Support the Café

Search our Site

Old music, new words: A hymn for Orlando

Old music, new words: A hymn for Orlando

The New Yorker Radio Hour interviewed Presbyterian minister and hymn writer Carolyn Gillette, who writes new text for older hymn tunes, often in response to contemporary events and topics ranging from adoption to climate change to voting to gay rights.

“I think there’s a place in the church for lament” as well as joy and praise, says Gillette, who began writing hymns in 1998 at a conference class about scripture and music. “She’s trying to bring the real world into church,” says interviewer Joshua Rothman.

She wrote a hymn for Orlando, “To a Place of Celebration,” setting the text to the hymn tune Ebenezer, performed by the Rutgers Presbyterian Church in Manhattan. Here are the first two stanzas:

To a place of celebration filled with laughter, dancing, joy,
Came such violent devastation — one man’s efforts to destroy.
God, we grieve for loved ones taken; we lament, “What can we do?”
Now, we’re feeling lost and shaken; heal our nation! Make us new!

Weapons kill — and so does silence; hear our prayer as we confess:
We have given in to violence, we have bowed to hopelessness.
God, we’ve lost our sense of vision of a world where there will be
Plowshares made from violent weapons, justice in society.

Gillette has written about violent tragedy before, including a response to 9/11. Religion News Service published a story on her work in December 2015:

Before the massacre Wednesday (Dec. 2) in San Bernardino, Calif., before the Planned Parenthood clinic shootings in Colorado and before the recent attacks in Paris, Gillette reached for her writing pad after a rampage at an Oregon community college and jotted new verses on the ubiquity of gun violence.

That hymn, “335,609 (I Cried to God),” speaks of the number of people who died in the U.S. from gun violence between 2000 and 2010. It was sung last month at a “United to Stop Gun Violence” event at Washington National Cathedral. The fourth verse, sung to the tune of “Be Still, My Soul,” includes the phrase: “Give us the strength to make the killings cease.”

The hymn is available to churches and downloadable at The Presbyterian Outlook. Listen to the New Yorker Radio Hour interview below.


Café Comments?

Our comment policy requires that you use your real first and last names and provide an email address (your email will not be published). Comments that use non-PG rated language, include personal attacks, that are not provable as fact or that we deem in any way to be counter to our mission of fostering respectful dialogue will not be posted.

1 Comment
Oldest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
JC Fisher

The hymn tune may be better known to Episcopalians as “Ton-y- Botel” in the 1982 Hymnal (381, 527).

I like this new hymn—though I suspect some in my parish might scowl at “May we work for legislation that will curb guns’ awful toll” (favoring the “Good Guy w/ a Gun” solution {cough} canard {cough} instead).

Support the Café
Past Posts

The Episcopal Café seeks to be an independent voice, reporting and reflecting on the Episcopal Church and the Anglican tradition.  The Café is not a platform of advocacy, but it does aim to tell the story of the church from the perspective of Progressive Christianity.  Our collective sympathy, as the Café, lies with the project of widening the circle of inclusion within the church and empowering all the baptized for the role to which they have been called as followers of Christ.

The opinions expressed at the Café are those of individual contributors, and, unless otherwise noted, should not be interpreted as official statements of a parish, diocese or other organization. The art and articles that appear here remain the property of their creators.

All Content  © 2017 Episcopal Café