Academic journal article The Hymn

Blessed Assurance: Beyond Fanny Crosby

Academic journal article The Hymn

Blessed Assurance: Beyond Fanny Crosby

Article excerpt

Of women, and of women's hopes we sing,

of sharing in creation's nurturing,

of bearing and of birthing new belief,

of passion for the promises of life.

In Every Corner Sing, 56)

Wh en I wrote this in 1988, during the Ecumenical Decade of the Churches in Solidarity with Women, I was joining my sisters in an idea of "This is Our Song."

"Rise up, O Men of God" had had its day, and it was felt that "have done with lesser things" had probably referred to women, in the guise of Eve, along with Mary. It was a time of excited ferment in New Zealand, where the Women's Movement had had a significant impact, and Christian feminism was demanding changes in church power structures, language, and opportunity.

It did not occur to me then, having already nailed my colours to the mast of inclusiveness, and tailoring language to suit an ideology of gender balance, that this could be a contradiction in itself. Since the theme of the Decade was "Who will roll the stone away?" it seemed self-evident that we women would and could challenge and gain a share in the patriarchal church on our own. It took one quiet male to point out that he could not participate in any congregational singing of this, were it ever suggested, especially as it went on to say:

We praise the God whose image is our own, the mystery within our flesh and bone, the womanspirit moving through all time in prophecy, Magnificat, and dream.

In this way, early on in my hymnwriting, I learned that the politics of inclusiveness are subtle, language is an inherently dangerous tool, and it is wise to heed the needs of the whole congregation, when new and possibly jolting ideas are involved.

How I Started

How did you start writing?

I had been working in the Research Unit of the Labour Party in Parliament Buildings, and was witnessing the attempts of the women Members of Parliament to achieve social justice in many areas affecting equal pay, equal opportunity, and more help for families and childcare. The next stanza seemed apt for the church of the time:

We labour for the commonwealth of God,

and equal as disciples, walk the road,

in work and status, asking what is just

for sisters of the family of Christ.

The final stanza had to address both men and women:

Forgiving what is past, we seek the new:

a finer justice, and a peace more true,

the promise of empowering for our day

when men and women roll the stone away.

But to go back a little: in the late 1970s, I was part of an adventurous Presbyterian congregation at St Andrew's on the Terrace, Wellington. They had put up with my first attempts at writing new texts to familiar tunes and they took them on board with equanimity. Besides, I was the minister's wife.

The reason I began to write hymns is connected to this statement. It is also connected to the ethos of being a New Zealander. We have an attitude of "do it yourself" - a kind of pioneer spirit which is not intimidated by too much tradition and actually welcomes inventiveness. (It will also rapidly cut down any tall poppies who think they are "above themselves.")

It seemed to me that tlie hymns we sang had no resonance with the world I lived in, other than to join us with tlie traditional European "three-tier" theology, even if disturbed by such thinkers as J. A. T. Robinson, or our own victim of a heresy trial, Professor Lloyd Geering, Principal of Knox Presbyterian Theological College.

There was no imagery which evoked our particular environment, no landscape of thought to accommodate the southern hemisphere seasons - think of "In the Bleak Midwinter''' in high summer, for example -no connection with the Maori culture of our society (which is officially bi-cultural), nothing to sing to articulate our own hopes and visions.

There was also a language issue for me, apart from the obvious difficulty of God language and inclusive language. …

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