NORTH NEWTON, KAN. Janet Forts Goldsmith had a deep well of love to draw on for family, friends and parishioners. So after she died, her friends wanted to create a memorial that would give as widely as she did. Goldsmith grew up in McPherson, Kan., and graduated from Bethel College in 1990. She went on to become a Presbyterian pastor. In Feb. 2002, Goldsmith was diagnosed with a widespread metastatic cancer. She died in Milledgeville, Ga., on Dec. 30, 2002.
"After her death, some friends of Janet’s began talking about ways we could remember her and honor her life," says Jan Wiebe, who also graduated from Bethel in 1990. "A lot of people liked the idea of commissioning a hymn. Janet was in awe of Mennonite four-part singing, and she was one who would often organize late-night hymn sings when we were in college. Anywhere from 10 to 30 people would gather in the chapel at midnight and sing for hours.
"We wanted a memorial for her that everyone could use--that you wouldn’t have to come to a special place to see."
The hymn, "Christ is the seed within our hearts," with words by Jean Wiebe Janzen and music by Bradley Lehman, will be in the Bethel College Choir’s spring tour repertoire. Choir members will perform it at their home concert at 7:30 p.m., Sunday, March 28 in Memorial Hall on the Bethel College campus in North Newton.
The group of friends turned to Janzen, a well-known Mennonite poet from Fresno, Calif., to write the words for the hymn. "We thought Janet would like her poetry. And Janzen uses a lot of new, non-traditional images for God. That would have pleased Janet, too," Wiebe says.
Since Janzen had never met Goldsmith, 16 of Goldsmith’s friends wrote short pieces describing her and their memories of her.
From these descriptions, Janzen says she formed a picture of Goldsmith’s "vivacious, talkative, growing, guiding friendship, her large spirit, her laughter, her touch, her courageous spirit-so I began with the flower image: bright and fragrant, but fragile, not permanent."
"Janet said that she met God at Bethel," says Wiebe. "And she had such a significant impact on so many people. They’d talk about how Janet framed their Bethel experience. She walked with them through some of the hardest times in their lives. She taught them about grace because she had the ability to offer such abundant love and accept people as they were, while challenging them to grow and keep moving toward God."
Janzen began working with images of flower, seed and roots after she "borrowed the line ‘Christ is the flower within my heart’ from a choir anthem I was working on at my own church," she says. "I thought, ‘What can I do with that idea of a flower-a woman who grew and touched others, who caused others to grow?’
"I chose the reference to the resurrection in the last line before I found out how strongly Janet believed in the resurrection. The Spirit works. I knew the hymn should ‘end big.’"
The text then went to Lehman, a Mennonite composer who lives in Harrisonburg, Va. "We knew some of his beautiful tunes from 'Hymnal: A Worship Book,'" says Wiebe. "We liked his harmonies." The friends also gave Lehman examples of some of Janet’s favorite hymns.
"Christ is the seed within our hearts" was finished in time for the first anniversary of Janet’s death, and a quartet gave the hymn its world premiere at New Creation Mennonite Church in Newton, Kan. The choir of Central Christian School in Kidron, Ohio, under the direction of Bethel alumnus Tim Shue, performed it at the Mennonite Arts Weekend in Ohio in February.
The Bethel College Choir’s use of the hymn on the spring tour and at the performance on March 28 will give "Christ is the seed within our hearts" its widest exposure to date.
"A commissioned hymn like this commemorates the life of an individual who was a part of our community," says choir director William Eash. "My hope is that it will link these 18- to 22-year-olds to a much broader sense of the world-that there is a life after Bethel, and that what you do after you graduate is even more important than what you do while you’re here.
"I hope that when these students have their 50th class reunions, they’ll say to each other, ‘Remember when we sang "Christ is the seed within our hearts" on our spring tour?’ and also remember the meaning behind the words and music."
Article by Melanie Zuercher for Bethel College News Service