In seminary I took a class on liturgical dance. As the class members co-created worship for a chapel service we were leading, we struggled together with the poetry we were using as the focus of a dance piece. Some of the dancers thought it made sense to change some of the words to more accurately fit the worship, to match the dance we were creating. Others had a slightly different theology than the poet and therefore wanted the adjustment. We grappled with our dance, and the accompanying language, and then someone finally realized that what we really needed to do was check with the poet—he was a member of our class, but was not in attendance that day. When our class member returned, we discovered that he didn’t want the language changed at all; he intended it as written and made it clear to us that if we wanted to use it, we needed to use it as it was.
It was a lesson to all of us about integrity of authorship, how the rights of the author of any piece need to be respected, but also how easily we were ready to make a change when he wasn’t present. If our poet was not able to make his wishes known, would we have gone ahead and made those changes?
One of the hymns we use almost every week in worship is the blessing with which we send out our children to their classes. We sing, “Go now in peace,” which is a loving benediction we offer them as they scamper out the door. For many years, we sang this tune, as did so many other congregations, making a substitution from the published text in our hymnal, changing the author’s original language. Then, it was brought to our attention that the author had not granted permission for this change, and in fact had asked that this change not be made. For a time we removed the song from our liturgy rather than re-teaching the song with the original text.
A number of months ago we returned to this beloved Natalie Sleeth hymn, “Go Now in Peace.” We now print the text in the order of service as it was written and published. Now, when we sing out our children to their religious exploration, we can feel good that not only do they receive a blessing to send them on their way, but that we are honoring our principles by respecting the integrity of the author, who wrote this text out of her own deep faith.
With love and respect,