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A hymn-prayer celebrating women in ministry

Permission is given for free use of this hymn by Carolyn Winfrey Gillette, including in online worship services.

Photo by Diane Helentjaris on Unsplash

During their summer 2023 meeting, the Southern Baptist Convention moved to amend their constitution to officially state that only men are fit for pastoral leadership. This hymn by Carolyn Winfrey Gillette, originally published in 1998 by Presbyterian Outlook, celebrates women in ministry.

God Of the Women
SLANE (“Be Thou My Vision”)

God of the women who answered your call,
Trusting your promises, giving their all,
Women like Sarah and Hannah and Ruth —
Give us their courage to live in your truth.

God of the women who walked Jesus’ Way,
Giving their resources, learning to pray,
Mary, Joanna, Susanna, and more —
May we give freely as they did before.

God of the women long put to the test,
Left out of stories, forgotten, oppressed,
Quietly asking: “Who smiled at my birth?” —
In Jesus’ dying you show us our worth.

God of the women who ran from the tomb,
Prayed with the others in that upper room,
Then felt your Spirit on Pentecost Day —
May we so gladly proclaim you today.

O God of Phoebe and ministers all,
May we be joyful in answering your call.
Give us the strength of your Spirit so near
That we may share in your ministry here.

Tune: Traditional Irish melody (“Be Thou My Vision”)
Text: Copyright © 1998 by Carolyn Winfrey Gillette. All rights reserved.

Included in “Gifts of Love: New Hymns for Today’s Worship” (Geneva Press) and “Voices Found: Women in the Church’s Song” (Episcopal Church Publishing).
New Hymns:

Hymn note for “God Of the Women”
This hymn celebrates women in ministry and mentions specific women in the Bible and faithful women of today. The first verse’s use of “trusting” parallels the word’s use in the Presbyterian Brief Statement of Faith which uses “trust” instead of “believe,” as it describes examples of faithfulness found in Sarah, Hannah, and Ruth. The second verse’s reference to “Way” is one of the earliest descriptions of Christians (Acts 9:2)). “Mary, Joanna, Susanna and more” comes from the story in Luke 8:1-3, a story of women who supported Jesus with their financial resources. “Learning to pray” is a reminder that Jesus taught women as well as men, going against some customs of his day. The third verse recalls the painful history for women of faith. “Left out of stories” refers to the way in which biblical writers often ignore women (for example, Matthew 14:21 tells that Jesus fed “five thousand men, not counting the women and children”). These slights are minor compared to what Phyllis Trible has written about in her Texts of Terror — the biblical stories like 2 Samuel 13:1-22 and Judges 11:29-40; 19:1-30. The reference to the smiling at a girl’s birth is a positive one, yet too few of the biblical stories celebrate girls’ arrivals or list many women in genealogies. The fourth verse begins with the Easter story where women were the first witnesses to the resurrection. Acts 1:14 tells us that women joined the other followers before Pentecost and also were empowered by the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:1-21). The fifth verse refers to Phoebe. Paul’s personal greetings in his Letter to the Romans has this statement: “I have good things to say about Phoebe, who is a leader in the church… she has proved to be a respected leader for many others, including me” (Romans 16:1-2 CEV). The footnote in the NRSV Bible says the position that Phoebe held can be translated “minister;” as it is in the one other place the Greek word appears — when it describes a man (Ephesians 6.21). “Ministers all” relates well to the Presbyterian Church’s Brief Statement of Faith that affirms “The same Spirit who inspired the prophets and apostles…. calls women and men to all ministries of the Church.”

This hymn was first published in The Presbyterian Outlook. The Episcopal women’s magazine titled Communiqué distributed the hymn widely and its popularity in the Episcopal Church is evident in that the hymn is included in Voices Found: Women in the Church’s Song, the supplement to the Episcopal Hymnal. The hymn has been translated into Japanese by a Roman Catholic group for publication there. In July 2005, the hymn was sung at the church-wide Triennial Gathering of the Women in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America that celebrated the 35th anniversary of the ordination of the first Lutheran woman pastor in North America. In January 2006, the United Methodist Church Office on Worship posted “God of the Women” on their website to celebrate the 50th anniversary year of the ordination of women in The United Methodist Church (2006).

Many congregations have used it on Mothers’ Day and on Sundays celebrating the gifts of women in the church. The biblical texts that inspired the hymn are Genesis 12-23; 1 Samuel 1-2; Matthew 28; Mark 14:9, 16; Luke 8:1-3, 24; John 20; Acts 1:14, 2:1-21, 9:2; Romans 16:1. Adapted from “Gifts of Love: New Hymns for Today’s Worship.”

See also Hymns Celebrating Women of the Bible and Books About Women of the Bible.

For sheet music: “God of the Women”