The Holden Village Podcast

Origins of the Prayer of Good Courage with Nancy Winder (Updated Version)

April 20, 2023 The Holden Village Podcast
The Holden Village Podcast
Origins of the Prayer of Good Courage with Nancy Winder (Updated Version)
Show Notes Transcript

"I have been coming to Holden since 1971 and became intrigued with the Prayer of Good Courage early on because the prayer has been at Holden since the beginning, in 1963. I have been the unofficial historian of the prayer, especially in telling people who wrote it. It was not written by Marty Haugen, Carroll Hinderlie, Martin Luther, or a Holden committee."

Pastor Nancy Winder has been a weekly preacher for thirty two years, with the last twenty seven as pastor of Faith Lutheran Church in Seattle. A sought after preacher, she has written about preaching and worship. Pastor Winder has served on the Augsburg Fortress Board, the Alumni/ae Council of Luther Seminary and is currently chair of the Candidacy Committee of the Northwest Washington Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

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Intro: [00:00:00] Welcome to the Holden Village Podcast. Holden is a community of education, programming, and worship located in the remote wilderness of the Cascade Mountains. These snapshots provide a glimpse into the learnings taking place in our community. Let's tune in to this week's highlight. 

Nancy: My name is pastor Nancy Winder. I'm a retired ELCA pastor and have a long history at Holden Village. For over 60 years, Holden Village has welcomed all people into the wilderness to formerly renew their relationships with God, the Earth, and one another.

In this remote and beautiful setting in the Cascade Mountains, Holden guests and staff enjoy community life, the outdoors, music, art, and worship, and engaging conversations about life, faith, and the world, with invited teaching faculty and each other. When people go down the mountain, they take their new discoveries with them as they go back to home, schools and faith communities.

One treasure villagers have taken [00:01:00] with them for all of Holden's history is this prayer: 

"Oh God. You have called your servants to ventures of which we cannot see the ending. By paths has yet untrodden, through perils unknown. Give us faith to go out with good courage, not knowing where we go, but only that your hand is leading us and your love supporting us through Jesus Christ, our Lord."

I first learned this prayer when I came on volunteer staff in 1971. Throughout my 50 years of work at Holden, twice as a village pastor, on teaching faculty many times, and in other roles, I've become the unofficial historian of this beloved Prayer. The prayer was written by Eric Milner White, dean of the Chapel at Kings College Cambridge from 1920 to 1941.

Milner White was the designer of a festival of nine lessons and Carols, the famous Christmas Eve service broadcast each year from King's. Milner white [00:02:00] was well known for his prayers, and I've always wanted to make sure people know he is the author of the Holden Prayer. Not Marty Haugen. Not Carol Hinderlie. Not Martin Luther or any other attendant luminary.

The story of this prayer begins during World War II. It was first published in 1941 in a little book called Daily Prayer, compiled by Milner White and G.W. Briggs. Milner White titled this prayer The Call of Abraham. Certainly the people of England identified with Abraham and Sarah's story of an uncertain future held in God's guidance as they gathered in their churches and worried in their homes during wartime.

The prayer first appeared among Lutherans in the 1958 service book in hymnal SBH. The chair of the Joint commission for that hymnal was Luther Reed, then President of the Lutheran Theological Seminary in Philadelphia. Dr. Reid owned two prayer volumes by Milner White, including [00:03:00] Daily Prayer.

Reed copied out prayers from those books for the new colics and prayers section of the SBH. 115 prayers from many sources. One of those prayers is number 96 for guidance. When I'm asked how we got this prayer in our worship books, the answer is simple: because Luther Reed put it there. 

When pastor Carol Hinderlie became the first director of Holden Village in 1963, the SBH was the worship book at Holden. It's possible that Carolyn and Mary Hinderlie first learned of this prayer from Anglican missionaries with whom they were imprisoned by the Japanese in the Philippines during World War II. Or they heard it when they studied in Norway in the 1950s, but the prayer was known to them, and so pastor Hinderlie used it in worship at Holden right away.

Villagers from those first Holden years will remember that the invitation was to pray prayer 96 on page 231. In those years, the prayer was simply referred to as Prayer 96, [00:04:00] and that title appears on artwork and printed copies of the prayer from Holden's early days. It quickly became known as the Holden Prayer, as it made its way from the village to countless other contexts.

The prayer was published in an updated version in 1978 in Lutheran Book of Worship in Morning and Evening Prayer, and updated again in those services in 2006 in Evangelical Lutheran worship. It is very clear that the reason these newer hymnals have this prayer is because of its youth at Holden. This prayer has resonated in the hearts and minds of people of all faiths and vocations.

It's been prayed at weddings, ordination, and even funerals. Valparaiso University uses it at graduation every year. Congregation uses it at a template for their ministry, including Westwood Lutheran in St. Louis Park, Minnesota, and St. Mark's Lutheran In Spokane, Washington. It is often a prayer of sending in every Sunday's worship, including at Emmanuel Lutheran in Pepin, Wisconsin.[00:05:00] 

It's been set to music and visual artists have created works in many mediums. And I know of one person who has the whole prayer tattooed on his arm. At hold in the prayers most often used as staff and guests leave the village; a strong sense of a foundation for life's journey for God's calling to service and vocation, and the vision of new paths and even perils, blesses every person for whatever might be next.

Of all the wonderful phrases in this prayer, the one that seems most to capture people's imagination and spirit is good courage. What strength and direction these words give, especially when sustained by God's guiding hand and supporting love. These are words for every season, every person, every community and we give thanks for Eric Milner White and this treasure that has gone out everywhere with good courage.

If you're listening to this podcast and have your own stories to share about this prayer, I'd [00:06:00] love to hear them. You can send me an email at

Outro: Thanks for joining us. Be sure to view the links in the description for more information or visit our website to find out more about the village. We hope you will make a pilgrimage to Holden. Blessings and peace to you.