“Joy” stained glass window at Metropolitan Community Church of San Francisco. Designed by Ken Scott, 1993
A festival of sacred music and texts by gays and lesbians held in 2010 for LGBT Pride Month inspired me to make a list of my own favorites in the genre of queer hymns:
“Singing for Our Lives” by Holly Near, 1979
It seemed like we sang this song at every single LGBT Christian worship service held in the 1980s. It was our anthem, like “We Shall Overcome” was the anthem of the civil rights movement. But now one has to search hard on the Internet to find the lyrics that inspired a generation of LGBT-rights activists:
We are a gentle, angry people
And we are singing, singing for our lives.
The full text is online at HollyNear.com
Hear Holly sing it on YouTube:
”For Those Tears I Died (Come to the Water)” by Marsha Stevens, 1969.
Marsha wrote this famous contemporary Christian song when she was 16, long before she came out as a lesbian. It became one of the best known Christian folk songs of the decade, appearing in almost every evangelical songbook in the country. Her lyrics have universal appeal, but they come from lesbian teen angst:
I felt every teardropHear Marsha sing it on YouTube in 1971 with her group Children of the Day
When in darkness you cried.
And I strove to remind you,
For those tears I died.
“We are the Church Alive” by David Pelletier and Jack Hoggatt-St. John, 1980.
This powerful hymn was a congregational favorite when I was on the clergy staff of Metropolitan Community Church of San Francisco (MCC-SF) in the 1980s. I’ll never forget hearing a church full of men with AIDS, back when there was no effective treatment, sing out,
We are the church alive,
Our faith has set us free;
No more enslaved by guilt and shame,
We live our liberty.
The full text is online at the Conjubilant with Song Blog.
“I'm Not Afraid Anymore” by Michael Mank, 1972.
This early MCC hymn made a big impression on me as a young lesbian fresh out of the closet. I was still recovering from the fears that had made me hide my sexual orientation. I got stronger every time I joined the congregation in singing:
One time my soul was grieved, Grace was denied to me,
But then Christ’s message of love I heard, now I have been set free.
I’m not afraid anymore!
I’m not afraid anymore!
God’s message is for all the world,
Salvation is for everyone,
What’s bound on earth is bound in heav’n.
Praise to God! I’m not afraid anymore!
The full text appears in my book “Equal Rites: Lesbian and Gay Worship, Ceremonies and Celebrations.”
“Our God is Like an Eagle (When Israel camped in Sinai)” (Music: WEBB) Words by Lawrence Bernier, 1974.
Women and men alike love this early MCC hymn that breaks gender stereotypes about God. Many people can still recall the impact they felt when they first heard the liberating words:
Our God is not a woman;Click here for all the lyrics.
our God is not a man.
Our God is both and neither;
our God is I WHO AM.
“Once We Were Not A People” (traditional English tune KING'S LYNN) Words by J. Thomas Sopko, 1987.
Unlike most of the songs I’ve listed, this hymn actually dares to use the words “gay and lesbian.” Of course, nowadays we’d have to add “bisexual and transgender” or go with “LGBT.” These inspiring lyrics came true when I stood with hundreds during worship and sang,
Once we were not a people,
God’s people now are we.
A gay and lesbian people,
A new community…
A gentle, loving people
With justice as our aim;
A gay and lesbian people
United in Christ’s name.
Postscript: While researching this post, I discovered that the patriotic hymn “America the Beautiful” was written by a lesbian! Her name is Katherine Lee Bates. I wish I had known about her when I was forced to sing her song every day while growing up in the Iowa public schools!
So what’s YOUR favorite GLBT hymn? Please leave a comment.
About the image: Musical notes represent the uplifting spirit of music in “Joy,” one of 12 stained glass windows designed by Honolulu artist Ken Scott for MCC San Francisco. It was donated by Laura Kinley in honor of Alison Salter, who said “Just go for the music!” and Bob Crocker who said, “Let’s stand up and sing like we know what we’re doing!”
The 12-window project is called “Heavenly Wind” and is an abstraction representing God's breath flowing through the sanctuary and congregation. Click here for an online gallery of MCC-SF’s stained glass windows. Special thanks to Lynn Jordan of MCC-SF for background info on the windows.
“A Heart to Praise Our God,” a festival of sacred music and texts by gays and lesbians, was held June 13, 2010 in Berkeley, California. It was sponsored by the Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies in Religion, Epworth United Methodist Church, New Spirit Community Church, and the Hymn Society in the United States and Canada.