Presbyterian Pastor Pens Verses on Gun Violence Sung to the Tune of Church Hymns

The Rev. Carolyn Winfrey Gillette in the sanctuary of Limestone Presbyterian Church in Wilmington, Del., in 2010. (Photo courtesy of Bruce Gillette)
The Rev. Carolyn Winfrey Gillette in the sanctuary of Limestone Presbyterian Church in Wilmington, Del., in 2010. (Photo courtesy of Bruce Gillette)

Gun violence has reached a point in this country that the Rev. Carolyn Winfrey Gillette, who has written several hymns about it, can’t keep up.

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.”

Video courtesy of Washington National Cathedral via YouTube

Gillette, who lives near Wilmington, Del., a city dubbed “Murder Town USA” by Newsweek, said she tries to provide “sung prayers” for a problem that seems difficult to solve while also spurring people to end gun violence. She compares her hymns to those, like “We Shall Overcome,” that jailed freedom riders sang for encouragement during the civil rights movement.

“I’m hoping that I’m helping people find the words to sing, to find the courage to do what God wants them to do in this world, and that’s to work for a less violent world, a world where we have more justice and more peace.”

Gillette, 54, who co-pastors a Presbyterian Church (USA) congregation with her husband, has written more than 300 hymn texts and paired them with well-known melodies that have been sung from hymnals, sometimes for centuries. About half of them have a social justice theme and about half a dozen have focused on gun violence.

Gillette, who was interviewed before the San Bernardino shooting, said she doesn’t write about every tragedy. But some of her writings timed to specific crises have helped people find words to lament on other occasions.

“O God, Our Words Cannot Express,” which she wrote after the 9/11 attacks (using the tune “O God, Our Help in Ages Past”), was sung at a recent college chapel where students were wrestling with gun violence.

Its first verse reads: “O God, our words cannot express/The pain we feel this day./Enraged, uncertain, we confess/Our need to bow and pray.”

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SOURCE: Religion News Service

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