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E. L. Jorgenson: A Song Of Christian Love

by Dale Jorgenson

(Reprint from Word and Work August 1995)

(Editor’s Note:  This is a long article but we felt it better to keep it in just one read.)

From the Day of Pentecost, God has raised up men and women to fill the needs of His church. He called Paul to deliver the Gospel to the Gentiles, and summoned Martin Luther to stand against abuses of the official church during the sixteenth century. Similarly the Lord has continued to raise up people of His choosing to respond to changing circumstances in our own era. The lifework of Elmer Leon Jorgenson is part of the longer story of God’s love in sending leaders who are equipped—both by talent and commitment—to minister to specific needs of His people during various stages in the Church’s history.

The bold stance for freedom in Christ contended for in the early nineteenth century by men such as Barton Stone and Thomas and Alexander Campbell, was under severe attack from within their own movement by the 1930’s and 40’s. Taking to a new extreme Alexander Campbell’s emphasis upon intellectual debate, many in the Churches of Christ were painting themselves into a comer of theological exclusivism and legalism. An increasingly humanistic reliance upon conformity with die party line of strong leaders and a consequent neglect of spiritual gifts accompanied this drift. Although there were strong individual exceptions, the movement could hardly be characterized as a great praying church. The Churches of Christ often seemed more interested in judging the song services of a congregation as to whether it “conformed” in singing without instrumental accompaniment than in developing a rich worship service of psalms and hymns, spiritual songs and prayer. Although Alexander Campbell had held a postmillennial position concerning the return of Christ and the future of the Kingdom of God, many of his colleagues and followers held to the premillennial expectation of the Lord’s coming. Such differences were aired and debated, but with respect, not venom. A later generation of followers lost the generous and Christ like spirit of Stone and Campbell. The primary characteristic of Christ’s people–“Behold, how they love one another!”—was often hard to find in the relationships between preachers and churches regarding their prophetic beliefs, their views on the indwelling Holy Spirit, and their acceptance of Christians with views which differed from their own. As the check list for required external conformity grew ever longer, internal spiritual discipline and the love of Jesus became matters of considerably less emphasis.

R. H. Boll, born in 1875 in Germany, was schooled from 1895 in the Nashville Bible School under the “great-hearted” James A. Harding. He began preaching 1896. After serving as a traveling evangelist, he made a visit to the Portland Avenue Church of Christ in Louisville in 1903, and from 1904 (with one year out to teach in Tennessee) he served as minister of that congregation until his death in 1956. From that post, Boll was able to develop his leadership as preacher, writer, and beloved teacher, and was instrumental in “raising up” many preachers. His gentle faith and strong character helped renew love and a disciplined knowledge of Scripture, a heavy dependence upon prayer, and a consciousness of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit for generations of people whose lives he touched. Although he had served as FrontPage editor of the Nashville journal, The Gospel Advocate from 1909 until 1915, his teaching of the imminent and premillennial return of Jesus, together with his irenic spirit toward other believers in Christ, made him and his colleagues the object of bitter and denunciatory campaign throughout most of his lifetime. The restoration of Christian love as the hallmark of Christ’s church and an attitude of inclusiveness, as advocated by the first-generation leaders of the Stone-Campbell Movement, generated a Christ like spirit emanating from Louisville which has touched almost a century of Christian lives.

A generation of men and women were called to serve in this renewal movement, this moment of church history. Among the “giants” of the time were Stanford Chambers, H. L. Olmstead, H. L. Rutherford, Don Carlos Janes, Tona Covey, J. R. Clark and my uncle, E. L. Jorgenson. The Jorgenson story is a marvel in itself of God’s providence.

From Denmark to Nebraska

In 1873, Christopher Jorgenson, a member of the famed King’s Military Palace Guard in Copenhagen, married Lena Peterson, a seamstress (or “lady in waiting”) for the Queen. Family tradition held that she married below her station, and that she had, as a result, to leave the palace. In any case, the couple farmed a little while, but upon hearing a positive report from a Danish couple, who had migrated earlier to Nebraska, decided they would take their four living children and immigrate to the New World.

