Winter 2001
Volume 5 Number 2
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by Chris Hays

A PTS graduate is writing new songs for congregations all over the world, and they are singing her praises in addition to her hymns.

Many a minister composes occasional lyrics, but Carolyn Winfrey Gillette’s hymns have been heard in churches from Honduras to Cairo and on a PBS special. The hymn-writer herself was recently profiled by the The Philadelphia Inquirer. Her success has been confirmed and furthered with this year’s publication of her collection Gifts of Love: New Hymns for Today’s Worship (Geneva Press, 2000).

A 1985 M.Div. graduate who is copastor with her husband, Bruce, of the First Presbyterian Church in Pitman, New Jersey, Gillette is modest to the point of shyness. She will tell you that she submits to the indignity of all this publicity mostly in order to help draw attention to the issues she addresses in her hymns. 

At times, however, her enthusiasm overcomes her reserve—as when Psalm 96 comes up and she exclaims, “There are new songs that we can learn and write and sing and enjoy.” More often, she seems almost distressed by the attention that has come her way. 

But it comes for a reason.
“Her hymns have theological integrity—and they’re singable, too,” says Tom Hastings, a Ph.D. candidate at the Seminary, who has used them at his English-speaking church in Tokyo.

In a Feed Box, in a Stable
      
by Carolyn Winfrey Gillette

In a feed box, in a stable,
Jesus slept upon the hay;
So, our God, you came among us,
Bringing peace on earth that day.
Beautiful upon the mountain!
Christ, you bring us God’s shalom;
May we share your love and justice
In each land and town and home.

In a shelter, poor and homeless,
Sleeps a child upon her bed;
In a basement hides a family,
Bombs exploding overhead.
Jesus, you knew want and hunger;
Your own family fled the sword.
May we see you, may we hear you,
In each one oppressed or poor.

In the church, we seek your presence;
Prince of Peace, you meet us here:
See! A person seeking shelter.
See! Another filled with fear.
See! A world where lives are broken;
Give us strength and help us care,
Till our love for every neighbor
Fills each thought and act and prayer

Gillette discovered her gift suddenly, thirteen years after she graduated from seminary. Sitting in a class on Psalms, she heard the professor say that someone had once set the Ten Commandments to music. No one in the class knew how it went, however, so she decided to write it herself to teach her three children.

The Ten Commandments hymn and the forty-four others in her published collection attest to a broad range of emotion and experience—from a wedding hymn (“God, in Joy We Gather”) to a mourning hymn in the wake of the Columbine shootings (“A Prayer for Our Children”). The hymns, all set to existing tunes, fill gaps many pastors may find in the hymnal, and some they probably never thought of—she has, for example, written a hymn for Super Bowl Sunday and another inspired by key points of “Faith in the Reformed Tradition,” a section in the second chapter of the Presbyterian Church’s Book of Order.

One of her major themes is the call to social consciousness.
“The church needs to be concerned with what’s going on in the world and the people whom it’s so easy to overlook,” she says.

One such hymn—“The Storm Came to Honduras”—led to one of Gillette’s most rewarding moments as a writer. The same powerful hurricane devastated several countries in Central America, and Gillette remembers an email message she received from Nicaragua: “A woman, a mission worker, wrote to thank us for the hymn as her husband was out ministering in the area after a village had been destroyed by a mudslide. Seventy families had been killed, and she was at home trying to keep things normal for her kids and singing to herself…. She wrote and said it was very comforting.”

Such exchanges—and the more mundane daily thanks from pastors all over America and abroad—are made possible by new technology, and Gillette’s relationship with that new technology is made possible largely by Bruce, who in his role as press agent has set up a web page at www.firstpresby.org/hymnlist.htm  with lyrics to ten hymns.

“One of our kids had a map of the world,” Carolyn remembers, “and we had fun coloring in all the states and countries we’d heard from.”

Within the Presbyterian community, Gillette has been honored to have her hymns published in The Presbyterian Outlook, sung at a Presbyterian Women’s National Gathering, and chosen by the denomination’s Office of Spiritual Formation to distribute with study materials.

Gillette has also made it easy for pastors of small churches to use the hymns: Buying one copy of the book confers the right to photocopy hymns for one-time use by a whole congregation, an unusually lenient position in the business.

About the best place to go to avoid hearing a Carolyn Winfrey Gillette hymn is Carolyn Winfrey Gillette’s church, where modesty prevails. Bruce says, “I’m lucky if I can get her to [have the congregation] sing one a month.” 


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In This Issue

Features

All Things Bright and Beautiful
One of Scheide’s New Tenants: PTS’s Director of Student Counseling
To Be Boring or to Be Bored: That Is the Question
The Master Key: Unlocking the Relationship of Theology and Psychology

Departments

From the President's desk
Letters to the Editor
outStanding in the Field
Class Notes
End Things
Student Life
On & Off Campus
Alumni/ae Update
Investing in Ministry
inSpire Staff

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