J. D. Brunk and S. F. Coffman

Manuscripts by Mennonite Musical Pioneers


The names J. D. Brunk and S. F. Coffman may now be best remembered because of a quirky hymn still sung in some Mennonite churches: “In Thy Holy Place We Bow,” the second hymn in Hymnal: A Worship Book. In evocative and sensory language, Coffman’s text describes worship that would have been quite unfamiliar to Mennonites of his era: perfumes rise, and “censers glow with the fire of sacrifice.” Written in 1901, the hymn has demonstrated remarkable endurance. It first appeared in the 1911 Church and Sunday School Hymnal Supplement, and again in the 1927 Church Hymnal. The committee for the 1969 Mennonite Hymnal opted to drop the hymn—Mary Oyer reports that “after much reflection and discussion, the Text Committee rejected it because of the theological implications for a church that does not call places ‘holy.’”[1] Remarkably, there was enough demand for the hymn that it was reinstated in the 1992 Hymnal: A Worship Book.

Brunk’s tune adopts what Oyer describes as a chromatic, Victorian style.[2] Indeed, his body of work evidences a number of different styles, never settling into something distinctive. In Oyer’s words, “he seemed interested in writing in the manner Mennonites were currently singing.”[3]

Brunk and Coffman served as editors for several hymnals and collections for the (Old) Mennonite Church. They were the first writer and first composer to attempt to systematically introduce Mennonite theology through English-language song. Coffman, a pastor and bishop, recognized that there were distinctive practices and themes of Anabaptist faith that were not represented in mainstream hymnody. As a result, he wrote texts addressing footwashing, adult baptism, and even use of the prayer covering. Coffman’s “We Bless the Name of Christ, the Lord” (on baptism) is the Mennonite hymn included in the most non-Mennonite hymnals, thanks to its inclusion by Hope Publishing Company in a 1935 hymnal and subsequent popularity among Baptists. (See bibliography.)

The Mennonite Church USA Archives in Goshen, Indiana, hold materials related to both Brunk and Coffman, including early manuscripts of published and unpublished hymns.[4] Several items of interest are presented below.

As noted above, “In Thy Holy Place” is the only hymn of Coffman’s in Hymnal: A Worship Book. Brunk is represented in one additional tune—a setting of Isaac Watts’ “Before Jehovah’s Aweful Throne:

“Extol the Love of Christ” is the only Coffman text included in the 1969 Mennonite Hymnal. The text as found in the manuscript is transcribed below.

Extol the love of Christ, ye saints
And sing His wondrous worth.
Where love, like God, eternal is
In heaven and on earth.
From God He brought his blessing rare
To God He did ascend
And constant in his heavenly love
He loved unto the end.

Extol the love which sought to show
The Father’s boundless grace.
The Son from Father’s bosom come
Beheld the Father’s face.
In servile garment clothed upon
with humble service meet,
The Master loved as none could love
and washed His servants feet.

The Lord and Master humbly served
To glorify the meek
His heavenly glory shared with those
Who would his favor seek.
Lord, teach Thy saints through[5] Thee to know
The fulness of Thy love,
The fellowship Thy service taught,
Thy glory, bright, above.

Let poor, vain man example take
And from his pride repent.
For Christ far greater is than man,
Or servant that is sent.
Example worthy Christ has given,
And happy shall they be
Who wash each other’s feet, and love
As deep and true as He.

“Turn Thou, Me” was never published. The archives include manuscripts of a first and a second draft:

"Turn Thou, Me" Draft 1

"Turn Thou, Me" Draft 1

"Turn Thou, Me" Draft 2

"Turn Thou, Me" Draft 2

Judging from the marking on the first draft, I would speculate that Coffman turned to a new page due to dissatisfaction with his original final stanza. Below I have transcribed the second version, along with lines that differ from the first draft in the first two stanzas. I have not attempted to decipher the final stanza from the first draft.

Turn Thou me, O my God
Then shall my heart be turned.
The flesh so prone to sin / the flesh must bear Thy rod
Thy law has ever spurned. / for oft Thy law was spurned
No good in me I find / I find no good in me
For from thy path I stray.
My soul would now repent / repentant would I be
and seek Thy righteous way. / and seek Thy holy way.

Turn Thou me O my God
That I may find delights
In all Thy Holy Word
In paths of truth and right. / in paths of pure delight / in paths of truth and light
For earthly treasures vain / the pleasures while allure
No more my heart shall yearn / no more my soul desire
And as the Spirit leads / For treasures rich and sure
My every thought shall turn. / my every thought inspire.

Turn Thou me, O my God
And make me as Thy Son
Freed from the bonds of sin
His cross the victory won
Each day to walk with Him
and love the law I spurned
Turn Thou me, O my God
And then shall I be turned.

A final unpublished piece by Brunk and Coffman illustrates a difficult circumstance in their work as editors for the 1927 Church Hymnal. In 1925, a group of leaders at a Mission Board meeting “decreed that the new hymn book should have 150 songs with refrains.”[6] This style of song, commonly referred to as “Gospel,” was not favored by Brunk and Coffman; however, they did their best to meet the demand. The following hymn, “Go, Herald the Gospel,” is an effort to write in that style. Although I cannot establish a date for its composition, it attempts to meet the spirit of the decree by providing a stylistic equivalent to Gospel song, but in a Mennonite voice.[7] The content of the hymn also represents a now nearly-lost theme—the calling and sending of mission workers. In those early days of American Mennonite missions, the call could be quite dangerous. Hymns of that era often reflect the sorrow of parting with loved ones going to serve in dark and dangerous “heathen” countries.

Although this is not a hymn I imagine coming to modern use, it is an enjoyable tune; as such I have provided a full transcription. Considering that the source material were drafts that never saw publication, a number of voice leading errors occur in the tune.[8] Mennonite composer and choral music editor Lee Dengler graciously refined the parts for this edition. In a similar way, I revised Coffman’s text to reflect current language use—for example, I removed the phrase “my brother,” which no longer serves as a generic reference (if it ever did). My intent is to remain true to Coffman’s concern for mission while making the hymn accessible to contemporary sensibilities.


[1] Mary K. Oyer, Exploring the Mennonite Hymnal: Essays, Faith and Life Press: Newton, KS, 1980, 66-68.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Materials are drawn from the following collections. For Brunk’s manuscript for “In Thy Holy Place,” and WATTS, see: J. D. (John David) Brunk Papers, 1893-1951. HM1-009. Box 2, Folder 6. Mennonite Church USA Archives – Goshen. Goshen, Indiana. For all others, see: Mennonite Church, Music and Worship Committee, 1909-1992. Box 1, Folder 9 (tunes) 10 (texts). Mennonite Church USA Archives – Goshen. Goshen, Indiana.

[5] In the 1927 and 1969 hymnals, “through” is changed to “in.”

[6] Oyer, 67.

[7] Note that the typed manuscript of the text also includes “In Thy Holy Place,” which was written in 1901. However, this manuscript may simply represent a group of Coffman hymns under consideration for a later publication, so there is no reason to think that the dates of composition may be linked.

[8] It is also possible that the voice leading reflects Brunk’s perception of the refinement of the Gospel music genre.

About the Author

Adam M. L. Tice

Adam M. L. Tice is a widely-published hymn writer. He was associate pastor of Hyattsville (Md.) Mennonite Church from 2007 to 2012. He is a graduate of Goshen College and Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary. He now resides with his family in Goshen where he is a freelance writer and stay-at-home father. For more information visit adammltice.com.