Old Shoes, New Shoes (and the history of “Go Now in Peace”)

In case you missed service on Sunday September 22, you should know that Dick and I kicked our worn out shoes in the air and Joan threw hers behind her toward the organ!  Twas all in good fun with much laughter all around.  (That will teach you not to skip out on worship!) I want to share the Time for All Ages so those who were NOT there understand why this church year we’re trying out some new songs instead of the altered words we’ve been singing to “Go Now and Peace.” The Time for All Ages was called “Old Shoes, New Shoes” and you can read it below. I know it is a cherished ritual for many of you and that even knowing the reasoning behind the change, it will still be a bit hard.  And yet we can say yes to the possibilities and joy of making a new tradition together.  
With gratitude,

Old Shoes, New Shoes

Time for All Ages on Sunday Sept. 22, 2019

Setting: Liza, Dick, and Joan seated on the chancel (they have slightly old shoes on). A few copies of the grey hymnal are in front of us. New shoes in gift bags sit just out of sight.
  • Liza: Our Time for All Ages this morning is about the Children’s Parting Song. You know the one I mean right… “Go now in peace, go now in peace…” (pause while congregation sings one verse through). That was lovely!


  • Dick: We’ve sung it for many years, and it’s cherished by many of us, of ALL ages, for many reasons. It is filled with love, it’s familiar and comforting, and it’s easy to sing. Sometimes we even do it as a round, which is fun.  It’s so comfortable, kind of like the shoes, Joan, Liza, and I are each wearing today. (We look down at our shoes and nod in agreement.)
  • Liza: I know sometimes in my family we’ve sung it at home as a lullaby, and some other families have too. What most of you might not realize is that we don’t actually sing the words as they are written in the hymnal.


  • Joan: You can see this for yourselves if you turn to number 413 in the grey hymnal. (Dick, Liza, and Joan pick up hymnals and turn to number 413 and point it out to kids near them.) Those of you in the pews can find a hymnal and follow along if you’d like. You’ll see that the writer, Natalie Sleeth, wrote the words in 1976 to say, “Go Now in Peace, Go Now in Peace, may the love of God surround you…” I was chatting with someone new to our church, who said when they opened the hymnal to sing along, it was confusing to not have the words match with what we sing and that they felt a bit like an outsider in that moment because they didn’t know how it was “really” supposed to be sung.


  • Dick: Why the different words? Well, as Unitarian Universalists, we are a mix of people and beliefs–some people who like the word God in there, and some who don’t. To not upset people who didn’t want the word ‘God’ in there, many UU congregations who found this song decades ago — including us — sang it by changing the words to “may the Spirit of Love surround you.” That wording was fine with most UUs…
  • Liza: But we have learned it was NOT fine with the woman who wrote the song. We’ve come to realize this more fully in the past year. When people were putting together songs for the grey hymnal they asked Natalie Sleeth if it was okay to print it with the changed of words. But she said no. She only gave permission to include her song in the hymnal without changing the words. For her, I think the song was a prayer, and so it felt important to her to keep as she first wrote it.


  • Joan: A wonderful part of our faith tradition is that we find wisdom from many different sources – from different religions and wise people over the years. But, we Unitarian Universalists have also developed a habit of taking things from here and there, picking and choosing from different religions or cultures in ways that feel good to us but don’t honor what feels most sacred to the people who practice those religions or cultural traditions. We have learned over the years that is important to talk with people and hear how they feel about us making changes to their traditions. Sometimes it might feel okay for us to change something special to fit our beliefs. But sometimes it doesn’t feel okay and really need to listen, and just find something from our own tradition or MAKE our own ritual or song that is our own–like we’ve done with Water Ceremony, or Flower Communion.


  • Liza: So, as I said before, over the past year, it became more clear to the three of us, that singing the song with the changed words goes against what the composer wanted. Last spring we brought what we’d learned to the Worship and Arts Committee and the Lifespan Spiritual Exploration Committee. It was with some sadness that they agreed that it just doesn’t feel right to sing the song with the changed words; that this is the case of a tradition that we, as a congregation, have outgrown.



  • Dick: It’s sort of like a favorite pair of shoes. Raise your hands if you have, or at some point in your life have had a favorite pair of shoes. (pause) You just wear them until they form to your foot, you feel soooooo good in them. They’re familiar, and comfortable. And then–at some point, at least as a kid, you outgrow them right? Or as an adult, they eventually just wear out. Like the ones we each have on right now. (Pause for us to each show our worn out shoes.) That can be a really hard time when that happens. You don’t want to let go.


  • Joan: But the thing is, there are many other wonderful shoes out there! (Liza distributes gift bags with “new-ish” shoes in them?) Just like there are many other wonderful songs we can use to sing you all out! With this month’s worship theme of Invitation, we want to invite all of us into this practice of letting go…



  • Liza: …of saying no to something we’ve just outgrown, something that no longer feels good and comfortable once we recognize the full story.


  • Dick: We do this in order to say yes to a new journey together. In the coming months, we’ll talk with you, the children to see what song you might most like to have sung for you. We have some starting ideas from other congregations who have made this switch for you to listen to and consider.


  • Joan: In the meantime, while the children consider what is important to them in a song, we’ve picked a song that is already somewhat familiar and can be what we sing for now. It’s called “May the longtime sun shine upon you.”


  • Liza: The words are printed in your order of service and in a minute we’ll sing it through two times. As we start the second time through, I invite any of the children who want to join me for Spiritual Exploration this morning, to follow me into the Children’s Chapel.