A Delaware pastor's spiritual hymn written to remember the nine Christians killed in the shooting at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, last week is now touching the lives of countless believers, as many churches around the world have started to include it in their worship services.
The hymn's writer, Carolyn Winfrey Gillette who co-pastors Limestone Presbyterian Church in Pike Creek, Delaware, with her husband, Bruce, has written spiritual songs about other tragic events such as the 2010 earthquake in Haiti and 9/11.
Her latest hymn, "They Met to Read the Bible" that addresses the shooting in Charleston has gone viral on Facebook and has been written about by various secular media outlets, including The New Yorker.
"We're amazed at the response the song has gotten," said Bruce Gillette to The Christian Post. "It's on an Australian worship planning website. I received emails from all over Canada. Churches from Brooklyn to San Francisco to Louisiana to North Dakota. Baptists, Evangelicals, Methodists, Presbyterian, Roman Catholic, Episcopalian, you name it, it seems to be attracting folks across the theological denominational spectrum."
Carolyn wrote the song shortly after the news of the shooting hit and released it for free.
"It surprised us that The New Yorker, a secular magazine, wrote about it," Carolyn told CP. "It is a prayer and I hope people see it that way and sing it that way. It's a prayer for us to grieve with the victims and their families and it's also a prayer for us to look at how out society needs to change and be more how God wants us to be."
She also stressed the importance of the song's lyrics.
"It's not about me, it's a prayer. And prayers are meant to be prayed and sung to God. It's not about the writer of the words. It's about the words and the message. That's the most important thing," said Carolyn.
Churches around the world included the hymn in their Sunday worship services the week after the shootings, according to Bruce, who's happy to see God unifying believers through his wife's song.
"In the book of Romans, we're called to rejoice with those who rejoice and suffer with those who suffer. These are our brothers and sisters in Christ in Charleston and it's nice to see the Christian Church [uniting]."
Bruce said his wife writes "biblically grounded" hymns and has penned spiritual songs inspired by the Apostle's Creed, the Ten Commandments and the biblical images of God the Father. Her 9/11 hymn made national news in 2001, according to Gillette, who said songs she writes inspired by current events usually attract the most attention.
Her 9/11 hymn was sung during a special on the BBC in Britain for remembering victims killed in New York City in the Twin Towers.
Carolyn wrote "They Met to Read the Bible" on the Friday following the Charleston shooting. Shortly after releasing the song, Bruce emailed it to churches that have used her songs in the past and within a half an hour a pastor in Charleston said he wanted to share it with other clergy. Gillette said the song has received at least 15,000 hits on his personal Facebook page alone.
People just hearing the song this week are planning to include it in their worship services next Sunday, according to Bruce. Others plan on using it on July 5, the day after Independence Day, as a prayer for the U.S.
Carolyn's hymns can viewed on her website www.carolynshymns.com.
"They Met to Read the Bible" addresses the tragic event in Charleston, South Carolina, where nine people were shot and killed by a lone gunman on June 17 at Emanuel AME Church during a Bible study. The church's late pastor and State Senator Clementa C. Pinckney was one of the victims gunned down by 21-year-old Dylann Roof.
"They Met to Read the Bible"
ST. CHRISTOPHER 18.104.22.168.22.214.171.124 ("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.