn.
At the end of January, Jesse Ratcliffe will be stepping down from his position as Organist and Director of Music.
Jesse arrived at Heavenly Rest on the Second Sunday of Easter in 2020, at the height of the Covid shutdown. It is hard to overstate what a difficult time this was for church musicians. At that point in the pandemic, music-making, particularly choral singing, was considered a dangerous activity. Nevertheless, Jesse imagined safe and creative ways to offer genuinely meaningful musical experiences to the people of Heavenly Rest and the Abilene community. In the meantime, Jesse provided unparalleled leadership to our organ committee, giving both vision and direction to the restoration and expansion of our Aeolian-Skinner Opus 1416. With the assistance of Shelly Reed, Jesse also created opportunities for our children’s choir to sing in worship regularly. These opportunities have grown the ranks of that choir and drawn members from around the church’s neighborhood. During his time at Heavenly Rest, in other words, Jesse shepherded the music program through one of the more traumatic periods in history and laid the groundwork for future growth in a variety of areas. We will miss him, but we will always be grateful for his talent and dedication.
Jesse has accepted a position at All Saints’ Episcopal Church in Frederick, Maryland. He begins this new phase of his ministry with our gratitude and our best wishes for his future success. Jesse’s last Sunday at Heavenly Rest will be January 29.
We are actively searching for Jesse’s successor, and have begun speaking with several promising candidates. If you have any questions about the transition process, please contact David Romanik.