“Children of the Heavenly Father” – Carolyn Wood’s Devotional for May 29, 2021
“CHILDREN OF THE HEAVENLY FATHER” – 1855
Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God!. John 3:1
I will never forget the day I heard this lilting tune and sang the now familiar words of this hymn for the first time. It became one of my favorites then and it remains so today.
The day was a very warm summer day in May, the week we first arrived as a young family in Richmond, Virginia, where we would live very happily. As we climbed the steps to the traditional red brick church, we were warmly greeted and after many handshakes and nods of greeting we were escorted down the long aisle to a seat in the pews. The pastor entered and cut quite an imposing figure in his white robe as he towered over most of us in the sanctuary.
With a deep booming voice he welcomed all and the service began.
When children’s time came, about thirty children rushed forward for their special “Sunday time” with Pastor Chris, as the organist softly played “Children of the Heavenly Father. Each child vigorously vied for a position close to the Pastor as they settled in to listen. The tenderness with which he spoke and the intent of his listening told me right away of his love for children.
Next in the order of service came a baptism which is always one of my favorite things –watching the proud parents and sponsors and joining in with all to bless the new child of God.
As the ceremony ended Pastor Chris introduced the babe to the congregation, holding her high over his head and proceeding to walk the full length of the church so everyone could get a glimpse. Of course, the choir began to lead the congregation in singing “Children of the Heavenly Father.” I was to learn that this was the custom.
We were to find later that though Pastor Chris and his wife, Terry, were unable to have children of their own, they had an adopted daughter, Katie, who became our daughter’s best friend. As they were going through the difficult process of adoption, they discovered one of the hurdles in Virginia included a six-month waiting period during which the newborn had to be fostered by those other than the adoptive parents. This was prescribed by state law. The
foster mother who cared for Katie as she waited to come to her new home kept an album, including pictures and statistics, which she gave to Terry at the end of the six months.
Through this experience, Terry’s eyes were opened to a great need in the Richmond area – temporary foster parents for newborns. She and Pastor Chris signed up for the program and continued the unselfish and, sometimes, heartbreaking work of nurturing these babies for strangers for many years. Countless numbers of children made their first home in theirs and
each one was greatly loved. At the end of each six-month period there were tears, but great joy in sharing their hearts with these special babies. Of course, each new adoptive mother was presented with a lovely album containing priceless documentation of their new child’s progress
from birth to six months.
Every time I hear the hymn, “Children of the Heavenly Father”, I think of this amazing couple and thank God for the manner in which He enriched our lives by placing us in their path.
May you be reminded today of someone who has touched your life profoundly – give thanks for them and their influence in your life.
This Scandinavian hymn was penned by Carolina (Lina) Sandell-Berg, the “Fanny Crosby of Sweden.” She was born in a parsonage in Froderyd, Sweden, on October 3, 1832, into a home full of music and literature. Lina (pronounced Lie-nah) was a “daddy’s girl” in childhood, for her frail health often kept her indoors, in his study, when other children were outside playing.
When she was twelve, she fell ill and was paralyzed. Eventually Lina regained her health, and out of the experience came her first book of poems, published when she was a teenager. But another tragedy awaited her.
When she was twenty-six, she and her dad were traveling by boat outside the harbor of Goteborg when he fell overboard and drowned. Out of this experience came a flood of poems and hymns, including her classic, “Day by Day, and with “Each Passing Moment.”
Some hymn histories claim that “Children of the Heavenly Father” was one of the hymns written in response to her father’s death; but it was first published in 1855, three years before this tragedy. This has prompted other historians to claim it was one of the poems she wrote as a teenager. All we know is that “Children of the Heavenly Father” first appeared in Lina’s book, Andeliga Dagg-Dropper in 1855, when she was twenty-three.
The simple, lilting tune to “Children of the Heavenly Father” is a Swedish folk melody called “Tryggare Kan Ingen Vara,” which translated is: “No One Can Be Safer,” Its origins are unknown, but “Sweden’s Spiritual Troubadour,” Oskar Ahnfelt, a Lutheran Pietist who helped introduce evangelical hymns to the Swedish Church, set many of Lina’s poems to music. At the
time, the state-sponsored church didn’t allow simple pietistic hymns like “Children of the Heavenly Father.” But Ahnfelt sang the anyway, traveling around with his ten-string guitar.
When opposition arose, he was ordered to sing before King Karl XV. To the chagrin of church officials, the king loved Ahnfelt’s simple melodies and tender hymns, saying, “You may sing them as much as you desire in both of my kingdoms.” He did, and many of his texts were written by Lina Sandell-Berg, who wrote above six hundred fifty hymns and poems during her lifetime. “Ahnfelt has sung my songs into the hearts of the people,” she later said.
Grace, Peace and Joy to you as you listen! Carolyn