March is designated as Women's History Month in The United Methodist Church, a month in which churches are encouraged to recognize and celebrate lives and contributions of women to their communities and The UMC. Women have always written hymns for the church, and Women's History Month is an opportunity to celebrate some of their work.
Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179)
The first female hymn writer about whom we know anything of substance is Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179), called "Sybil of the Rhine." An author, theologian, mystic, and specialist in natural history and medicine, she was consulted by bishops, popes, and kings. She founded a convent where she composed and presented music and plays. Her music has become oft-recorded in recent years and is widely available on CD and increasingly in hymnals and songbooks. She is sometimes referred to as St. Hildegard, although she has been beatified but not yet canonized. Hildegard's music is commonly included today in college music study. Hildegard's hymn "O Holy Spirit, Root of Life" (The Faith We Sing, no. 2121) makes use of more than a dozen images to describe the Holy Spirit's nature and activity. (For more information on Hildegard of Bingen, visit http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/med/hildegarde.html.)
Karen Lafferty (b. 1948)
Karen Lafferty was born in Alamogordo, New Mexico, and earned a Bachelor of Music Education degree from Eastern New Mexico University in 1970. The following year she was living in southern California working as a nightclub entertainer. Under the influence of Christian training from her parents and her early Baptist heritage, she began witnessing to nightclub patrons about the grace of God and the love of Christ. She became active in Calvary Chapel in Costa Mesa, California, becoming a worship leader and concert artist. In 1971, following a Bible study on Matthew 6:33, she composed "Seek Ye First the Kingdom of God" (The United Methodist Hymnal, no. 405), which went on to become one of the most often-sung songs of the early Christian contemporary music and endures as a favorite of children and adults. It appears in most hymnals today. She recorded a number of albums with Maranatha! Music, worked with Youth With a Mission in Holland, and founded Musicians For Missions International (MFMI) in 1981. For more than twenty years she has led music seminars and musician outreach activities in more than fifty countries. While living in Amsterdam she and MFMI were regularly involved in ministry to prostitutes and street people. Today Karen Lafferty lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and has relocated the international headquarters of MFMI there. (For more information on Karen Lafferty, visit www.musiciansformissions.com/KL/biography.)
Darlene Zschech (b. 1965) At the age of ten, Darlene was singing, dancing, and hosting segments on a weekly television show in Australia. As a teenager she sang with gospel bands in Brisbane. Today Darlene Zschech, with her husband, Mark, leads worship at Hills Christian Life Center in Sydney, Australia. Darlene (born in Brisbane, Queensland, Australia, in 1965) is the Worship Director and Mark directs the television ministry. With eight years of formal vocal training, she is an accomplished singer who has also written commercials, and has been a songwriter since age 15.
During a difficult time of personal crisis, she was meditating on the text of Psalm 96. As she sat at her piano, mostly improvising words and melody as they flowed from her meditations, her deep faith and joy in the Lord gradually replaced her depression, resulting in the song "Shout to the Lord" (The Faith We Sing, no. 2074). She introduced the song to her congregation, and within a short time the song was being sung in many nations around the world. "Shout to the Lord" became the title song for a best-selling album of the same name, and it was nominated for Song of the Year at the 29th Annual Dove Awards in 1999. It continues to appear in the top ten list of CCLI's most downloaded songs. Zschesch has passed the 2.25 million mark in CD sales in the USA alone.
Today, in addition to her musical activities, Zschesch is Executive Director of Mercy Ministries in Australia, a Christ-centered residential program for girls and women suffering from eating disorders, drug addiction, and emotional and physical abuse. (For more information on Darlene Zschesch, visit www.darlenezschech.com.)
Hymns By Women