Lenten Mission Bringing Forth 40 New Hymns

While many people are devoting more time to prayer and reflection during Lent, Eric Buggie will be spending additional hours at the piano. Buggie, who is the music director at Hamden Plains United Methodist Church in Hamden, Conn., has committed to write “40 hymns for 40 days” during Lent. And at halfway through the season, he is on track to do just that.

With the daily lectionary reading as inspiration, he has written songs ranging from “Choose Humility” for February 16 to “Could He Be the Messiah?” for March 5. His hymn for the tenth day, based on John 4:1-26, is entitled, “Give Me This Water.” Day 10: Give Me This Water

 There’s a well springing up,

Eternal life is gushing forth, get a cup.

I thirst for righteousness,

And something to deliver my soul from death.

Jesus this water you’re giving is living,

Give me this water and I’ll never thirst.

Give me this water, it’s living, it’s living,

Give me this water and I’ll never thirst.

Instead of feeling any pressure to write a hymn each day, Buggie has found the process to be a joyful one with his creativity flowing each morning.

“I usually get up with a melody in my mind,” Buggie said. “I put on headphones and record the melody. Then all day long I’m thinking of words, and put the whole thing down by about 9 p.m.”

Buggie, 58, has been crafting weekly hymns based on the sermons of pastor Rev. Soon Kook Ahn, ever since he came to work at the church nearly four years ago. Most of the two or three minute songs are used as a response to the Word at the end of the service; some are intended for a soloist, and others are written with four-part harmony. The tunes range from gospel rhythms and praise melodies to quiet piano ballads.

“Pastor [Ahn] challenged me to do this,” Buggie admitted. “I thought he would be the only one I’d write for. But now lay speakers run to me with scripture, too.”

When he’s working on his weekly sermon songs, Monday is Buggie’s writing day. Then he emails the sheet music to his choir members in time for Wednesday’s rehearsal. His compositions have been so popular that Buggie compiled the first 25 songs he wrote and has offered the collection for sale to benefit the church.

Buggie also began sharing his compositions on his blog, www.ericbuggie.blogspot.com, and was encouraged by Connecticut Superintendent Ken Kieffer to post his songs on the district Facebook page. They are also available on the video-sharing web site, YouTube.

A machinist by trade, Buggie started to play the organ, mostly by ear, when he was 14. His wife, Stephanie, is also a musician and plays the flute, piano, and concert bassoon. When their daughter, Joseline, was born in 2002, Buggie made the decision to stay at home to care for her while his wife went back to teaching music at the Columbus School in Bridgeport. That gave him more time to focus on his music, and eventually led to the position at Hamden Plains.

In the church, Buggie works with the choir director Sheldon Campbell, a nine-member adult choir, a youth choir, and a congregation that numbers about 100 each week. Buggie sees his work with in the church as a huge blessing.

“Hamden Plains was looking for a musician, but had no money to pay,” Buggie said. So in lieu of compensation, the couple and their daughter live in the church’s parish house rent free. The walls in his practice room there are covered with printouts of the hymns Buggie has written.

“As I’m writing sermon songs, more melodies come to me than I can use,” Buggie said. “I’ve been shamefully throwing melodies away.”

But it was those extra melodies that gave Buggie the idea for his daily dedication for Lent.

“I thought, ‘let me use this gift,’ and at the end of 40 days there will be a collection that may help someone” grow in their faith and love of God.

Buggie has a unique understanding of his creative process.

“I believe that these songs are already written somewhere, and I’m borrowing from heaven’s realm,” Buggie said. “If I get something from above, I can’t waste it.”

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