There were many reasons why the Jorgensons may have chosen to join nearly 300,000 Danes who left their country–the larger portion of them for America-between 1870 and 1914. Denmark had recently lost Schleswig-Holstein to Prussia in war, “for all Danes a shattering experience.” Times were hard, and it is doubtful whether Christopher and Lena were landowners, or at least very extensive ones. Religion, on the other hand, was evidently not a major part of the reason for leaving: the Jorgensons remained faithful to their Lutheran Church background ten or eleven years after their arrival in rural Nebraska, along with some 8,000 Danes who made the state their adopted home between 1868 and 1914.

The effort, by relatively poor farmers, to take four children from the capital city of Denmark to the unknown American West, must have required an agonizing decision by both husband and wife. The financial cost of the passage—according to family tradition, in the poorest of the steerage class, along with many of their fellow emigrants—required a considerable outlay of the available Kroner. Even the trip from New York to Nebraska on the train was fraught with difficulties for the non- English-speaking foreigners. Upon their arrival in Nebraska in 1884, they settled on a rented farm in Newman Grove, Madison County, Nebraska. Christopher Jorgenson built first a sod house for his wife, the former palace “lady-in-waiting,” and the children. A frame house was completed by 1888. Alice Jorgenson Spaulding wrote, “Mother had been raised in a little more affluence in her girlhood than our father and adjusting to the hard life of a farmer’s wife in pioneer days was a little difficult. She often longed for her family and for Denmark'” But her hard work and her experience as a seamstress did help the family through those hard early years as they pioneered on die Nebraska plains.

E. L. Jorgenson, remembering some of the hardships experienced by his family before and after his birth in 1886, wrote in 1960: Why was I born in this land of privilege and religious freedom when my Nordic ancestors were born and lived for generations in Europe, where also my parents were born? .. . Did the Lord have a hand in these fortunate factors, or were they wholly of my own volition and choice?

Elmer Leon Jorgenson was born at Newman Grove December 9, 1886, the first of the family to be born in the United States. He joined a family of two older brothers (Julius and Alfred) and two sisters (Alma and Luella). His parents both sang, his father quite well, teaching his children the Danish ballads and lullabies he had brought in his heart from his native country. Later, after becoming a member of the Church of Christ, he learned to love the hymns and sang them well. Brother Julius played folk music on the fiddle. Alfred learned to play the classics on the violin, as younger brother Elmer would later carry further. Alfred and Elmer sang together a great deal as they worked together on crisp Nebraska mornings.

When Elmer was nine years old, the family moved to a farm at Roselma near Albion, a place which belonged to the pioneer preacher, D. J. Poynter. This occasioned the transfer of rural schools for the younger children in the new community they were situated too far from a Lutheran Church for regular attendance, so they began attending a nearby Church of Christ. The parents were taught and especially befriended by a neighbor, Henry Houtz, and were drawn to place membership in the new church, followed by each of their children upon maturity.

At age 14, Elmer began riding by mule the fifteen miles to high school. Although the music offering at the school was limited to school songs—patriotic, romantic, sentimental—Elmer imbibed all that he could from participation in his high school singing activities. His father passed away in 1902, when Elmer was fifteen years of age. Two years later, he was sent to a business college in Grand Island—a town where he was able to hear some very good musical performances. Then, during his last year at Grand Island (1905), his mother passed away at Albion, and Elmer returned home to join brother Alfred on the farm.

During the summer of 1906, Elmer writes, “it happened!” God called him to preach, mainly by song. He relates the life-changing episode in some informal memoirs written late in his life:  I had led some singing in the home church. Had some private voice lessons early. But.. . Ill-prepared as a “singing evangelist.” [I was] expected not only to lead, but to render a “Special song” every service.

He had already played the school organ, learned to sight read music well, “mastered” the Choral Union, and learned every song in the book he was to use in Iowa. That summer, he joined an evangelistic team of four men, and sang in Marshalltown, Ottumwa and Burlington. “Got the fever of sacred music in dead earnest. Began to clip.” The latter suggestion anticipates the many years he clipped and saved favorite songs in preparation for Great Songs of the Church, his life’s major work.

Two years later, after the rigorous School of Reality in which he taught rural school in the winters and led singing with the Witty-Nelson evangelistic team in the summers, he was invited to the Odessa, Missouri, Western Literary and Bible College “to make my way by teaching a class in sight singing. Very inadequate.” The invitation to join the college in the fall of 1907 as both teacher and student no doubt stemmed from the influence of Don Carlos Janes, a native of Ohio who had spent several summers in Iowa doing evangelistic work in which he and E. L. Jorgenson had worked together during the summer of 1907.

