Appalachia’s Lost Hymn: And Why Churches Should Still Be Singing It!

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PHOTO: Summit Baptist Church, Sugar Grove, Virginia

At the time of his birth on April 16, 1793, in Lincoln, England, George Atkins seemed to be one of the most unlikely candidates on the planet to one day pen a timeless Appalachian folksong. But that’s exactly what happened in the years ahead and Atkins’ hymn would soon echo throughout the mountains and ‘hollers’ of Tennessee and Kentucky, as well as the two Virginia’s and Carolinas.

While Atkins’ native country and that of the United States were busy fighting the War of 1812, an international conflict that would see the White House burned to the ground and inspired the tune, “Battle of New Orleans”, the Methodist preacher was making plans to carry the Gospel message to his nation’s enemy across the Atlantic.

Atkins first served as pastor in Ohio before moving to Knoxville, Tennessee, where he was inspired to write the words of what would become “Appalachia’s Forgotten Hymn,” Brethren We Have Met Together.

Like so many hymns from the nineteenth century, Atkins’ song draws on several passages of Scripture, referencing God’s holy manna to the children of Israel in times of want, as well as the importance of prayer.

Brethren, we have met to worship,
And adore the Lord our God;
Will you pray with all your power,
While we try to preach the word?
All is vain, unless the Spirit
Of the Holy One come down;
Brethren, pray, and holy manna
Will be showered all around.

Brethren, see poor sinners round you,
Trembling on the brink of woe;
Death is coming, hell is moving;
Can you bear to let them go?
See our fathers, see our mothers,
And our children sinking down;
Brethren, pray, and holy manna
Will be showered all around.

Sisters, will you join and help us?
Moses’ sisters aided him;
Will you help the trembling mourners,
Who are struggling hard with sin?
Tell them all about the Savior,
Tell him that he will be found;
Sisters, pray, and holy manna
Will be showered all around.

Is there here a trembling jailer,
Seeking grace and filled with fears?
Is there here a weeping Mary,
Pouring forth a flood of tears?
Brethren, join your cries to help them;
Sisters, let your prayers abound;
Pray, O! pray, that holy manna
May be scattered all around.

Let us love our God supremely,
Let us love each other too;
Let us love and pray for sinners,
Till our God makes all things new
Then he’ll call us home to heaven,
At his table we’ll sit down.
Christ will gird himself and serve us
With sweet manna all around.

While in serving in Knoxville, Atkins shared his song throughout the city and soon, the hymn’s rich doctrinal statements were being heard in churches throughout East Tennessee.

In 1826, Atkins was transferred to Southwest Virginia, where he served as pastor in Abingdon, Virginia, until the time of his death the following year on August 29, 1827.  The English-born pastor was only 34-years-old at the time of his death.

A prolific writer, the Methodist preacher used his talents in the newspaper industry as well as in ministry, helping to propel the song’s popularity beyond the mountains.

For generations following Pastor Atkins’ death, the song was widely sung and celebrated across denominational lines, before becoming largely forgotten in many churches.

Serving as one of America’s first truly original hymns and being birthed in the hills of Appalachia, as well as serving as one of the most Scripturally sound songs found in the average church’s hymnal all lead us to believe it’s time to pull this forgotten gem back out and reintroduce it to an entirely new generation of church people!

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3 COMMENTS

  1. We have sung the song in our church many times .. usually the time we have The Lords Supper . I love the song , the words and the timing of the tune .

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