uncle was very active in the Memorial Presbyterian Church which used to hold
services in the beautiful church in Wilkes Barre situated on the hill above the
Luzerne County Courthouse. At one time it had a large congregation
but unfortunately that dwindled through the years and the church went out of
existence several years ago, selling the building to Kings College. At
the time of my uncle’s funeral (2002) the church was still going (barely)and
his funeral service was held there. An elderly member of their
congregation with a beautiful voice was often called upon to sing during church
services. He chose “He lives” to sing at the funeral. Before
singing he announced that when he was a young boy Alfred Ackley served as
minister at Memorial Presbyterian. As they were close in age, the soloist
became friends with Rev. Ackley’s son and spent a good deal of time in their
house. He remembers Rev. Ackley often being holed up in his study with
the sliding doors closed. When these doors were closed the young boys
were under strict orders to be quiet as they were told Rev. Ackley was working
on a hymn, of which he composed 1500 or so during his life time
(1887-1960). After his time at Memorial Presbyterian Rev. Ackley served at
several other churches throughout the country, and it was at one of these
latter churches where he wrote “He lives”.
hearing the soloist story I researched this song and composer.
Rev. Ackley was preparing for his Easter message in 1932 he became upset at the
comments he heard on the radio from a well-known liberal preacher, and also
those of young Jewish man he spoke with just a few weeks prior.
This Jewish man asked Rev. Ackley why he should be expected to
worship a dead Jew. Rev. Ackley replied that was the whole point,
He isn’t dead; He’s alive! Rev. Ackley pondered this and gave his Easter
Message. Afterwards he mentioned to his wife that he did not think the
message fully delivered what he had intended it to say. His wife
persuaded him to write a song about it, and that night he composed the words to
lives” and wrote the melody soon after.
this hymn was not written here, I find it interesting that this noted composer
served locally and probably wrote some of his other selections while he was here.