The two years at Odessa were a watershed experience for the young singer. During that time he made lifelong friendships with many young people who became leaders in the church: H. L. Olmstead, Don Carlos Janes, E. A. Rhodes, J. Edward Boyd, Tona Covey, O. D. Bixler, and several couples who took up foreign missions somewhat later. Early in his Odessa tenure he met the girl of his dreams, Irene Doty, a native of Odessa and also a musician. They married in December, 1909, immediately before taking up permanent residence in Louisville, Kentucky.

It was at Odessa where Elmer first heard the honored James A. Harding preach. This was a notable experience since Harding “planted the church” at Highland in Louisville where Jorgenson would become the minister in 1913. Notable, too, because Harding’s text was Revelation, chapters 19-21, from which the record shows he drew a classic premillennial interpretation.

Perhaps the most eye-opening experience for the young teacher- student, however, occurred in the spring of 1908, when:   . . . Brother Boll came. I led singing for his meeting…. Here was the real thing…. The second spring he came again. That time he asked if I would go with him in September to Cincinnati. Yes. Then to Louisville? Of course; and that October, 1909, was the greatest revival [I was] ever in. By December [Irene and I] were married and settled in Louisville.

The Western Bible and Literary College ambitiously tried to live up to both parts of its name. In addition to a strong emphasis on biblical studies, sermons and lectures on Bible topics, there were many recitals of music and poetry and lectures on other subjects. Irene Doty, soon to be Mrs. E. L. Jorgenson, was among the piano-emphasis students. During his two years on the Odessa campus, Elmer Jorgenson’s name often appears on the recital and commencement programs and in the various presentations of the Philomathian Literary Society. Singing secular and sacred musical solos and in readings—such as Edgar Allen Poe’s dark poem “The Raven”, his name appears frequently in what was clearly an effort to develop his own speaking and musical skills, and to help undergird the college’s effort to provide a broad program for its students.

As the Jorgenson couple moved to Louisville at the end of 1909, he was consumed, he says, “with a passion to provide the church with a better, more suitable song book …” Recognizing his need to grow in both biblical and musical backgrounds (“I knew enough to know that I knew nothing (Socrates)”), he entered the University of Louisville in 1910, remaining three or four years, and then the old Louisville conservatory of Music for a similar period. He studied ancient and modem languages, music history, harmony, counterpoint and composition, as well as applied voice and two years of serious violin study.

The newly-wedded Jorgensons lived in the Portland Avenue area of Louisville upon their arrival in December, 1909, renting an apartment from Dr. Frazee, father of Louis and James Frazee who still live in Louisville. Regarding the minimal income but the low cost of living during those early years, Irene Jorgenson once told her niece that she and her husband could not eat all the steak that ten cents bought in one meal. Although he assisted several out-of-town congregations in providing supply preaching (Borden, Pekin and Utica in Indiana among numerous other Churches of Christ), E. L. J. was still considered to be a member of the Portland Avenue Church in February, 1911 when he spoke to a union meeting as a representative of that congregation. This meeting highlighted missionary work supported by the Louisville churches, and reveals the growing urgency Elmer felt for the work of missions. This “urgency” was no doubt fueled by continued association with missionary J. M. McCaleb and also that dedicated underwriter of missionary work, his old Odessa friend Don Carlos Janes. Janes edited the Encouragement Magazine to which Jorgenson often contributed an article. The magazine was later subsumed by the Missionary Messenger. After Janes’ death in 1944, Elmer became editor for the Messenger and administrator, together with his wife, Irene, for the Janes Trust in support of field missionary activity and Christian publication work. In the meantime, he remained very active in evangelistic meetings–both as preacher and as song evangelist.

In July, 1913, E. L. Jorgenson received a call to become the regular minister of the Highland Church of Christ on Bardstown Road in Louisville. The call provided a central organizing focus for his life during the next few years–a point of departure for his work at the University and Conservatory, and, most of all, for his increasingly active work in the compilation of the new hymn book. It also occasioned a family move from the Portland area to Hepburn Avenue nearer the Church.

