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“Down to the River to Pray”

“Down to the River to Pray” is a beautiful song first published in a 1867 collection of African American songs.  It is classic of various American musical traditions, including African American spirituals and Appalachian music.

You may recall this version by Alison Krauss from the movie O Brother, Where Art Thou?

Here is a teaching recording by Christian.

Here are the lyrics.


As I went down to the river to pray
Studying about that good old way,
And who shall wear the starry crown,
Good Lord, show me the way.


O sister, let’s go down, 
let’s go down, come on down,
O sister, let’s go down,
Down to the river to pray

As Christian points out in his teaching instructions, the refrains allow any number of substitutions for the bolded word.  One could sing . . . 

O sibling
O brother

O parent
O father
O mother
O family

O people
O dear one

If you lead with a gendered word such as sister, include other genders in further refrains so our singing creates a space that welcomes all, including those of us who are nonbinary.  

Posted in: Songs We Sing

Songs for Summer 2023

The music menu for summer is here!

Gathering Song: Come, Come, Whoever You Are

Candle Lighting Song: Evening Lamps are Lit

Table Acclamation: Shelton Acclamation (not to be confused with the similar sounding “Summer Table Acclamation”)

Prayer Song:  Build a Shelter / Let It Rest, Down to the River to Pray, or any of these prayer songs or one you’d like to teach!

Offering Song: Zimbabwe Allelulia

Final Hymn:  In June we’ll sing, Spirit I Have Heard You Calling, and in July and August, we’ll sing Day Is Done.

Posted in: Uncategorized

Music for Pentecost and Pride — June 2022

Greetings song leaders and voices of the congregation!  Here is our menu of songs and hymns for Pentecost and Pride, June 2022.

Gathering Song: “Come, Come, Whoever You Are”

Table Acclamation:  Summer Table Acclamation

Prayer Songs: Build a shelter / Let it Rest

or . . .

Down to the River to Pray

Or any of the St. Lydia’s Prayer Songs

Offering and Announcements song: Zimbabwe Alleluia

Final hymn: Spirit I Have Heard You Calling

Posted in: Songs We Sing

Music for Eastertide 2022

Hello everyone!

Here is the music we’ll be singing during Eastertide.

Gathering Song: Kiev Alleluia

Candle Lighting Song: Wade in the Water”

Table Acclamation:  Festive Table Acclamation

Prayer Song: “Down to the River to Pray”

Offering Song: “Duncan Alleluia”

Final Hymn: 

April 3-18  “Now The Green Blade Riseth” (shruti on silver)

April 24-May 9 “Jesus Christ Is Risen Today”

Posted in: Songs We Sing

Tierra del Fuego

by Adam Zagajewski

You who see our homes at night
and the frail walls of our conscience,
you who hear our conversations
droning on like sewing machines
—save me, tear me from sleep,
from amnesia.

Why is childhood—oh, tinfoil treasures,
oh, the rustling of lead, lovely and foreboding—
our only origin, our only longing?
Why is manhood, which takes the place of ripeness,
an endless highway,
Sahara yellow?

After all, you know there are days
when even thirst runs dry
and prayer’s lips harden.

Sometimes the sun’s coin dims
and life shrinks so small
that you could tuck it
in the blue gloves of the Gypsy
who predicts the future
for seven generations back

and then in some other little town
in the south a charlatan
decides to destroy you,
me, and himself.

You who see the whites of our eyes,
you who hide like a bullfinch
in the rowans,
like a falcon
in the clouds’ warm stockings

—open the boxes full of song,
open the blood that pulses in aortas
of animals and stones,
light lanterns in black gardens.

Nameless, unseen, silent,
save me from anesthesia,
take me to Tierra del Fuego,
take me where the rivers
flow straight up, horizontal rivers
flowing up and down.

Read at St. Lydia’s on February 13, 2011

Posted in: Poems