The Rev. Carolyn Winfrey Gillette, co-pastor of Limestone Presbyterian Church in Wilmington, Del., released the hymn, “They Met to Read the Bible,” Saturday following the murder of nine people at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C. The three men and six women were gunned down Wednesday evening while attending a prayer meeting. Twenty-one-year-old Dylan Roof has been arrested in conjunction with the shootings.
“This hymn is a prayer that we as a society will find courage to change,” says Gillette. “We need to live differently. We can’t put our faith in weapons or in symbols of hatred any longer. We need to hope for justice, to pray for justice, and to work for justice. We need to realize we are all brothers and sisters. We’re all children of God.”
The song of lament includes a recounting of the June 17, 2015 event and personal details of the nine victims: the Rev. Clementa Pinckney, Emanuel AME’s pastor and a South Carolina state senator; minister and track coach the Rev. Sharonda Coleman-Singleton; librarian Cynthia Hurd; Susie Jackson; church employee Ethel Lee Lance; minister the Rev. Depayne Middleton-Doctor; recent graduate of Allen University in Columbia, S.C., Tywanza Sanders; minister the Rev. Daniel L. Simmons; and Myra Thompson.
“Hymns are prayers to God,” she says. “I write hymns as a pastor—so that congregations will have new words to sing their deepest prayers.”
The Rev. David Gambrell, associate for worship in the Presbyterian Mission Agency’s office of Theology and Worship, acknowledges the difficulty of finding words that are an adequate response to such tragedy. Yet, he’s thankful songs are being written to address the many ways people respond.
“It’s hard to know what to say after an event like this; it’s even harder to know what to sing,” he says. “Yet the church must sing: to lament the loss of these beloved people of God, to express our anger over this outrageous act, to renounce the evil of racism, to show our solidarity in the struggle for justice, and to proclaim the promise of God’s peace for all. I’m grateful for hymn writers, such as Carolyn, who give us words to express these urgent prayers in song.”
Gillette overlaid her words on the familiar tune “ST. CHRISTOPHER 22.214.171.124.126.96.36.199,” also used in the hymn “Beneath the Cross of Jesus.” She does the same with many of her hymns, saying it is more realistic for hymns to be sung widely when they are set to a recognizable melody.
The author of over 200 hymns and two books of collected works, along with other resources including several co-authored with her husband and co-pastor, the Rev. Bruce Gillette, her music is featured in numerous denominational hymnals and online liturgical resources. Gillette’s hymn, “O God, Our Words Cannot Express,” written to commemorate 9/11, was recorded as a video with Noel Paul Stookey of the group “Peter, Paul and Mary,” and Emmy winning video producer Pete Staman.
A printable PDF document of the hymn with music notation can be downloaded here. Gillette has made the hymn available for free use by local churches and in ecumenical services.
They Met to Read the Bible
ST. CHRISTOPHER 188.8.131.52.184.108.40.206 (“Beneath the Cross of Jesus”)
They met to read the Bible, they gathered for a prayer,
They worshiped God and shared with friends and welcomed strangers there.
They went to church to speak of love, to celebrate God’s grace.
O Lord, we tremble when we hear what happened in that place.
O God of love and justice, we thank you for the nine.
They served in their communities and made the world more kind.
They preached and sang and coached and taught, and cared for children, too.
They blessed your church and blessed your world with gifts they used for you.
We grieve a wounded culture where fear and terror thrive,
Where some hate others for their race and guns are glorified.
We grieve for sons and daughters lost, for grandmas who are gone.
O God, we cry with broken hearts: this can’t continue on!
God, may we keep on sowing the seeds of justice here,
Till guns are silent, people sing, and hope replaces fear.
May seeds of understanding grow and flourish all our days.
May justice, love and mercy be the banner that we raise.
Tune: Frederick Charles Maker, 1881
Text: Copyright © 2015 by Carolyn Winfrey Gillette. All rights reserved.
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org New Hymns: www.carolynshymns.com
Permission is given for free use by local churches and in ecumenical services.
Article reprinted with permission from PC(USA). Original article here.
Image from ABC News.
For more on Carolyn Winfrey Gillette and this hymn, be sure to check out THIS article in The New Yorker.