This hymn is by British hymn writer Lesbia Scott (1898-1986). She was married to a naval officer, who later became an Anglican priest. She wrote hymns for her three children as a means of Christian formation, to teach faith as an everyday matter. Many of her hymns came at the request of the children, such as a hymn for a picnic. The title of her collection of hymns underscores her purpose in writing them: Everyday Hymns for Little Children (1929). This hymn, written for All Saints Day, directs the children to saints as role models, and intends to teach the children to love and follow God throughout their lives.
This is the only one of her hymns that has become widely used. Though it is not included in The English Hymnal, it is in several American hymnals. It was first published in the United States in The Hymnal 1940. The Hymnal 1982 Committee decided not to include it in the Hymnal 1982, saying the text was too culture specific, and that it was obviously a children’s hymn they feared would be trivialized by adults. But they soon learned just how wildly popular this hymn is when they got overruled by another Committee! The Joint Committee for Hymnal Revision of the General Convention of 1982 restored it to the collection for The Hymnal 1982. This hymn is a favorite of many Episcopalians, and not just children. I know several Episcopalians of a certain age who declare it to be their favorite hymn. We learn it as children, and it never leaves us. In 2003, Anglicans Online did a survey of favorite hymns. They asked people if they could take only one hymn with them on a desert island, what would it be. This hymn was in the top 20 hymns people chose.
The tune, GRAND ISLE, is not named after Grand Isle, Louisiana. Rather it is named after Grand Isle, Vermont, an island in Lake Champlain, where the composer of the tune lived. American organist priest John Henry Hopkins (1861-1945), who was a member of The Hymnal 1940 hymnal committee, composed this tune specifically for this text.
John Henry Hopkins came from a very illustrious family, several of whom were also named John Henry Hopkins. So it can be confusing trying to figure out which John Henry Hopkins is the subject of any discussion. His grandfather, John Henry Hopkins (1792-1868) was the first Episcopal bishop of Vermont, and the eighth presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church in America. His uncle, John Henry Hopkins, Jr. (1820-1891), also a priest, wrote both text and tune for “We Three Kings of Orient Are,” (H1982 128).
–Carolyn Parmenter, Music Director