Sylvia Dunstan

For the celebration of Ascension, we sing two hymns from our Easter season booklet written by Sylvia Dunstan. Born in Ontario, Canada, in 1955, Sylvia’s love of music was nurtured by her grandparents and sustained by formal music education by a nun from the local convent. From the preface to her text collection In Search of Hope and Grace, she writes:

In 1974, I met Sister Miriam Therese Winter who taught me how to write scripture songs. … Eventually realizing that my tunes were all much of a muchness, I decided to concentrate on texts. Congregational resistance to unfamiliar tunes led me to use the hymn book tunes as the vehicle for the texts.
The songs we sing this weekend use the familiar tunes of ST. THEODULPH (All Glory, Laud, and Honor) and SINE NOMINE (For All the Saints). She continues:
In this process of using hymn book tunes I learned that structure (meter, rhyme, etc.) empowered the people’s singing. Since worship is intended to be the people’s work, the hymn/song choices are best when they help the whole gathered people to pray and praise. I came to believe that “meaningful thoughts” in sloppy form are an impediment to the people’s prayer, causing undue focus on the work itself, rather than pointing to the worship of God.

Alan Barthel was a teacher, mentor and friend to Sylvia Dunstan and gave her several assignments to write texts for different occasions, sometimes under very short notice. Go to the World was written for the 1985 Emmanuel College Convocation when Alan requested a text on the great commission saying, “And I’ll need it Thursday to go to the printers.”

Sylvia Dunstan died on July 25, 1993 only four months after being diagnosed with liver cancer. Her published output is only 57 hymns, but because of the poetry and the fit with familiar tunes, I have used at least a dozen of her texts for worship in the places I have served. I hope her meaningful thoughts will aid us all to worship God this weekend.