Singing the National Anthem

On the Sunday morning of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Weekend I got the congregation to sing the National Anthem. My family were aghast. How dare I as a Baptist minister encourage my church to sing ‘God save our gracious Queen’. We are Nonconformists! The Queen may be head of the Church of England, but she is certainly not head of any Baptist church! Indeed, as Baptists we supported Oliver Cromwell – as also the French Revolution and the American Revolution. In choosing to sing the National Anthem, I was betraying my roots.

My response was that as a nation all of us, including Baptists, had good reason to thank God
for the last 60 years of the reign of Queen Elizabeth II. Personally, I would be delighted if
in ten years time we found ourselves celebrating her Platinum Jubilee. Although many of the
trappings of royalty may not be defensible, I had no difficulty in singing the first verse of the
National Anthem: viz.

God save our gracious Queen,
Long live our noble Queen,
God save the Queen!
Send her victorious,.
Happy and glorious,
Long to Reign over us;
God save the Queen!

Had we gone on to sing the now traditional second verse, that I confess would have created
difficulties – for that is much more ‘jingoist’:

O Lord, our God, arise
Scatter her enemies,
And make them fall.
Confound their politics,
Frustrate their knavish [originally ‘popish’] tricks
On Thee, our hopes we fix,
God save us all

To be fair, that verse is rarely sung today. Instead, if a second verse of the National Anthem is
sung, as at the Proms, it is the third verse:

Thy choicest gifts in store,
On her be pleased to pour;
Long may she reign:
May she defend our laws,
And ever give us cause
To sing with heart and voice
God save the Queen!

Not surprisingly there have be a number of attempts to re-write the National Anthem. The Jubilate Hymns Trust published the following revised version in Hymns for Today’s Church:

God save our gracious Queen
God bless and guard our Queen,
Long live the Queen!
Guard us in liberty,
Bless us with unity,
Save us from tyranny!

Lord be our nation’s light,
Guide us in truth and right:
In you we stand;
Give us your faithfulness,
Keep us from selfishness,
Raise us to godliness;
God save our land!

Spirit of love and live
Healing our nation’s strife,
On you we call:
Teach us your better way,
Grant us your peace today;
God bless our Queen, we pray,
God save us all

Although to my mind the words are fine, they are, not surprisingly as a National Anthem,
very much focussed on our country. Precisely to counter that narrow focus, the Victorian
philanthropist William Edward Hickson wrote an ‘improved’ version of the national anthem,
which is now found in the English Hymnal

God bless our native land,
May heaven’s protecting hand
Still guard our shore;
May peace her power extend
Foe be transformed to friend
And Britain’s rights depend
On war no more.

May just and righteous laws
Uphold the public cause
And bless our isle
Home of the brave and free
The land of liberty
We pray that still on thee
Kind heaven may smile.

Not on this land alone
But be God’s mercies known

From shore to shore.
Lord, make the nations see
That men should brothers be,
And from one family
The whole world o’er

As it was, the version of the national anthem we sang the other Sunday came from Baptist Praise and Worship. After singing the traditional first verse of ‘God save our gracious Queen’, we sang the second verse of the Jubilate revised anthem, and a slightly altered version of the third verse of the Hickson anthem:

Lord make your mercies known
Not on this land alone
But on each shore.
Soon may the nations be
In love and unity,
And form one family
The whole world o’er

I dare to believe that everybody was happy – including our many internationals – and that we did
not compromise our Baptist principles!

One comment

  1. This has been enormously helpful at easing my own angst about singing the national anthem as part of a civic ceremony being held at my(!) church in October. I shall proceed conscience intact but knees still knocking, even if less so. Thank you.

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