Highland Church of Christ was planted with a tent meeting held by J. A. Harding in 1897. The beautiful building housed a very active local and missionary program which had enjoyed a distinguished series of preachers before Jorgenson. Many young people were motivated to become preachers and missionaries during the time of Jorgenson’s ministry with Highland, and the Church was active several times in sharing its own members to help begin new Louisville congregations. The ministry of this church has historically been one emphasizing freedom in Christ, the indwelling Holy Spirit in each believer, and a strong hope in the imminent return of Jesus. A wonderful irenic spirit of receiving Christians who held differing ideas about “non-essentials” of the Christian faith has generated a willingness to “receive ye one another” in the spirit of Romans 14:1-15:7. The trepidation experienced by E. L. Jorgenson upon assuming the venerated pulpit at the Highland Church was not much different from what any young twenty-six year old might have felt.

In a reminiscing sermon given in 1953, Jorgenson spoke of history which could be related to the story of the great Highland Church:   .… I could spend time in historical references to the great, good personalities of the past who planted firmly here the cause of apostolic Christianity, especially those who stood with us when the great test came-the test that had to come as the years since have abundantly proved—the struggle between free, spiritual growing religion on the one hand, and the incipient sectarianism which by and by, somehow or other, springs up in every movement. We had to learn, as all who would go on with God must learn, with what heaviness of suffering and discipline men make their way to freedom and to truth.

The Word and Work, a publication born in New Orleans under the aegis of Stanford Chambers and Dr. D. L. Watson in 1908, carried a Department of “Work and Worship” by Jorgenson as early as 1913, the year he began his ministry at Highland. This relationship continued through 1915, when Chambers “decided that Louisville would be a much better location to be a good influence for the spread of the gospel and the strengthening of believers.” The February issue of 1916 listed Chambers, H. L. Olmstead, and E. L. Jorgenson as co-editors, with R. H. Boll as editor-in-chief. Jorgenson also was publisher of the magazine for many years. He and J. R. Clark assumed full editorial duties upon the death of R.H. Boll in 1956, until 1962 when they became associate editors with Gordon Linscott as editor-publisher. The current editor of the Word and Work, Alex Wilson, has written about their journalistic work: “. . . co-editors E. L. Jorgenson and J. R. Clark. Faithful, loving, humble men, concerned to build bridges and remove barriers among the people of God.”

But let’s return to the earlier 1900’s. The pace of life for Jorgenson was becoming a daily marathon. The great passion of his life, “to provide the church with a better, more suitable songbook,” was pressing more urgently upon him as he worked clipping, editing, choosing material, and designing his dream book. Irene Doty Jorgenson has written, “During these years he was . . . working on the compiling of Great Songs of the Church, laboring many times until the wee hours of the morning.” Preaching and the pastoral work of the Highland Church, frequent evangelistic meetings, a heavy writing schedule, and the time spent on the book became impossible to carry. Although the first book had been published and he was already doing spade work for the No. 2 hymnal by that time, by 1923, Irene Jorgenson writes, “The load . . . became so heavy that he felt he should resign from the ministry of the Highland Church. He did, however, take out-of-town appointments, thus being relieved of congregational responsibility through the week. He could devote more time to his compiling work.” And as that work continued, “By the end of World War I, 1918,” he writes, “I thought I was ready to print (of course I wasn’t) but I began. And then a rude discovery!”

The shock experienced by the young would-be compiler was his reaction to the business half of the world of Christian music publishing. He needed to use songs published by the E. 0. Excell Publishing Company and those published by the Hope and Rody Publishing Companies to realize the collection he had wanted. He was confronted, however, with the choice of either using Excell’s hymns exclusively, or those of his competitors. “That was not at all what I had hoped and labored and studied and prepared to do. It was to be as it lay on my mind and heart, ‘the best from all the books.’ I had been so naive as to think that surely money would buy anything, and naive enough to imagine that somehow I could get hold of that amount of money.”

     “Stymied by the feud,” forced against any reasonable human expectation to depend upon the Lord, the dual problem of agreements and raising advanced royalty payments led to the “most wonderful thing (prayer experience) in my life, and exceeded far better than anything we had ever dreamed or asked for or thought.” A trip to Chicago to visit Mr. Excell led to a personal relationship with that aging music executive (song evangelist for two famous preaching evangelists) which opened doors of blessing. “Go ahead; use anything you want, mine or my competitors.” At the same time, he fixed a very reasonable royalty figure. With Excell’s contract as a model, Jorgenson was able to get the same deal with Rody and Company. To get the necessary start-up cash, he mortgaged his home and borrowed a temporary small loan from his brother, Alfred.

