Shall We Gather At The River was written by Robert Lowry in 1864. According to the Wiki, it’s also known as “At the River”, and “Hanson Place”. I’ve never heard it called Hanson Place before. That name comes from Hanson Place Baptist Church, in Brooklyn, where Lowry occasionally led services as minister. Minister sounds kind of formal, I grew up Baptist and we always called ’em “Preacher”.
Shall We Gather features in a number of movies, primarily westerns by John Ford. If you get curious about other appearances, be careful what you click on. Some appearances weren’t exactly family friendly movies. :^)
Robert Lowry was born in 1826. He loved music from childhood, and would go on to write more than 500 hymns, many of which are still popular. You can read more about Lowry, including a list of his hymns and hymnals, at Hymnary.org. We sang quite a few of his songs in my childhood. I still find comfort from them today. In spite of his prolific musical resume, he saw himself primarily as a preacher. He once said he would rather preach a gospel sermon to an appreciative audience than to write a hymn. Yet, his hymns are still loved today, more than 100 years after his death. It’s ironic that he best served his faith with something he considered a ‘side issue’.
“Shall We Gather At The River” always brings back memories of baptisms in the Satilla River. I don’t honestly recall if we sang this song during those baptisms, but “Shall We Gather” seems like it should be mandatory when you’re having a riverside baptism service. For the record, I was 11 years old, it was December, and Preacher Dixon waded out into that cold river with me and a few other hardy souls waiting to be baptised. My teeth were chattering and skin blue by the time I got out. Preacher Dixon never hesitated and never hurried us. He was there for me, just like he was there for my Mom and Dad when they got married. It meant a lot to me, that the Pastor who married my folks was the Pastor who stood with me in that cold water.
If you know me, you know that in the past I’ve favored fast, cheerful gospel music (Hi Mom!). The slower, more contemplative hymns have grown on me over the years. As a child, I lacked patience. With time, my perspective is changing. The slower songs are more appealing now. I still play too fast, and with a southern drawl. Shall We Gather At The River is such a beautiful and traditional song, I tried very hard to play it properly but it just didn’t work. This one might be a bit too fast, and it might be a bit too country. Hope you like it anyway!