- Singing the Faith: 285
- “Were you there” arr Francis Westbrook
It is suggested that the last verse ("Were you there when God raised him from the dead?") is not used prior to Easter Day. Also see optional additional verses mentioned below.
The origins of this American folk hymn cannot be determined; it is certainly older than the published versions, having been sung not only in negro plantaion districts but also in 'white' regions of America, with many variants of the text. One version appeared in William E. Barton's 'Old Plantation Hymns', published in Boston in 1899, and another in 'Folk Songs of the American negro', collecedt by J.W. and F.J. Work and published in Nashville, 1907.
The version in Singing the Faith is the same as that published in Hymns & Psalms (H&P 181), with the same harmonised arranagement by Francis Westbrook. Longer versiosn of the text are available. Examples of texts sometimes inserted between the present verses 2 and 3 are: "Were you there when they pierced him in the side?" and "Were you there when the sun refused to shine?" The present verse 4 is a variant of "Were you there when he rose from out the tomb?" A further verse is sometimes added: "Were you there when he ascended up on high?"
Francis Westbrook was ordained into the Wesleyan ministry in 1930 and was also a distinguished musician. From 1968 until 1975 he was Professor of harmony and counterpoint at the London College of Music where the Director was William Lloyd Webber , himself a composer and one time organist of Methodist Central Hall in London.