The little family grew during the latter stage of the book’s preparation. Martha Jane, the daughter for whom the couple had prayed nearly ten years, was born January 9, 1919. The Missouri Ledger of Odessa, hometown paper of her Doty grandparents, later described her as “a charming child, intelligent and thoughtful beyond her years and with perfect manners, winning the hearts of all she met.” Among those hearts she won were E. L. and Irene Doty Jorgenson, her parents. She was for them the focus of their personal hopes and plans and they devoted themselves vigorously to her well-being and to her training with love.

Sixty pages of the new hymnal were made and numbered when, as Jorgenson wrote, “the alphabetical lightning hit me.” Despite counsel to the contrary, he redid the book plan, and on May 20, 1921, the first alphabetical hymnal in the world was introduced to the churches. Containing four hundred songs, each “indispensable” as the compiler saw them, the book was printed on “special paper made to order by the Kalamazoo Mills” and printed and bound in a “rich, green art-cloth by the Conkey Company.” The original Great Songs contained standard round-note notation.

The new book made its debut in Louisville with a union song rally during the very week it came off the press. The “class”, meeting alternately at the Highland and Portland Avenue Churches, was to sing through all four hundred songs—”the best four-hundred songs of songdom”–with several visiting song leaders. R. H. Boll noted the occasion with some satisfaction in the Word and Work: “It was such a success and so enjoyable that we wonder why that sort of thing is not being done among us everywhere.” Boll was moved greatly by the spirit of the meetings, the quality of the songs themselves, and makes a point for the non-instrumental singing in the Churches of Christ:   If anyone had thought an instrument necessary in order to have beautiful and effective singing, I believe those song meetings would have reversed his opinion an instrument would have been a hindrance rather than a help. We got a new revelation of the possibilities and the power of song in the Christian assembly.

Finally, the editor of the Word and Work extols the virtues of his colleague’s new book:   Incidentally, the meetings were marked by an increasing appreciation of the wonderful collection of songs Brother Jorgenson has brought together in this book, rightly named “Great Songs of the Church.” It is a treasury of truth set to music; beautiful word and sweetest melodies.

The union song-meet’s success in Louisville, both as a significant spiritual event and a means of presenting the new hymnal, convinced E. L. Jorgenson that he should take the concept “on the road”. Thus, a vigorous program of song-rally meetings began which each year took him to various parts of the United States, especially to the West by way of Texas and the Southwest, as long as his health permitted. These meetings resulted in many rich personal Christian relationships and were, on the other hand, successful in making the hymnal known throughout the Churches of Christ in a short time. By August of 1921, three months after the book’s introduction, an exultant notice in the Word and Work reports, “Great Songs of the Church has already received the unsolicited, unqualified approval of leading song-leaders.” By 1937, the compiler could write about his first hymn book that it had found “immediate favor and wide acceptance,” the popularity of the book “has never waned but waxed from year to year,” and that “perhaps a quarter million believers sing Messiah’s praise every year from its pages.”

A fringe benefit of the publication was the opportunity of introducing a few of the compiler’s own efforts as a composer. Great Songs of the Church No. 1 contains “My Sins, My Sins, My Savior,” a song often used as a communion hymn by Churches of Christ with text by J. S. Monsell; “There is a Peace” with words by Jessie Rose Gates, and in the post-1922 edition the song generally considered to be his musical masterpiece, “Immortal Love, Forever Full” with poetry by John Greenleaf Whittier. The “Songs for Children” section includes his translation of the old German song, “Can You Count the Stars?” In 1922 fifty “noble hymns, to please the British churches” were added to the book as a supplement; in 1925 these were incorporated into the body of the alphabetical book.”

