The parish church of central Finchley
26 Hendon Lane, Finchley, London N3 1TR

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Posted May 10th, 2024

How Great Thou Art

post BOBERG and HINE

Our beautiful parish church of St. Mary has a fine musical history, blessed through the years by talented junior and senior choristers and powerful organists. Who among us doesn’t have at least one favourite hymn which we enjoy singing more than any other?

From an early age, my brother and I attended Bell Street Methodist Church in the Black Country.  Our choristers earned the nickname, “The Rozzers”  because young and old alike would sing so loudly they would be in danger of “raising the roof.”

We had a wonderful tradition on Anniversary Day in June of walking round the streets and pausing to sing favourite hymns. Well-wishers would pour out of their homes to see the girls in their pristine white dresses tied with colourful sashes and the boys in white shirts with ties to match the sashes.

My favourite hymn in those days is little known in the Anglican church: “Yes God is good, in earth and sky….”.  As with “How Great Thou Art” it celebrates the power of nature. “How Great Thou Art” was the favourite hymn one of St. Mary’s stalwarts – Betty Camkin, long-standing leader of the Women’s Fellowship Group and dear friend of Dad’s Army vicar, Frank Williams.

After she died, Frank arranged for a commemorative bench and plaque to be placed outside our church where Betty would wait for the bus home. Sadly the bench collapsed some years ago and has yet to be replaced.

“How Great Thou Art“ was composed in southern Sweden at the home of author and editor Carl Boberg, a member of the Swedish Parliament from 1912 to 1931.

Boberg recalled: “It was in 1885, when everything seemed to be in its richest colouring and the birds were singing in the trees.

“One afternoon, some friends and I had been to Kronobäck for an afternoon service. As we were returning a thunderstorm began and we hurried to find shelter. Strong winds swept over the meadows and billowing fields of grain. But the storm was soon over and the clear sky appeared with a beautiful rainbow.

“After reaching my home I opened my window toward the sea. The church bells were ringing the tune of a hymn. That same evening I wrote a poem which I called: ‘O Store Gud’ (How Great Thou Art).”

The poem was later set to a Swedish folk tune, translated into German and then into Russian. This version inspired the Revd Stuart Hine, a missionary in Ukraine, to write the original English lyrics and his own adaptation of the Swedish melody:

“O Lord my God, when I in awesome wonder,
Consider all the worlds thy hands have made;
I see the stars, I hear the rolling thunder,
Thy power throughout the universe displayed.
Then sings my soul, My saviour God, to thee,
How great thou art, How great thou art . . .”

— Article by: Lynn Radnedge
— Photo: Boberg and Hine