Sunday, 7 May 2017

'My cup runneth over'

Seth Sykes
There is an old chorus which I learned as a child and which is still sung in many Sunday schools today:
Running over, running over,
My cup's full and running over.
Since the Lord saved me, I'm as happy as can be,
My cup's full and running over.'  
The little chorus is based on the words of the 23rd Psalm where we read, 'My cup runneth over.'

The chorus was written by the Scottish evangelist Seth Sykes (1892-1950), who visited Ulster on many occasions and wrote a number of popular hymns and choruses, including the wonderful 'Thank you Lord, for saving my soul.'.  

There is also a Scots version of the chorus, which may also have been written by Seth Sykes.  I learned it from the Thompson Brothers and they had been taught it by their great-aunt Rhoda Wilson, who had learned it from Charlie Maine, one of the many Scots evangelists who preached in the Ards peninsula in the early 20th century.

They were taught it as,
Fu an skailin, fu an skailin, Ma wee bicker's fu an skailin. Since the Lord saved me, A'm as blythesome as cud be, Ma wee bicker's fu an skailin.'
I never imagined that the Scots words 'Ma bicker's fu an skailin' would have gone as far as New Zealand but they appeared in an account of a church service in Wellington New Zealand, on 10 April 1932.
St John's Presbyterian Church in Wellington
The report in The Evening Post (11 April 1932) was headed UNUSUAL SERVICE, HELD IN BRAID SCOTS and it was an account of a service in St John's Presbyterian Church.  Here are a few extracts from the report:
Memories of services in the parish churches of their native land were brought back to many local Scottish people last evening when a service in broad Scottish was held in St John's Presbyterian Church by  the Rev T W Armour of Knox Church, Christchurch.  Many New Zealanders, not all of Scotch extraction, also attended the service and could not fail to be impressed by a feeling of simplicity and devotion.
It was not merely that the service was conducted in the vernacular that made it unusual, as the psalms, of which there were more than is customary,  were sung without assistance from the pipe-organ.  The metrical version of the Psalms were sung, and the choir and congregation were given the note by the 'precentor', Mr James Haggitt, who then beat time for the singing.
The Scriptural readings, which were given by Mr Armour in braid Scots, were the 23rd Psalm, and the parable of the prodigal son.  For the text of his sermon he took the line, 'Ma bicker's fu' and skailin,' which in English is 'My cup runneth over.'  Despite the broad dialect in which the preacher spoke, there were few in the congregation who could not follow the drift of his remarks, and none who did not listen with the closest attention.
New Zealand was a popular destination for Ulster-Scots emigrants, just as it was for Scots emigrants, and I wonder how many Ulster-Scots there were in the kirk that night all those years ago.

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