Colin Ferguson (1937 - )© Colin Ferguson
I apologise for actually choosing one of my own compositions but I was finding it really difficult to select any one from the wealth of hymnody that I have sung and read over my life. ‘Who would true valour see‘ (John Bunyan) was in my mind for a lot of the time but I was not sure if it was the music that attracted me or the poetry and the story of Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress. I could see much of my own life reflected in the imagery.
I did wonder about one of my other hymns ‘For the love which brings us here, Lord‘ because that speaks to me as my wife and I celebrate our diamond wedding but that is a one off and I sought something that reflected my faith in a God not remote but personal, a God in Christ who came to earth as one of us, a human Christ. Most of the hymns I have written have tried to convey this relationship. God is not a remote and unreachable mystery somewhere in a mythical heaven but a reality here and now.
In the end I recalled the song that came from my childhood though it was the music again that stayed in my mind and became the hymn that I wanted to write. In many ways it was the hymn that made me write. The tune was Stainer’s IN MEMORIAM, the hymn was ‘There’s a friend for little children‘ (or Jesus friend of little children, Albert Midlane). As a child I was quite a lonely little boy as we lived some of the time in a small Scottish village and then spent the following years in post war England moving from one room to another and not having a home of our own until I was nearly sixteen. Jesus became my friend and the concept of God as the loving father became an important concept in my life.
As I got older the idea of a remote friend in the sky lost its childhood appeal and Jesus became a present reality. If God, Jesus, Holy Spirit were not here they were of no use to me. I had no interest in the bright blue sky or concepts of heaven being the place where it would all come right in the end. To me heaven and hell were in the same place – here.
It was this sense of the immediacy of the friendship and companionship of God that mattered. It was this sense that moved me to leave my comfortable work in the Bank and to train as a probation officer. My work took me into South London of the 70’s and into Holloway prison as a welfare officer for two and a half years, working as close to hell with addicts, prostitutes, petty criminals, indeed with those whose sense of hope and love were so corrupted that they were truly lost. For them I was the sower, scattering the seeds of love and hope as they ought to be.
I wrote for them, hymns, prayers and I preached to the faithful of a God who loved us so much that his own Son would live among us even in our worst moments. Jesus was the true friend, who did not condone what we did but continued to love us whatever it was. So here it is, my tribute to John Stainer’s IN MEMORIAM. My words in as much as anything that is inspired can be owned by anyone except the God who is our inspiration. It is the Life I have tried to live. It is like my theme tune – Live with faith that speaks of Jesus.
Live with faith that speaks of Jesus
whatever life may bring,
a faith that shows its kindness,
a hope that makes us sing.
Whatever troubles face us,
or those we try to serve,
whatever evil tempts us
our love will never swerve.
Live with joy that speaks of Jesus,
alive in us today,
a joy that knows no limits
at work at rest or play.
Sing songs to greet the morning,
say prayers to bless the night,
give smiles to greet your neighbours
and help them share the light.
Live with peace that speaks of Jesus,
a peace to set us free,
a peace beyond our knowledge,
a Christ for you and me;
no weapon to protect us
though we may share his pain,
we stand in any conflict
to make peace in his name.
Live with love that speaks of Jesus
at work in us right now,
a love that cares for others
and does not worry how.
Love that is full of mercy,
love that is pure in heart,
love that is always willing
to make another start.
Live a life that speaks of Jesus
with purpose to the end,
a reason to be living
with Jesus as our friend.
Beside us on our journey,
in glory or despair,
in all that makes us human,
we know that God is there.