PC(USA) pastor pens hymn to commemorate those slain in Charleston

‘They Met to Read the Bible’ offered as a call to grief, justice and change

June 22, 2015

The Rev. Carolyn Winfrey Gillette.

The Rev. Carolyn Winfrey Gillette.


The Rev. Carolyn Winfrey Gillette, co-pastor of Limestone Presbyterian Church in Wilmington, Del., released the hymn, “They Met to Read the Bible,” Saturday following the murder of nine people at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C. The three men and six women were gunned down Wednesday evening while attending a prayer meeting. Twenty-one-year-old Dylan Roof has been arrested in conjunction with the shootings.

“This hymn is a prayer that we as a society will find courage to change,” says Gillette. “We need to live differently. We can’t put our faith in weapons or in symbols of hatred any longer. We need to hope for justice, to pray for justice, and to work for justice. We need to realize we are all brothers and sisters. We’re all children of God.”

The song of lament includes a recounting of the June 17, 2015 event and personal details of the nine victims: the Rev. Clementa Pinckney, Emanuel AME’s pastor and a South Carolina state senator; minister and track coach the Rev. Sharonda Coleman-Singleton; librarian Cynthia Hurd; Susie Jackson; church employee Ethel Lee Lance; minister the Rev. Depayne Middleton-Doctor; recent graduate of Allen University in Columbia, S.C., Tywanza Sanders; minister the Rev. Daniel L. Simmons; and Myra Thompson.

“Hymns are prayers to God,” she says. “I write hymns as a pastor—so that congregations will have new words to sing their deepest prayers.”

The Rev. David Gambrell, associate for worship in the Presbyterian Mission Agency’s office of Theology and Worship, acknowledges the difficulty of finding words that are an adequate response to such tragedy. Yet, he’s thankful songs are being written to address the many ways people respond.

“It's hard to know what to say after an event like this; it's even harder to know what to sing,” he says. “Yet the church must sing: to lament the loss of these beloved people of God, to express our anger over this outrageous act, to renounce the evil of racism, to show our solidarity in the struggle for justice, and to proclaim the promise of God's peace for all. I'm grateful for hymn writers, such as Carolyn, who give us words to express these urgent prayers in song.” 

Gillette overlaid her words on the familiar tune “ST. CHRISTOPHER,” also used in the hymn “Beneath the Cross of Jesus.” She does the same with many of her hymns, saying it is more realistic for hymns to be sung widely when they are set to a recognizable melody.

The author of over 200 hymns and two books of collected works, along with other resources including several co-authored with her husband and co-pastor, the Rev. Bruce Gillette, her music is featured in numerous denominational hymnals and online liturgical resources. Gillette's hymn, “O God, Our Words Cannot Express,” written to commemorate 9/11, was recorded as a video with Noel Paul Stookey of the group “Peter, Paul and Mary,” and Emmy winning video producer Pete Staman.

A printable PDF document of the hymn with music notation can be downloaded hereGillette has made the hymn available for free use by local churches and in ecumenical services. 


They Met to Read the Bible
ST. CHRISTOPHER ("Beneath the Cross of Jesus")
They met to read the Bible, they gathered for a prayer,
They worshiped God and shared with friends and welcomed strangers there.
They went to church to speak of love, to celebrate God’s grace.
O Lord, we tremble when we hear what happened in that place.
O God of love and justice, we thank you for the nine.
They served in their communities and made the world more kind.
They preached and sang and coached and taught, and cared for children, too.
They blessed your church and blessed your world with gifts they used for you.
We grieve a wounded culture where fear and terror thrive,
Where some hate others for their race and guns are glorified.
We grieve for sons and daughters lost, for grandmas who are gone.
O God, we cry with broken hearts: this can’t continue on!
God, may we keep on sowing the seeds of justice here,
Till guns are silent, people sing, and hope replaces fear.
May seeds of understanding grow and flourish all our days.
May justice, love and mercy be the banner that we raise. 

Tune: Frederick Charles Maker, 1881
Text: Copyright © 2015 by Carolyn Winfrey Gillette. All rights reserved.
Email: bcgillette@comcast.net  New Hymns: www.carolynshymns.com
Permission is given for free use by local churches and in ecumenical services.

