As I was pursuing my degree in music at BYU-Idaho I became a bit of a nerd for music theory. From the first semester we were tasked with building chord progressions and learning counterpoint. Eventually, we were tasked with making a hymn setting, though not particularly for a specific lyrics. The moment I made these connections I began to get a craving for analyzing the hymns in the hymnbook and figuring out how they made all those "cool" moments work in all my favorites. It was at this point I also began searching for texts I could set to music to create hymns of my own. I quickly found how hard it is to find them. (As a note, if anyone had a text they'd like to put to a hymn setting, feel free to get in contact). I tried coming up with my own words with little success. Then one day as I was going through some family history I came across my 4th great grandfather, William Richins. I was intrigued by his story, being the oldest person in the Richins line to become a member of the LDS church. (Technically, Charles Richins was the first). This all happened in the 1800's, and they eventually chose to emigrate to Utah, the home of the LDS church at the time. Little is said about their experience going through with this journey, but among what we have is this text that is purportedly written by William Richins.
The Last Farewell
My friends the time is growing nigh
When I to you must say goodbye
Twill be my last farewell.
I soon shall join a noble band
And journey from my native land
Far in the West to dwell.
Do you not know the time has come
For scattered saints to gather home?
My God I must obey;
Then gladly will I say adieu
To all my friends and country too
I have no wish to stay.
How gladly I will hasten there,
Those blessings how I long to share
With the saints I long to dwell;
But when I am in Deseret
My absent friends I'll not forget
Though now I say farewell.
The words are stirring. William was said to have loved his homeland is Gloucestershire. He had thought about leaving for the United States before joining the church, but chose not to due to the community of friends he had in England. I've found myself pondering on his sacrifice in traveling to the unknown United States. Myself, I have moved across the United States several times. Between traveling from where I grew up, my mission, and two different colleges, I've come to know a number of people that is still growing steadily. There have been many times, I will admit, that I've been brought to tears at the prospect of leaving one area to go to another, (especially on my mission), not knowing when I would ever come across certain people again. Luckily for me, there's social media, which I can use to stay in touch with many of the people I've grown to love. William Richins was not so fortunate. Even a physical letter must have taken months to travel across the ocean. His goodbye was likely for good, not expecting to ever see or even contact any of them ever again. This goodbye was final. It would be the "last farewell" he would ever give to his friends in England.
That perspective adds so much more meaning to the text. His faith is evident as he writes, "my God I must obey," and, "How gladly I will hasten there, those blessings how I long to share." He had a strong faith that whatever the sacrifice, it would be worth it. There had been some confusion about church doctrine in England, I can only imagine that part of what he sought in traveling to Utah was to be in a place where church doctrine would be more set and definite, no question on what they believed.
We face our own challenges today, and we can often find strength in the words and stories of our ancestors. I have found much strength and understanding in reading and singing these words. I hope those who choose to learn this song for themselves will find the same thing.
I've provided a free copy of the music and a recording below. Feel free to print, copy and share for personal and church use.
I'm a traditional christian music enthusiast. I'm one of those people that attends church for the music just as much as the sermon, one of those people that give an evil glare at the people who leave for the congregational hymns, (Ok no, not really).
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