Resignation from the full-time pulpit of the Highland Church of Christ in 1923 afforded Elmer Jorgenson time and opportunity to expand his experience in vocal and choral music, activities which he considered important in sharpening his ability to make spiritual and aesthetic judgments for the continued development of the new hymnal: “All the time I had been working with and for the Louisville Chorus—a mixed group of one hundred trained singers . . . .” Describing the activities of the ensemble, he says:   We had done in part public concerts, the great things of the Russian a cappella liturgy, much from the early Latin and others. Naturally my tastes and hopes for our simple churches and Christian schools had advanced. Everything one does in good music has a tendency to elevate his musical tastes.

He was also heavily occupied in marketing the Great Songs No. 1 hymnal, an effort which continued even throughout the Great Depression, with good success. The song rally tours were still held regularly.

In 1926, a devastating tragedy struck the Jorgenson family. Their beloved child, Martha Jane, was seven years old, and an active and beautiful little girl. In mid-June, 1926, however, she contracted a severe case of pneumonia which progressed very rapidly, despite the best efforts of the medical science available at the time. After only one week of illness, she died Sunday morning, June 20. The funeral services were held in the Jorgenson family home June 21 without any formal address, under the direction of D. H. Friend, a close friend of the family.

Among many who offered love and wrote letters to E. L. and Irene Jorgenson during the dark days after Martha Jane’s death, R. H. Boll was perhaps the most constant in sharing written notes of encouragement and deep caring. On the day of her death, and each of the next two days, Boll, (who was out of town preaching and could not get away to be with the grieving family) wrote careful, spiritual, poetic letters to his friends. The June 20 letter begins: “My dear brother, whom I love more than any man.” He continues:   The one thing that came to me when I heard was this, that but just a little while (“how short, how short!”) and He that cometh shall come and not tarry. Then, in a moment, all sorrow and separation shall be forever past, as a dream of the night; and the Lord Jesus whom we love will give you back your precious little girl, to lose her no more.

One week later, the faithful friend wrote again, with prose later to be utilized by ELJ himself in a tract he ultimately wrote on suffering:   When we pass through the valley of the shadow of death God’s presence becomes more real. We never learn God in hours of ease, but in stress and trial He draws near to us and we to Him, and He is made known to us. And I am sure that He is more precious to you through your deep affliction.

Two weeks later, Boll’s message, written from Sherman, Texas, responds to another letter he had received from ELJ in the meantime. The response makes clear the faith struggle and near-depression being experienced by the bereaved young father:   I would have answered sooner if I could have answered more lightly. But your letter was so heart-searching and testing, so full of sorrow and battling faith and dreadful earnestness, that to answer it seems too great a responsibility. Above all I felt that I must guard against all mere talk. When one has passed through such a trial, only felt truth and reality can bring comfort.

Saddened, chastened, but even more focused, ELJ was able to concentrate on writing, editing, weekend preaching, and publishing during the years immediately following his daughter’s death. Typically, perhaps, it is as though he turned to his work with an intensity which distracted him from his grief. Numerous congregational singing services were held in the Kentuckiana area during the 1930’s, and in 1935 a “mass song service” with over a thousand in attendance was conducted in Bloomington, Indiana, the home of Indiana University. Other rallies were held in Chickasha, Oklahoma; Denver, Colorado; Berkeley, California and in Los Angeles. His work as Publisher of the Word and Work required his continued application to the business of that journal, and the articles he contributed to it were good enough to generate reprints many years later.

However, the primary work interest of his life remained the creation of the best possible hymn book for the worship of the non-instrumental Churches of Christ. As he grew in perception and studied possibilities, he says, “By 1935 I was dissatisfied with No. 1—though not with its sale. I felt I could now venture deeper and do so much better.” He then did some research, made some inquiries, and decided to go ahead–though the financial risk was great

The editing, “winnowing,” choosing process—checking some three hundred hymnals and an aggregate of 60,000 numbers—writing many letters seeking permissions and copyrights, proof-reading, all took their toll in time and energy:

The stenographer knocked off at five o’clock, but I went on right there, night after night, until midnight! For fear of my eyes I dared not go any longer. But I never wanted to quit, and could hardly wait until morning to go back down-I loved it so, and the work you love to do doesn’t kill you! In September 1937 I wrote the Foreword, went with my entire family to Chicago to check the final press proofs, and in October of that year the No. 2 was on the market.

