- Singing the Faith: 674 (CD27 #26)
- Herman Stuempfle
- “The Lord's my shepherd” by Merla Watson
- 86.86.D. Double Common Metre
Herman Stuempfle’s hymns offer honest accounts of how we are as human beings. See, for example, When the bonds of love are breaking (StF 656).
“Would I have answered” represents a very personal reflection on the Gospel stories of Jesus recruiting his first disciples, with their concise narratives of call and response. Jesus calls “Follow me”, and the fishermen brothers Simon and Andrew do just that, without hesitation.
The story is the starting point for many hymns in Singing the Faith: for example, John Bell and Graham Maule’s Will you come and follow me? (StF 673); or the aspirational “Here I am, Lord” of Daniel Schutte’s I, Lord the sea of sky (StF 663), which also reminds us of the boy Samuel and some of the prophets of Hebrew Scripture.
Stuempfle inserts a cautionary note to the kind of enthusiastic response we often bring when we sing such hymns. It may be that, like Jesus’ first disciples, “all I longed for I have found by the water” and that our desire is to “seek other shores” with Christ (Lord, you have come to the seashore, StF 558). Nevertheless, as the saying goes, “when the chips are down…”, how easy would we find the call – not least if we are were required to follow Jesus in giving our lives for our faith commitment? Would we, like Jesus’ scattered disciples, have “slipped away and left you there alone”? (v.3).
The truth is, Stuempfle concludes, many of us simply have to say “we do not know”. We can only pray that Christ-in-us will give us strength beyond our own “to follow faithfully”. (v.4)
Moving on from what feels safe and familiar can be challenging (v.1). It’s a task Rosemary Wakelin also addresses in her hymn The world we thought we knew is changing fast (website only). Alluding to another biblical story (Matthew 14: 24-27) , she writes:
You take the stuff of chaos, fear and dread,
and make a path where we can safely tread;
and if we fear the wildness of the wave,
we know your outstretched hand is there to save.
In his commentary on “Would I have answered”, Michael Hawn recalls talking to Herman Stuempfle about this hymn:
“Two years before his death, during the slow, but inevitable advance of ALS, the Rev. Stuempfle reflected on this hymn to this writer: “'Would I have followed' is more subjective than most of my texts. It was prompted by reading and reflecting on Mark 1: 16-20. Mark’s brief narrative is like a mirror that insists upon self-examination. Does the security net of comfort and privilege most of us enjoy keep us from making the immediate and total response of those four fishermen? Are we willing to pay what Bonhoeffer calls ‘the cost of discipleship?’ Such questions cannot be answered in the abstract. Answers appear only when our life circumstances bring us to moments of decision.”
(Comments by Michael Hawn drawn from his "history of hymns" articles for the United Methodist Church: Would I have answered when you called.)
Remembered on his death in 2007 as “a gracious, gentle man”, the Revd Dr Herman Stuempfle was born in 1923. To read details of his life can be somewhat exhausting, given the range of his work and commitments.
Stuempfle, a minister of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, lived in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, for five decades, and was on the faculty of the Lutheran Theological Seminary (now the United Lutheran Seminary) for 27 of those years. He served as professor, dean, and president. In 1962 he had taken up the post of John and Susannah Ulrich Professor of the Art of Preaching, and in his honour the Herman G. Stuempfle Chair of the Proclamation of the Word has been established.
As a professor of homiletics, his most well-known publication was Preaching Law and Gospel. One reviewer wrote of the book that “Herman Stuempfle challenges tidy and trivial approaches to preaching with a call for sermons that embody the deep and enduring theological themes of law and gospel.”
Academia was no ivory tower for Stuempfle. Before arriving in Gettysburg, he had served individual Lutheran congregations and for four years was associate director of the Board of Social Ministry of the (then) United Lutheran Church in America. A commitment to “social ministry” was worked out fully in Gettysburg, where Stuempfle helped establish day care centres, served on the Gettysburg inter-church social action committee, and helped create and support prison ministries and a homeless shelter.
Stuempfle’s hymn writing was mainly undertaken during his retirement, and was closely tied to his commitment to preaching. "Hymns are the sung testimony to God's mighty acts of grace and judgment," he said, and crafting hymns was part of his "fundamental vocation to communicate the Gospel." He wrote some 550 hymn texts, many of them inspired directly by lectionary readings. Four volumes of his hymns have been published by GIA since 1993, and in 2004 he was made a Fellow of The Hymn Society in the United States and Canada.