Like many UU congregations, for years we have been singing our children off to RE classes with the Natalie Sleeth song "Go Now In Peace", a tradition that has recently been questioned because, like many UU congregations, we substitute the words "spirit of Love" for the phrase "Love of God" in one line of the ditty. It seems like an innocent substitution and one that seems completely in line with the generally accepted tendency of human beings to modify or redefine words that don't fit one's theological or social views.
However, once we learned that Ms. Sleeth and her heirs have requested that the song be sung in its original version ("Go now in peace, go now in peace, may the love of God surround you, everywhere, everywhere you may go"), we had a dilemma on our hands. Should we honor the request of the composer and her heirs or should we rely on the so-called "folk process" to justify the change we'd made?
A couple of years ago, we tried substituting a beautiful short song by a UU composer but it just didn't catch on. There was something about that old "Go now in peace" melody and words that just wouldn't be set aside, so we went back to singing it again and shoving our nagging sense of artistic disrespect underground.
Well, it's surfaced again and on the 24th of October, the next time I am in the pulpit, I have a plan. I've warned the worship leader and checked it out with our administrator, who is feeling as uneasy about the situation as I am, and that day, before we start singing it, I am going to say something like this, perhaps after asking folks to open their hymnals to page 413:
"Because the composer of this beloved little song, Natalie Sleeth and her family, has asked congregations to sing the original words, not substituting the word "love" for the word "God" in the song, I am going to sing those original words from now on. I invite you to sing the correct words with me, if you are willing and able, out of respect for the artist's original composition. If you can't, well, nobody's going to be taking names. But if most of us can't do that, we'll find another song, out of respect for the composer. Now let's sing our children off to their classes."
I don't know if this will be well-received or not. Chances are most folks in the congregation will sing the original words; I certainly don't find them offensive, just a little limiting. There will definitely be those who continue to sing the words they're used to and I have no objection to that. There will be no police action! And I think that will satisfy my own sense of obligation to Ms. Sleeth and her family. It certainly will be easier than finding a new song! I'll keep you posted.
This ministry life is so interesting! And they pay me to do this....will wonders never cease?