The new book, which the compiler called the “supreme labor of my life, and … the ripened fruit of thirty years’ experience and research in the field of sacred music,” contained six hundred “Hymns” and “Gospel Songs.” The pre-publication price was fifty cents, increased to sixty-five cents after publication. The five sections of the book were divided into lighter gospel songs, the “stately hymns of the church,” “special songs,” “a children’s hymn section,” and a complete set of indexes. The book was printed in both round notes and shape notes; shape notes made it more accessible to many southern churches where people could still read the shapes.

Immediately, the compiler hit the road again to conduct song rallies across the United States and Canada, so that the book could be both introduced and used. The first Louisville songfest was again at the Highland Church of Christ September 24, 1937, a rally which “taxed the capacity of the house.” A western trip was planned for summer, 1938, and in June of that year Jorgenson was also in Winnipeg, Canada with a mixed quartet to assist the rally scheduled at Sherbrook Street Church. During the summer of 1939 his tour covered 8,000 miles, all by train. Although the traveling constraints imposed by World War II inhibited the rally tours greatly, by 1945 they were again an annual affair and continued to be until ELJ’s illness which brought them to a halt in 1958.

With the previous high level of acceptance of Great Songs No. 1, the vigorous tours, and the good reputation of the compiler, the new book had sold nearly two million copies to about ten thousand churches—Churches of Christ and conservative Christian Churches—by the mid-1950’s. The round note edition was published for a time during the 1950’s by the Standard Publishing Company of Cincinnati, Ohio. The shaped note plates were taken over by Abilene Christian College in 1958. The relationship between the College—later to become Abilene Christian University—and the compiler remained cordial and positive throughout his lifetime.

Besides earlier songs by ELJ, the new Great Songs No. 2 added- March’s hymn, “Hark! The Voice of Jesus Calling” and an arrangement of the traditional chorus, “When He Calls Me.” A nod to tradition is the musical setting to the benediction, “The Lord Bless Thee and Keep Thee.” An inside flyleaf later added to the book provided space for Jorgenson’s arrangement of “Beyond the Sunset.” An additional supplement of seventy songs was added in 1975, but never brought into the primary alphabetical structure of the larger hymnal.

After three ministers had served the Highland Church of Christ in Louisville following Jorgenson’s resignation in 1923, fourteen years later he was called back to his old pulpit. Thomas Wolfe’s opinion in Look Homeward, Angel that “You can’t go home again” was, happily, not applicable to ELJ’s second tenure in the Highland pulpit In addition to his editorial and publishing work, the job entailed numerous meetings each week, pastoral calls and a regular series of radio sermons. Besides these, he conducted regular weekly singing classes at Borden and Sellersburg, Indiana, held several revival meetings each year, and devoted a month each summer to the song rallies in the West He was active as Highland leader during the difficult days of World War II, ministering to families with men in the military service, coping with the usual shortages (including gasoline and tires), and holding up the hopes of a people during a time of death and fear.

Beginning the last year of the war, an article he prepared for the January issue of the Missionary Messenger addresses many fears of the future:   .… We may be sure that this current year holds much of pain and sorrow. O yes, there will be songs and happy meetings, and sweet associations, with new and lasting friendships. But there will be tears and partings, more blue stars and some gold stars. “Daddy, did God have a Son in the service?” said the boy as they gazed on the low-hanging evening star. “Yes,” said the father, “and he made the supreme sacrifice.”

Then the article’s author turns to the letter R. H. Boll had written to him upon the death of his child nearly twenty years earlier. He quotes: “For yet a little while, how short! How short! He that cometh will come, and will not delay.” (Heb. 10:37, Greek)

Again, after ten years of pulpit service and after the war was finished, Jorgenson felt it was time to relinquish his “full-time job” as the Highland preacher, and upon his second resignation was named the Church “Minister Emeritus.” In 1946 he was turning sixty years old, and seems to have become depressed about his health and his own life expectancy. It is rather clear that he looked at the life-span of the men of his own family and drew unwarranted conclusions. He resigned as regular minister and returned to the weekend preaching appointments in the country churches. In his depressed moment, he turned once again to his old friend, R. H. Boll. His letter to Boll is not extant, but the answer from the old prayer warrior is!  My very dear, beloved friend and brother-it must have been a mournful day and you must have been away down in the dumps when you wrote that note. But anyway, I’m glad you wrote it, for it gives me a good chance to express again my love and esteem and perfect confidence in you.

