Joseph Harker

1880 - 1970

Edward E. White

Joseph Harker was known as "Mr. Hymnal" to British Seventh-day Adventists, since he was the chairman of each committee that prepared hymnals for the British Union Conference. These hymnals were also used in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and to some extent in the mission fields of East and West Africa, which were mostly staffed by expatriates from Britain.

The well-known Hymns and Tunes of 1886 and Christ in Song of 1900 were used in Sabbath School and divine worship by Adventists in the British Union. As their numbers increased, however, it was felt that a denominational hymnal containing more hymns of British rather than American origin would be appreciated, especially by new converts to the faith.

Accordingly, the Advent Hymnal was prepared and first published in 1915. It was well received. The leading spirit in this innovation, Harker contributed eighteen items to the book, namely: one anthem based on Psalm 50:3, 4 and Isaiah 25:9; two hymns of both text and tune; and thirteen other tunes.

One objection surfaced, not surprisingly. Many choice hymns had been excluded from the Advent Hymnal because of space limitations. This was rectified in 1928 by another committee consisting of five ministers, again chaired by Harker, who was responsible for the major task of collecting, assessing and determining copyrights of hymns. The preface of this Advent Hymnal (Revised) states "It is largely owing to the untiring perseverance and unflagging zeal of Pastor J. Harker that this work has at long last been completed." This revised hymnal contained two hymns of both text and tune, two of text only, and twenty-four tunes only, a total of thirty contributions from Harker's pen.

This was not the end of his labors, however, for toward the end of World War II, it was felt that many new hymns and tunes had been written which should find a place in church worship. So Harker, with a different committee of five - later increased to six - set about a revision. Since music publishing houses had been destroyed by bombing raids, there was considerable delay in printing. The New Advent Hymnal did not appear until 1952.

Then 72 years of age, Harker was again mentioned in the preface as "the inspirer of each of the previous Advent Hymnals" and as having "carried the major share of the burden in the preparation of the present volume. Without his wide musical knowledge and experience, his unflagging perseverance and zeal, and his unsparing labor, despite advancing years and precarious health, the immense task would never have been completed." This volume also contained thirty original Harker compositions, namely, four hymns, both text and tune; six words only, and sixteen tunes only. Samples of his compositions show the wide range of his ability as a poet and musician, both in his formal hymns and typical gospel songs and melodies.

Joseph Harker, Jr., was born on March 6, 1880, in Alnwick, Northumberland, England, into a musical Methodist family. They moved to the Newcastle-upon-Tyne area in 1900. He taught music for several years in his home in Simonside Street in Wallsend, commemorating this name in one of his hymn tunes (No. 543 in the 1985 Seventh-day Adventist Hymnal). He evidently inherited musical talent from his father, Joseph Harker, Sr., who at one time owned a music shop in the coastal port of Amble.

Joseph, Jr., married in 1905, and soon after joined the Seventh-day Adventist church. In 1916 he was invited to work part-time in the North England Conference. Two years later he was appointed president of the Irish Mission, holding that office for the quadrennium.

He was then transferred to pastoral work in the South England Conference, but in 1939 he was recalled to the British Union as leader of the Youth and the Home Missionary Departments to fill the gap left by the early demise of his predecessor. He continued there until 1946 when he retired to Reading in Berkshire. He served as elder in the church there for several more years before his death on May 15, 1970. His obituary noted, "Some of our best-loved and oft-used hymns came from his pen ... . His compositions will continue to inspire us until we, with him, can hear the angels sing!"

Edward E. White is a multi-talented musician, scientist, educator, administrator, and ordained minister who resides in England. He authored Singing with Understanding in 1968, a commentary companion to the 1941 Adventist Church Hymnal. He and Wayne Hooper were co-authors of the Companion to the 1985 Seventh-day Adventist Hymnal. Excerpted with permission by La Sierra University from an article in the Spring 1991 issue of Adventist Heritage