Pam Rhodes: “I can just imagine God smiling …”




There’s a very popular hymn which is sung with gusto in churches around the country at Christmas time. Perhaps you have sung it yourself, it begins like this:

*Hark the herald angels sing,

Glory to the newborn king:

peace on earth and mercy mild,

God and sinners reconciled!

Much loved broadcaster and author Pam Rhodes, is the familiar face of BBC Television’s Songs of Praise, presenting programmes from tiny country churches to huge outside broadcasts with interviews ranging from Pope John Paul II to Dolly Parton. Here she unpacks the backstory of this hymn and adds her voice to the festive conversation.

In the book Christmas Voices Pam writes: “You know that old saying, ‘If you want something done well, do it yourself’? Well this carol is proof that real perfection comes with teamwork. When the great Charles Wesley wrote this carol in 1739 the first line was, ‘Hark how all the welkin rings’. He knew ‘welkin’ meant the vaults of heaven but no one else did, so his ministry colleague George Whitefield tactfully changed that first line to ‘Hark! The herald angels sing.’

Then, 40 years later when Tate and Brady brought out their new hymn-book, they decided that this carol would be even better with the addition of the chorus that we all now know and love. And Wesley had stipulated that this carol needed stately sombre music – with exactly the same determination as, a century later Mendelssohn insisted that the melody he wrote to mark the invention of the printing press should never be partnered with sacred words. So, both men would have turned in their graves to know that, 15 years after that, William Cummings, a young English organist, picked up those words and that melody, and created one of the most perfect and best-loved carols of all! Teamwork won through in the end – and I can just imagine God smiling at the blessing it’s given us all.”

Photo credit: Val Fraser

Christmas Voices is a sweet little advent book published by the Bible Reading Fellowship (BRF) with reflections by Claire Musters. Its tasteful burgundy red cover is reminiscent of a premium quality Christmas card adorned with golden holly, trumpets and a Christmas star. At 150 pages long, the compact size would fit nicely through the average letter box.

* Words by Charles Wesley (1707-88), adapted by George Whitefield (1714-70); music by Felix Mendelssohn (1809-47), adapted by William Hayman Cummings (1831-1915).

Main Photo Credit: Courtesy of Pam Rhodes

Val Fraser

Val Fraser is a trained journalist with over 12 years’ experience working on staff in various demanding media environments. She has authored/edited thousands of articles including news, travel and features. Val has authored/contributed to nine non-fiction books. A regular columnist, she stepped up to the role of Digital Editor in September 2022 and is responsible for the Sorted Magazine website.

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