February 24, 2022

Beneath the shadow of the cross

Black and white photo of Perry Huffaker conducting music with youth sitting on the ground near trees
Perry Huffaker at Camp Mardela, 1957. Photo courtesy of the Brethren Heritage Center collection.

Perry Huffaker composed the music for “Move in Our Midst,” a hymn text by Ken Morse that was introduced in 1951 in The Brethren Hymnal. The hymn soon became well loved and is consistently sung at Annual Conference. I am passionate to tell Huffaker’s story because he was much more than the melody and harmony of “Move in Our Midst.” I am convinced the Spirit has moved through his work. As I share a small fraction of his writing, a few pieces appropriate for Lent, I trust the Spirit will continue to move.

Perry Huffaker (1902-1982) pursued his passion for poetry and music throughout his adult life. He pastored a variety of congregations, served on denominational committees, spent summers directing camps, preached revival meetings, directed choirs, had a radio ministry, and the list goes on. He had unbounded energy, both physically and creatively.

In a letter to Bill Eberly, Huffaker named a regular practice of his—I name it as his “spiritual practice”: “My writing discipline is a poem a day and a hymn a week.” He wrote poems and hymns wherever he was, often dedicating them to a local congregation, a minister, a group of campers, or young people including Brethren Volunteer Service. …

In 1960 Huffaker wrote “Neath the Shadow of the Cross of Jesus” and dedicated it to Painter Creek Church of the Brethren. He was pastor at West Milton Church of the Brethren at the time. I assume he was preaching a series of revival meetings at the Painter Creek congregation a couple of counties to the west. The words express the reaction of the centurion and the disciples at the cross. The words challenge us to kneel to worship Christ. Clearly, for Huffaker, Lent is a time to ponder anew Christ and the cross.

We are not the same as we were a year ago. Are we closer to God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit? Have the weight of the world and the weariness of current realities caused us to turn away from or toward the message of scripture, the message of the cross?

As we walk forward this year toward Easter may our journey beneath the cross bring light, and hope, to our lives and to each person we encounter.

Click/Press for a PDF of the hymn
Ellen and Phil Smith sing “‘Neath the Shadow of the Cross”

This article is excerpted from a longer one in the March 2022 issue of Messenger. Poems and hymns used with permission of the Huffaker family. With gratitude to the Brethren Heritage Center for making available its Perry Huffaker collection.

Karen Garrett is a long-term volunteer with the Brethren Heritage Center in Brookville, Ohio. She has an interest in hymnody and the ways hymns shape our theology, and is researching the papers of Perry Huffaker for an upcoming book.