Tuesday, 25 November 2008

Women writing hymns and songs

Why are so many of today's song-writers men?

Nothing against men, or against the great worship songs which help us to come into the presence of God, but I wonder why far more songs are written by men than by women?

Is it because it tends to be men who stand up to lead worship? Or men who are appointed as official leaders of worship?

But I was reminded recently that in addition to all the nineteenth century women taking the lead in philanthropy, and preaching at the time of the mid-century revival (following the examples of Phoebe Palmer and Catherine Booth), there was a whole strand of women hymn-writers in the nineteenth century.

Which names come most readily to mind? Christina Rosetti perhaps? Soon we will all be singing 'In the bleak mid-winter'. Or Mrs CF Alexander: 'Once in Royal David's City', 'There is a green hill', 'All things bright and beautiful'. Other names include Harriet Auber, Charlotte Elliott ('Just as I am'), Emily Elliott, Sarah Flower Adams, Jane Eliza Leeson, Caroline Noel ('At the name of Jesus'), Anna Letitia Waring, Dora Greenwell and Elizabeth Clephane.

Perhaps the best known of all was Frances Ridley Havergal (1839-1894). She wrote 60 hymns, including 'Take my life' and 'Who is on the Lord' side?' She said of her hymn writing: 'I can never set myself to write verse. I believe my king suggests a thought and whispers me a musical line or two and then I look up and thank him delighedly, and go on with it. That's how the hymns and poems come.'

Our age might stuggle with her understanding of a woman's submission (was this what God's spirit was saying, or what was expected of women in those days?), but there's no doubt about the addition made to Victorian spirituality by all these women.

I know there are a few women writing songs for the church today, but could there be more?

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