What Can We Learn from the Winning Entry in the Orange Order Song Contest?

orange bannerSunday’s liturgy in Fitzroy Presbyterian Church in Belfast included a performance of the winning entry in the Orange Order Song Contest – “By Any Means” – which was written and performed by Fitzroy congregant David Thompson.

Fitzroy is probably the last Presbyterian congregation that one would associate with support for or affirmation of the Orange Order, so this announcement was met with some muffled laughter and bemused looks.

But it was explained that while Thompson didn’t necessarily agree with the sentiments in the song, he had tried to understand the reasoning of those who signed the Ulster Covenant by putting himself in his great-grandfather’s shoes.

In granting me permission to reproduce the lyrics of the song on this blog, Thompson said that writing the song was ‘very much an exercise in empathy.’ (You can read the full lyrics of the song at the end of this post.)

Thompson also performed “By Any Means” in last week’s Covenant Centenary concert in the Ulster Hall.

You can listen to Thompson performing “By Any Means” here.

The song softly and evocatively describes the good life that Ulster Protestants of the day felt they needed to protect, framed by the resolute phrase from the Ulster Covenant – “by any means.”

I applaud any and all efforts to get inside the hearts and minds of those who signed the Ulster Covenant – and “By Any Means” accomplishes that beautifully.

But even better, “By Any Means” was set in the context of a liturgy based around Ephesians 2:11-22.

This passage reads in part –

“Remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of promise, without hope and without God in the world.”

These words prompt me to think about those who have been excluded from “the covenants”, and (in the scripture passage associated with the “Church Without Walls” tagline of this blog), how to include them in the new covenant:

“For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. …Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone.”

This reflection was facilitated by another song written by Thompson, based on Ephesians, and called “One Spirit.” You can listen to Thompson performing “One Spirit” here.

In dialogue with “By Any Means,” this song challenged congregants to reflect on and understand the past – but also to extend grace to the “other”:

None the same, we tell of ways that heaven sought us,

Circumstances that have brought us,

To this point along the way.

Pursuing love, accepting doubts and faults between us,

We come stumbling after Jesus, the foundation of our faith.

Rev. Steve Stockman, minister at Fitzroy, expanded on the dialogue between the two songs in his sermon, which you can listen to here. Today, writing on his blog, Stockman reflected on his sermon:

I admitted that life was different in 1912 when Dave’s Great Grandfather, who Dave’s song was about, signed that “by any means” he would defend his people.  On the way home I wondered if I had been too hard on my forefathers who signed the Covenant. It is hard to sweep across the history of 1912 in a sermon and I hoped I hadn’t been glib; judge that for yourselves. Whatever the weaknesses of the history lesson I still believe that the text of Ephesians 2 transcends the events of 1912 and the legacy we still live with in 2012. I looked at where our security is found, what our identity really is in Christ and how the eternal Covenant that God gave his people was not just for their blessing but for the blessing of all nations. Please hear that text and apply it to our situation.   

Lyrics of “By Any Means” by David Thompson ©

For simple freedoms, tranquillity,

For homes that lie, by this newsprint sky, and cast iron sea.

For life lived in peace; laughter full and sweet,

For the faith of our fathers, invested in these streets.

For every smile, for every pleasant scene,

I will sign my name and say, by any means.


For work and wages, for industry,

A city in her prime, grateful for times

Of prosperity.

For targets set, for every order met,

For the grand facades, and factory sweat.

For cobbles worn, but rain-washed clean,

I will sign my name and say, by any means.


I will watch the black ink dry upon the page;

Chart the hardening spirit of the age.

Resolute in mind, and flesh and bone,

Immoveable and solid, as this new-cut Portland stone.


For king and country, nationality,

The flag unfurled, across the world,

And what it means to me.

The red hand’s blush, Britannia’s touch.

What shall we give, in return for so much?

For all that is to come, and all that’s ever been,

I will sign my name and say, by any means.


To you my friends, comrades all,

Man for man, as one we stand,

As one we fall.

In the gathering storm, in safety and in harm,

I pledge to you, my brothers in arms,

With steady hand, and spirit keen,

I will sign my name and say, by any means.

Other posts on the Ulster Covenant:


Alternative Covenants, Alternative Perspectives: More Reflections on the Ulster Covenant

Fr Martin Magill – In Joyful Hope: Lamenting our Divisions and Striving Towards a New Covenant

What’s Shared Eucharist Got to Do with the Ulster Covenant?

David Trimble and Michael McDowell on the Ulster Covenant

How will the Churches Remember the Ulster Covenant?

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