Sightings in Christian Music

by Glen Wiberg

My sightings in this issue include the use of a new hymn in three services held at the Bethlehem Covenant Church of Minneapolis: a Sunday morning worship service, a funeral, and the blessing of a marriage. I was present at these services and felt in each the awe and wonder of a birthing as a congregation found its song: “Surrounded by God’s Silent, Faithful Angels” by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, with music by Sigfried Feitz. Serving as “midwife” for the new hymn was its translator, Pastor Steven Paul Swanson, a member of the Bethlehem Church.

To my knowledge, this is only the second Bonhoeffer hymn that has been translated into English. The first, “By Gracious Powers,” has appeared in several recent hymnals: The United Methodist Hymnal; With One Voice: Supplement of the Lutheran Hymnal; Worship: A Hymnal and Service Book for Roman Catholics; The New Century Hymnal; and The Mennonite Hymnal. We hope this second hymn translated by Steve will also gain wide usage.

Surrounded by God’s silent faithful angels,
Protected and upheld, with none to fear.
I’ll share each day of life that we are given
And walk with you into the newborn year.

Refrain:

Surrounded by God’s silent, faithful angels,
We wait expectantly for what may be.
God is with us from evening until morning,
And will remain through all eternity.

Sometimes our hearts are frightened by past mem’ry
Sometimes the days are long and full of care.
But Lord, you give us souls which cannot falter
Salvation is our hope, you’ll bring us there!

Lord, when you send the cup of tears and sorrow,
It is so full we often wonder why,
To take the cup you offer with thanksgiving
Is living in the grace, for which you died.

When silent death comes knocking on our doorstep,
Then let us hear the full triumphant sound.
The world we cannot see breaks through earth’s boundaries
And all your children sing the glorious song.

Steve informed me that while he was serving as pastor of a Free evangelical congregation in Germany, he found the hymn in a popular hymnal used by many Free evangelical churches in Germany—Ich Will Dir Danken (Haenssler-Verlag, 1991). He said it is a particular favorite in the Free churches at New Year because of its reference to celebrating the New Year. Steve further stated that Bonhoeffer wrote the poem to his beloved community from prison as a witness to his strong faith and hope of glory. He wrote it in 1944, just three months before his martyrdom.

Asked about his translation, Steve said: “I was literally inspired to translate this hymn when (Pastor) Phil Stenberg visited me over New Years in 2000 shortly after he had lost his wife Evonne. As I freely translated the hymn we had sung at our New Year service, he asked for a written copy. That set me to work and in a night of inspiration at my bedside, the words poured forth. Phil brought the hymn back to the USA that winter….”

These were my three sightings for the hymn at Bethlehem. It was sung for the first time by the congregation at the Sunday morning service with the late Dr. F. Burton Nelson of North Park Seminary, renowned Bonhoeffer scholar, as preacher. The second sighting of the hymn was sung by the Bethlehem choir at the funeral of Carol Swanson, Steve’s mother and wife of Paul Swanson, who was a Bible teacher at Minnehaha Academy for many years. The third sighting was last November at the Celebration and Blessing of the Marriage of Barbara Jean Boca and Steven Paul Swanson. Steve said, “It also seemed so appropriate to sing it at our wedding (in Chicago), with my mother and both of Barb’s parents in the company of heavenly saints, and our wedding date falling on the weekend of All Saints. I love the firm faith which is expressed and confident hope.”

A few days following The Celebration and Blessing of Marriage, Barbara and Steve left for Belgium where they are now serving the International Church in Belgium.

Recalling the death of our son, Carl, Steve spoke a moving pastoral word to me. He wrote this and concluded with the line from the hymn (italics): “May God continue to bless the memory of our loved one in this season of yearning. May we always remember, ‘the world we cannot see breaks through life’s boundaries and all God’s children sing the glorious song!’”

If any of you are interested in receiving a copy of the text and music of the Bonhoeffer hymn, please write to me at the following address: Rev Glen V Wiberg, 1798 Tioga Boulevard, New Brighton, Minnesota 55112.

Glen Wiberg (d. 2017), was a Covenant pastor and writer. He was Chairperson of the Covenant Hymnal Commission.

See all articles by Glen Wiberg