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Engaging the immigrant experience in worship

Presbyterian pastor produces a hymn to biblical refugees

July 28, 2010

WILMINGTON, Del.

Hymn writer Carolyn Winfrey Gillette has penned a new hymn dealing with immigration, now on the webpage of the National Council of Churches for free use by congregations.

"Abraham Journeyed to a New Country" is set to the familiar Gaelic tune of "Morning Has Broken." Examples of biblical immigrants like Abraham and Sarah, Ruth, and Jesus are featured in the five-stanza text, among the resources offered by the NCC/CWS Immigration Task Force.

In her introduction to the hymn, Gillette writes: "Jesus himself was a refugee in Egypt when his parents had to flee from Herod for his safety. Jesus taught that one of the greatest commandments is to love our neighbors; these neighbors include foreigners (Luke 10:25-37 with references to Leviticus 19:18, 33-34).

"He also taught that all people will be judged on their compassion for those in need and their welcome of strangers (Matthew 25:31-46).  Today, people are immigrants for many of the same reasons that these biblical people were.  The church is called to follow the Bible's teachings by welcoming and supporting immigrants today."  

Gillette, who with her husband, Bruce, is co-pastor of Limestone Presbyterian Church here, has also written lyrics to hymns reflecting on the church's response to the earthquake in Haiti, war, and Christian responsibility in government, among other issues.     

She is currently writing lyrics for a hymn that will be presented at the Centennial Gathering of the National Council of Churches and Church World Service in New Orleans Nov. 9-11.

"We immediately recognized how valuable the hymn is for all the congregations related to the 36 member communions of the National Council of Churches," said Wesley M. "Pat" Pattillo, NCC associate general secretary, Communication and Justice & Advocacy.  

"The issues that cry out for hospitality and immigration reform could not be more biblical. Yet for many of us they don't seem relevant to our Sunday morning church experiences. Carolyn's hymn shows how relevant — and how urgent — those issues are for all persons of faith."

Carolyn's latest book, Songs of Grace: New Hymns for God and Neighbor, was published by Discipleship Resources/Upper Room Books in 2009. This collection of 77 new hymns to well-known tunes celebrates biblical stories, the church year, and a wide range of church activities, from older adult ministries and stewardship to social justice and many other topics in between. Accompanying each new hymn is a meditation that can be used for personal, family or group devotions.

Carolyn's first book, Gifts of Love: New Hymns for Today's Worship, is a collection of 45 of her hymns. Her hymns are also in the new supplements for the Episcopal, Presbyterian and United Church of Canada hymnals. Circuit Rider, The Christian Century, The Presbyterian Outlook, Presbyterians Today, Horizons, Ideas! For Church Leaders, Church & Society, and other magazines have published her hymns.

Two of her anthems are published by the Choristers Guild. For additional information, visit her website.

Bruce Gillette was the PC(USA) representative on the Executive Committee for the Consultation on Church Union (COCU) that created Churches Uniting in Christ (CUIC). He is the co-author of A New Creation In Christ: A Study Guide for Churches Uniting in Christ.

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