A Song for Newtown
Q&A with Hymnwriter Gregory Wismar
Retired pastor, hymnwriter, and grandfather of two survivors of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, Gregory J. Wismar has written and donated to Concordia Gospel Outreach a hymn commemorating the first anniversary of the Newtown tragedy. His family and the town he once called home have been greatly impacted by this tragic event, but now he hopes his words might be used to help bring hope and healing to those suffering and in need of encouragement. CGO caught up with Gregory Wismar via email.
CGO: Do you remember what you were doing when you first heard about the school shooting?
GW: My wife and I were at home in our retirement condo in Southbury, CT, which is located in the next town over from Newtown, where I had served as pastor of Christ the King Lutheran Church for nearly 25 years. Immediately, we headed to our daughter Elizabeth’s home in Sandy Hook, as we knew that two of our grandchildren were in attendance that day at Sandy Hook Elementary School, just eight miles from our home.
CGO: How has the Newtown tragedy impacted your family?
GW: The tragedy has reshaped much of our lives. Our grandson Matt was in the first grade class of Victoria Soto, in which the teacher, the aide, and six students were killed. Matt was blessed with the presence of mind during the shooting to escape the classroom and lead eight other children to safety while the gunman was reloading his weapon. Our granddaughter Leah was in a third grade classroom at the time and was eventually led to safety at the Sandy Hook Firehouse nearby. Their worlds were completely altered that day. But finding strength in our Christian faith and in the blessing of a caring extended family has helped the process of restoration and renewal during the past year . . . but the process is far from complete.
CGO: Has life changed for you and your family?
GW: Our family priority has been to find healing for the children affected, their family, their friends, and, in a wider way, the community of Newtown, which we were proud to call home for a quarter of a century. More and more we are learning to treasure each day as the gift from God that it is.
CGO: What compelled you to write the hymn “At Every Turn”?
GW: The reality of the tragedy of Sandy Hook brought me new meaning to many passages of Scripture often used during the funeral liturgy in Lutheran churches. I felt that the words of Saint Paul in Romans 14:8—“So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s”—set into hymn form could become a source of comfort and hope for this situation and others as well.
CGO: What was different about writing this hymn versus your others?
GW: Most of the hymn texts I have previously written have been intended for use during joy-filled occasions, such as ordinations, installations, and general church services and activities. This text, however, was written and rewritten from a much more reflective perspective.
CGO: How do you hope this hymn is used?
GW: I hope that the hymn brings a reminder to God’s people of the ultimate hope we have, even in the darkest of days. Saint Paul continues in his Letter to the Romans: “For to this end Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living”(Romans 14:9). Whether in life or death, it is truly “through Christ alone in loving care we stay.”
Although the hymn was written with a service of remembrance in mind, I hope that the text (along with the memorable musical setting by David von Kampen) will be used not only for funerals and memorial services—and when the text from Romans is part of the weekly lectionary for congregations (Proper 19A) —but for any occasion when a word of ultimate hope can bring encouragement. Remembering the children of Sandy Hook, both the text and tune have a simplicity that makes the hymn accessible to singers of all ages.
A simple two-part choral setting of the hymn as arranged by Professor von Kampen will be released by Concordia Publishing House next year for use in churches and schools.
CGO: Why did you decide to donate your hymn to Concordia Gospel Outreach?
GW: When a situation like the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School comes into your life, you want to be able to do something to assist in sharing the comfort we know in Christ and to help people move along in their lives. Concordia Gospel Outreach touches many lives in such a positive way—not only in our Synod, but beyond as well. Donating the hymn for this usage and giving it unrestricted future free usage is one way for me to help in the healing.
To join Gregory Wismar in helping those in need of spiritual support in times of tragedy, we encourage you not only to download his hymn and use it as you wish, but also to consider donating to Concordia Gospel Outreach. Every penny of every dollar received goes toward sending Gospel-based books and materials to individuals, families, and communities in need of the promise of hope we have in Christ Jesus.
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