  1. Hi Brother. Thank you for your kind reply. I am glad that your group is going to pray for our fellowship & its activities. Lets continue our fellowship through our Lord Jesus Christ by sharing our thoughts in reaching & preaching the Gospel to the needy. Kindly pray for the following; * Pray for the upcoming Gospel Revival meetings to be held in March- 2016 (24th, 25th & 26th). * Pray for the Church establishment. * Pray for the HIV/AIDS positive candidates. * Pray for sis. Marthamma, she is suffering with blood cancer. * Pray for the children & youth ministry. * Pray for the patients in hospitals who are looking for the God's healing. Bro, I would like to know more about you & your ministry. Thank you! Yours in Christ. Bro. Selva Raju.

    by Bro.Selva Raju

    September 10, 2015

  2. I used this hymn June 28 in worship. I found it powerful and moving. It helped me to be more fully present to the situation. Your hymns have caught my eye again and again because of their relevant themes and inclusive images and language. Looking forward to more of your creations.

    by Barb McRae

    July 7, 2015

  3. Thanks for this hymn. I pray it is used at the Montreat conference on Dr MLK's 1965 speech. http://www.pcusa.org/news/2015/6/10/martin-luther-kings-unfinished-agenda/ I urge the PCUSA Stated Clerk and Moderator of the GA to invite President Obama to participate in this conference, The Rev Dr Marin Luther King, Jr spoke at the Montreat Conference Center of the Presbyterian Church in the United States on August 21, 1965 on dealing with racial tension. This was days after rioting in Watts, Los Angeles. His words reflect wisdom beyond his then 36 years and insight into the issues and solutions of racial tension. I urge the President to reflect on this speech and consider attending the upcoming conference at Montreat reflecting on Dr King’s speech of Aug 21, 1965. Certainly in view of the violence in our nation, the opportunity to hear Dr King’s words re-affirmed by the President may promote non-violence.

    by Thomas Fultz, Ruling Elder

    June 25, 2015

  4. Thank you for these wonderful words that so eloquently reflect such wonderful people. God bless you.

    by Dorothy McBride

    June 25, 2015

  5. I wrote one too, in Spanish. Haven't applied music to it yet. Grace Lauro Elder St Mark Presbyterian Boerne, Texas

    by Grace Lauro

    June 25, 2015

  6. Dear Carolyn, Thanks again for another hymn to speak to our times as you did with the hymn after 9/11. I was glad to have that one at the time and equallyu gladd to be able to use this one in my supply preachiing. Best to you and thanks for your generous sharing of your gift.

    by Bill Davis

    June 23, 2015

  7. Very, very well said. Thank you. I believe I will use it on July 5th.

    by Rev. Larry Langer

    June 23, 2015

  8. We sang this hymn last Sunday at our church just after all the church bells rang here in Charleston, SC

    by Judith Murdoch

    June 23, 2015

  9. Thank you, Carolyn for this superb hymn. As a retired Presb. pastor I often "fill in," and so will look forward to singing this hymn with other believers. I am grateful too that the excellent article mentioned your hymn written after 9/11, as I had not come across it before. And to think I didn't know that we had another Jane Parker Huber in our ranks. Thank you for sharing your gifts with words!

    by Edward McNulty

    June 23, 2015

  10. thanks for the permission to print & perform. I added it to out Anglo-Catholic mass at the Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd in Columbia, South Carolina, this past Sunday. It was a fine vehicle for prayers. I'm the organist-choirmaster. My priest and deacon were most grateful also.

    by David M. Lowry

    June 22, 2015

  11. We sang it as our closing hymn at First Presbyterian Church, Cheraw, SC, on Sunday. It was moving and insightful. It captured what many of us were feeling and led us in thought provoking, hopeful prayer. Thank you!

    by Avery Dickson

    June 22, 2015

  12. Thank you for creating the lyrics. My pastor sang this during our prayers and concern time. Her sermon and this prayer unfroze me!

    by Mary Heil

    June 22, 2015

  13. we sang it Sunday at Maximo Presbyterian in St Petersburg, FL. It was very moving. Thank you for this beautiful hymn.

    by Helen Huntley

    June 22, 2015

  14. Thank you for this incredible gift. It says what many of us are feeling but do not have the words to express for ourselves. May God continue to bless you with your gift so you may help others praise God, thank God, and ask for his forgiveness as we stumble through these man-made tragedies.

    by Ledel Weber

    June 22, 2015

  15. Thank you. This is a blessed gift for a time such as this.

    by Delaine Zody

    June 22, 2015

  16. Dear Winfrey, I think this hymn was a powerful and meaningful part of our worship service at Pennswood Village Inter-Denomination Congregation's worship service on Sunday. Rev. bill McQuoid

    by William McQuoid

    June 22, 2015