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Some churches eschew patriotic hymns

JAMESTOWN -- While "My Country, 'Tis of Thee" and "America the Beautiful" are in some churches' hymn books, not every church opts to use them -- or other patriotic hymns -- the week of Independence Day.

"We have on and off. I think a lot of it comes down to the preference of the leadership," said the Rev. Kevin Goodrich, pastor of Grace Episcopal Church. "There's an ongoing tension in Christian churches."

While Grace normally opts out of patriotic tunes during the July Fourth holiday season, the congregation does pray for the president, governor, mayor and other governmental officials and bodies on a regular basis.

Goodrich said the American civil tradition supports the idea that people can be good Christians and good citizens, but there's also sometimes tension between the two.

Zion Congregational United Church of Christ in Medina actually sings one verse from "My Country, 'Tis of Thee" every Sunday -- a tradition that got started after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, said the Rev. Martin Nussbaum, senior pastor.

It's not the first verse, but the one that goes "Our fathers' God to Thee, author of liberty, to thee we sing. Long may our land be bright with freedom's holy light, protect us by Thy might, Great God our King."

Nussbaum is also the senior pastor at First Congregational United Church of Christ in Jamestown, and he said both of his churches have flags in their sanctuaries.

Both congregations will sing "America the Beautiful" on July 7, but they will also sing songs praying for national peace and justice, Nussbaum said. For example, "This Is My Song" was written between World Wars I and II and prays for peace, and "Let Justice Flow Like Streams" is a justice hymn.

Nussbaum plans to follow the lectionary text for the week, which is from 2 Kings 5, and tells the story of an enemy of Israel going to Elisha and asking for help to be healed from leprosy.

"It's a good time for enemies to work together ... and heal, and find reconciliation," Nussbaum said.

The St. James Basilica congregation will also be joining together to sing "America the Beautiful," said the Rev. Al Bitz, pastor at the basilica.

People interpret separating church and state differently, Bitz said, but the Eucharist can be celebrated while acknowledging that people are celebrating a particular cultural and state event -- Independence Day.

"So many of the things that are enshrined in the cultural and state event are good things, and we can sing about those and we certainly pray about those," Bitz said.

The basilica sanctuary has three flags, all overhanging its balcony -- the North Dakota state flag, the American flag and the papal flag.

Immanuel Lutheran Church has chosen a different hymn to sing in honor of Independence Day -- "The Battle Hymn of the Republic," written during the American Civil War.

"We are singing patriotic songs, and then (July 4) will certainly be mentioned," said the Rev. Nels Lillejord, pastor at Immanuel.

Immanuel, Zion and First Congregational United Church of Christ all have flags in their sanctuaries, as does Temple Baptist Church.

"We're certainly very thankful and blessed to be living in the United States, and we appreciate and honor the sacrifices of our forebears, but we don't idolize it either, in the sense of thinking that God is only on the side of the Americans," said the Rev. Randy Jaspers, senior pastor at Temple Baptist.

Temple generally focuses more on honoring veterans and people serving in the U.S. armed forces than on patriotic music, Jaspers said. His church has three different worship ministry teams that choose the songs.

"I wouldn't be surprised if we have (a patriotic song) either this week or next week," Jaspers said. "I'm sure it'll be only one of many different songs, and it probably wouldn't be a lot."

There will be special music that can be considered patriotic, however -- an arrangement of "This Is My Father's World" and the Navy Hymn, also known as "Eternal Father, Strong to Save" or "For Those in Peril on the Sea."

Temple Baptist's sanctuary contains two flags -- the Christian flag and the American flag, Jaspers said. Both are off to the sides of the room, and they're generally not emphasized, though the AWANA program for youth does have a flag ceremony on Wednesdays.

"We do have a flag," Goodrich said of Grace Episcopal Church. "That's a source of contention in other places, but not here."