By Curtis Shelburne: Religion columnist
I don’t suppose it’s particularly surprising most of us have spent more time choosing toothpaste brands than choosing the hymns we’d like sung at our funeral. We’d rather think about toothpaste.
I don’t know who picked the hymns for President Gerald R. Ford’s funeral at the National Cathedral in Washington. I think I heard they were family favorites. Whoever chose them chose well. I doubt I’ll care much when the time comes, but I can hardly imagine a lineup of hymns I’d like better at my service.
Following the reading of the Old Testament lesson — Isaiah 40:28-31, one of my favorite scriptures and one that was read at the funerals of my parents (“they shall mount up with wings like eagles”) — the first hymn was “The King of Love My Shepherd Is,” based on Psalm 23.
The next hymns were the beautiful, “O God, Our Help in Ages Past,” and the majestic, “Eternal Father, Strong to Save.” I learned the latter two hymns as I grew up singing with my family at home. The former I learned only recently. All three have stood the test of time and are treasures of the church.
For my service, I’d throw in one, “Be Still, My Soul,” whose beautiful words were written in 1752.
As I watched President Ford’s beautiful service unfold, I recalled author Jon Meacham’s description (in Franklin and Winston) of the preparation and carrying out of another beautiful service.
It was August 10, 1941, and with British and American aides, officers, and sailors intermingled on the decks of her majesty’s Ship, Prince of Wales, Prime Minister Winston Churchill and President Franklin Roosevelt lifted their voices in song. On the lectern were the Union Jack and the Stars and Stripes.
As host, Churchill had given a lot of thought to the service. While drying off from one of his twice daily baths, he had had his private secretary, John Martin read prayers to him from which he chose those to be read by the chaplains.
Churchill had also picked the hymns. They began with “O God, Our Help in Ages Past,” and ended with “Eternal Father, Strong to Save.” And in the middle of the service, “Onward, Christian Soldiers.” Churchill and Roosevelt would later recall how deeply they, and all those assembled, were moved (Churchill, to tears).
Churchill had been leading the fight for freedom. America would soon join. Many singing on the deck of that grand battleship on that bright August day would lose their lives when, in just a few months, the Japanese would sink her. But the cause of freedom, the great gift not bestowed by any man or dictator but the birthright given by God, would not be lost.
Curtis Shelburne is pastor of 16th & Ave. D. Church of Christ in Muleshoe. Contact him at