Boll dismisses the law’ of averages and human conclusions about genetic determinism. He tells of his own father’s death at age fifty- three, his mother’s, of heart trouble, in her fifties, his younger sister’s death at age twenty of tuberculosis, his older sister in her forties.    But R. Η. B. is still here by the will of God–at age 72 1/2 now; and so will you be at like age, as I devoutly hope and trust. So, forget it-your span of life is not determined by the family history but “in Thy book they are all written, even the days that are ordained for me” (Ps. 139:16)…. The Lord isn’t through with you yet…

That was an accurate prediction. In the January, 1947 Word and Work, ELJ provides a “Report of Stewardship” for “those who are curious to know how a minister may occupy his time when he ‘retires’ from the located pulpit.” The impressive statistics for his stewardship of 1946 in preaching in various churches, song services, long-distance travel to conduct preaching and singing meetings throughout the country’, his work with the Missionary Messenger and Word and Work, to say nothing of ongoing business responsibilities with Great Songs and the Janes missionary trust, leave the reader a bit breathless over the man’s sheer energy. And yet, one may wonder whether he is, to some extent, recording the activity for his own reassurance of continued usefulness after that dreaded age of sixty.

At the conclusion of World War II in 1945, in response to an increasing militancy shown by many preachers and editors in the Church of Christ in their efforts to “disfellowship” brothers and sisters who held views opposing theirs about the second coming of Christ, the millennium, the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, and even unity within the Church, Elmer Jorgenson began a series of “Precious Reprints” in the Word and Work. These were drawn from the early church fathers, the leaders of the Protestant Reformation, and, most of all, from the leaders of the “Restoration Movement” regarding fellowship around those issues. He explained in the “Preamble.”

The question is not primarily who is right and what is right, doctrinally, on the millennial question and the Second Coming; but whether the plain unity ground of the New Testament (Eph. 4:1-3), together with the sane, established unity practices of the faithful fathers, is to be thrown overboard in our day, in favor of a new system of creeds and super-rulers, in a kind of miniature Romanism.

The installments continued through No. 84 in 1952. And then were bound into a book through the agency of trust funds given to advance Christian unity. They may well have contributed in some way to the encouraging report Alex Wilson was able to give in the September, 1994 ‘Word and Work’.

     In many places God’s breath of fresh air is blowing away toxic fumes in this movement. I for one am encouraged by magazines such as Wineskins, Image, and One Body. And by great gatherings such as Restoration Forums and especially the Nashville Jubilee.

In August of 1958, E. L. Jorgenson experienced a severe coronary attack which damaged his heart. The medical consultants predicted that it could not heal; in this they were proved to be correct. Following medical advice, he and Irene chose to live in California during the winter months, from where he still carried on a great deal of writing and, occasionally, some speaking.

On July 14, 1963, the Highland Church of Christ celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of Jorgenson’s first sermon at the Church. Although he was forced by his physical condition to speak from a sitting position, he delivered a brief sermon with both reminiscences and a challenge to the congregation. There were numerous visitors that day. Stanford Chambers, J. F. Stinnette, and J. K. Scoggan spoke in appreciation of his multi-faceted and long ministry.

Ever age-conscious, but with more confidence than he had felt twenty years earlier, ELJ marked his eightieth birthday with an article for his lifelong love, the Word and Work:   On the date that this is written (December 9, 1960) I have reached the mark that Moses mentioned on the measure of a long, strong life: “Three score years and ten, or even by reason of strength four score years” (Ps. 90:10). Yet, in my case it was not by reason of strength, but by reason of the measureless mercy of God to His unworthy servant

Two years later, on December 14, 1968, after enduring a great deal of pain for ten years, he died at Claremont, California. Ernest Lyon, minister of the Highland Church of Christ and long-time colleague of ELJ in both the Kingdom of God and their mutual musical interests, spoke at the funeral service in Louisville, December 18. Burial was in the Cave Hill Cemetery, near the grave site of Martha Jane who had died forty-two years earlier.

Irene Doty Jorgenson continued an active role in the Church, with her home life and friends, and in the business affairs of Great Songs until her death on January 12, 1981 in Louisville. She is buried beside her husband and daughter.

 

Dale A. Jorgenson is the nephew of E. L. Jorgenson and a well-known minister of music in the Churches of Christ.




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The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.

John 10:10