Celebrating Women’s History Month #12

Woman Hymns
by Dean McIntyre

It is a simple matter to find and sing hymns BY women. Hymn texts, tunes, and complete hymns written and composed by women abound. 

It is more difficult to find and sing hymns that are ABOUT women, or FOR women, or that especially relate to women's ministries and contributions to the history and life of the church -- I call them WOMAN HYMNS. The same can be said of hymns written ABOUT other groups: Asians, African Americans, Native Americans, children, youth, older people, men, and others. Perhaps it is that we recognize the fact that our faith and the worship we practice transcend those distinctives. Indeed, Scripture tells us that because we are followers of Christ, there is no longer Jew, Greek, male, female, slave, or free, and we sing "In Christ there is no East or West." That is the reason why an organization like the United Methodist Women can commission and claim as its own the hymn "Many Gifts, One Spirit" (United Methodist Hymnal, 114), sing it widely in their meetings; but the hymn is not at all about women.

Nevertheless, we do have hymns that speak to our individual races, cultures, and genders. "Lift Every Voice and Sing" (United Methodist Hymnal, 519),  the "African American National Anthem," comes to mind.

There are a number of hymns written about traditional male activities or that use exclusively male pronouns that have often been used in worship by men, such as "Rise Up, O Men of God" (United Methodist Hymnal, 576), inspired by a poem titled "The Church of the Strong Men" and that remains the theme song of United Methodist Men. Another such hymn is "O Brother Man" (1966 Methodist Hymnal, 199). There is the Native American Dakota hymn, "Many and Great, O God" (United Methodist Hymnal, 148). There is the Spanish language "Unidos" (Mil Voces Para Celebrar, 348). And there are national hymns of many nations, including "O Beautiful for Spacious Skies" and "God Bless America."

But it is more difficult to find woman hymns. There are individual woman hymns and even songbooks that have been written and published. Here is a list of hymns and songs from The United Methodist Hymnal (1989) and The Faith We Sing (2000):

The United Methodist Hymnal

  • 215, "To a Maid Engaged to Joseph": This hymn helps to give non-Catholics an understanding and appreciation of Mary. When told that she is favored and chosen of God, Mary does not celebrate. She is troubled, puzzled, and fearful. As she responds fully to God's call, she provides an example for women and men.
  • 235, "Rock-a-Bye, My Dear Little Boy": One of a number of Mary hymns that show her role as nurturer, caregiver, and guardian, yet open to the future and whatever "love has destined."
  • 272, "Sing of Mary, Pure and Lowly": Speaks of Mary, joyful and chosen in her role of mother, but also suffering and full of sadness because of her role, and finally gloriously rewarded.
  • 274, "Woman in the Night": Each of the eight stanzas of this hymn speaks of the role and work of a different woman in relationship to Jesus.
  • 276, "The First One Ever": Each of the three stanzas singles out different women for their special roles in Jesus' life: Mary, his mother; the Samaritan woman at the well; and the three who came to anoint his body in the tomb.
  • 317, "O Sons and Daughters, Let Us Sing" (st. 2): Also speaks of the women who came to anoint Jesus' body.

The Faith We Sing

  • 2046, "Womb of Life": This hymn includes feminine images for God and attributes for God -- in labor, giving birth, and as mother -- alongside numerous male images and attributes.
  • 2047, "Bring Many Names": Along with other images for God, stanza two incorporates the image of a "strong mother God, working, planning, ordering, setting things in motion."
  • 2048, "God Weeps": This hymn speaks of the abuse and suffering women endure and the hope for change found in Christ.
  • 2101, "Two Fishermen": Stanza three affirms that Jesus called women (Susanna, Mary, and Magdalene) to be included in his band of followers.
  • 2189, "A Mother Lined a Basket": This hymn tells of three women who, as mothers, had great influence on their children and provided a model for all parents.
  • 2221, "In Unity We Lift Our Song": This hymn includes women as equal partners with men in the congregation of the faithful.
  • 2242, "Walk with Me": This hymn includes Mary Magdalene, along with Moses and Peter, as leaders whose lives serve as examples of how God works through us, even today.



See more about Women's History on the Discipleship Ministries site.

Categories: Womens History Month

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