The Music of Elizabeth Alexander

Love is the Spirit of this Church

A feast of old-time gospel, with a vision for our time

Words by Tony Larsen & Elizabeth Alexander

Love is the Spirit of this Church does not hesitate to declare religion’s true purpose! In this progressive reimagining of a classic gospel tune, faith communities expand beyond their “walls and steeple” in order to become “a gathered people” that blesses the world with words and deeds.

The “Old-Time Revival Version” includes a narrated opening section and a “testimony time” recognizing embodied acts of love. Lead sheets for additional instruments are available upon request.

The “Contemporary Gospel Version” features a warm and generous opening solo and an optional part for unison children’s choir.

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Composer Notes

Composer Notes

It took three ministers plus a minister’s daughter to create this song. It all started in 1878, when Presbyterian minister and hymnwriter Elisha A. Hoffman penned the classic “altar call” warhorse, Washed in the Blood.

A century later, Unitarian Universalist minister Tony Larsen began leading spirited revivals for religious liberals, setting original lyrics to tunes from well-known revival songs. Tony’s new lyric was based on a church covenant written by Rev. James Vila Blake in 1894: “Love is the spirit of this church and service is its law. This is our great covenant: to dwell together in peace, to seek the truth in love, and to help one another.”

Tony’s popular revivals were performed all over the country – including in Madison, Wisconsin, where this minister’s daughter showed up in 1993 with a baby propped on one hip and a tambourine rattling against the other. Twenty years later, a commission for the dedication of a new church building offered her the perfect opportunity to create a full-fledged choral arrangement of Love is the Spirit of this Church.

Whew, what a family tree this song has! I wonder what branches will sprout next?

Text

Love is the Spirit of this Church

Oh our church is built of neither brick nor stone,
For it’s love that’s the spirit of this church.
It’s a shelter fashioned from our hearts alone.
Yes it’s love that’s the spirit of this church.

For it’s love, yes it’s love,
For it’s love that’s the spirit of this church.
Not the walls or steeple but a gathered people
Is what makes up the spirit of this church.

It is not stained glass that makes these windows bright,
For it’s love that’s the spirit of this church.
They’re illuminated by compassion’s light,
Yes it’s love that’s the spirit of this church.

For it’s love, yes it’s love,
For it’s love that’s the spirit of this church.
Not the walls or steeple but a gathered people
Is what makes up the spirit of this church.

And our sacred altar is not carved of wood,
For it’s love that’s the spirit of this church.
It is consecrated by the greater good,
Yes it’s love that’s the spirit of this church.

For it’s love, yes it’s love,
For it’s love that’s the spirit of this church.
Not the walls or steeple but a gathered people
Is what makes up the spirit of this church.

Tony Larsen
Adaptation and additional lyrics by Elizabeth Alexander
Lyric © 1980 by Tony Larsen

Performers

Performers

Premiere: Choir of Unitarian Universalist Church of Greater Lansing / Lyle H Brown (Lansing, MI)
Choir of First Unitarian Universalist Church of Rochester / Joe Mish (Rochester, MN)
Choir of Unitarian Congregation of West Chester / Miriam Davidson (West Chester, PA)
Choir of Unitarian Univeralist Church of Vancouver / Patrick Scofield (Vancouver, WA)
Choir of Unitarian Universalist Congregation at Montclair / Marcus Grae-Hauck (Montclair, NJ)
Choir of UU Fellowship of Durango / Alane Brown (Durango, CO)
Choir or Cedar Lane Unitarian Universalist Church / Henry Sgrecci (South Kensington, MD)
Pacific Northwest UU Music Festival Choir / Elizabeth Alexander (Shoreline, WA)