Shall We Gather at the River?

Rev. Robert Lowry, a Baptist minister, wrote "Shall We Gather at the River?" in 1864. Here he describes how it came to be written:

One af­ter­noon in Ju­ly, 1864, when I was pas­tor at Han­son Place Bap­tist Church, Brook­lyn, the wea­ther was op­press­ive­ly hot, and I was ly­ing on a lounge in a state of phys­ic­al ex­haust­ion…My imag­in­a­tion be­gan to take it­self wings. Vi­sions of the fu­ture passed be­fore me with start­ling vi­vid­ness. The im­ag­ery of the apoc­a­lypse took the form of a ta­bleau. Bright­est of all were the throne, the heav­en­ly ri­ver, and the ga­ther­ing of the saints…I be­gan to won­der why the hymn writ­ers had said so much about the “riv­er of death” and so lit­tle about the “pure wa­ter of life, clear as crys­tal, pro­ceed­ing out of the throne of God and the Lamb.” As I mused, the words be­gan to con­struct them­selves. They came first as a quest­ion of Christ­ian in­quiry, “Shall we ga­ther?” Then they broke in chor­us, “Yes, we’ll ga­ther.” On this quest­ion and an­swer the hymn de­vel­oped it­self. The mu­sic came with the hymn.

The song has become a part of American culture and has been used in many movies, including Stage Coach (1939), Tobacco Road (1941), My Darling Clementine (1946), Three Godfathers (1948), The Searchers (1956), Elmer Gantry (1960), Major Dundee (1965), Hang 'em High (1968), The Wild Bunch (1969), and Trip to Bountiful (1985).

Lowry wrote some 500 hymns, including "Christ Arose"  "How Can I Keep From Singing?" "Nothing But the Blood," and "Where Is My Boy Tonight?" In addition, he composed the music for many hymns such as "All the Way My Savior Leads Me, "Follow On," and "Marching to Zion."

Shall We Gather at the River"

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