Saturday, June 12, 2010

What’s your favorite LGBT hymn?

“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 teardrop
When in darkness you cried.
And I strove to remind you,
For those tears I died.
Hear Marsha sing it on YouTube in 1971 with her group Children of the Day





“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;
our God is not a man.
Our God is both and neither;
our God is I WHO AM.
Click here for all the lyrics.

“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.

Bookmark and Share

___
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.
Bookmark and Share

18 comments:

Yewtree said...

I don't know if it is LGBT but it's beautifully gender-bending:

Here's a Brian Wren text that David Dawson, a Unitarian composer, set to music (it's a beautiful tune, too):

Name unnamed, hidden and shown, knowing and known, Gloria!

Beautifully moving, ceaselessly forming,
growing, emerging with awesome delight,
Maker of Rainbows, glowing with color,
arching in wonder,
energy flowing in darkness and light:

Name unnamed...

Spinner of chaos, pulling and twisting,
freeing the fibers of pattern and form,
Weaver of Stories, famed or unspoken,
tangled or broken,
shaping a tapestry vivid and warm:

Name unnamed...

Nudging Discomfort, prodding and shaking,
waking our lives to creative unease,
Straight-talking Lover, checking and humbling
jargon and grumbling,
speaking the truth that refreshes and frees:
(was that last line written for us?)

Name unnamed...

Midwife of Changes, skillfully guiding,
drawing us out through the shock of the new,
Woman of Wisdom, deeply perceiving,
never deceiving,
freeing and leading in all that we do:

Name unnamed...

Daredevil Gambler, risking and loving,
giving us freedom to shatter your dreams,
Lifegiving Loser, wounded and weeping,
dancing and leaping,
sharing the caring that heals and redeems.

Name unnamed, hidden and shown, knowing and known, Gloria!

(Words: Brian Wren, 1936-, Copyright 1989 Hope Publishing Co.; Music: W. Frederick Wooden, 1953- , Copyright 1992 Unitarian Universalist Association; from "Singing the Living Tradition," Beacon Press:Boston, 1993, #31.)

(via a comment on a post about the gender of God)

Turtle Woman said...

I loved this post! These songs are powerful, and the best, is that they sing the glory of a lesbian and gay culture. This is the major difference between malestream Christianity, and proudly lesbian thealogy.

Sadly, most of these songs are never heard anymore, as the grand march to assimilation has begun, but they capture a lovely time and place on the route to lesbian spiritual liberation.

Marcia Stevens is particularly wonderful, and she's still out there singing away nationwide!

KittKatt said...

Thank you for adding your favorite queer hymn, Yewtree. It's truly lovely, I'm going to print it out to savor it during a meditative time. Maybe if I search I can hear it online. I am already a fan of Brian Wren, especially his "Bring Many Names," with its "strong Mother God" and "warm Father God.

Turtle Woman, I share your concern that these LGBT musical gems may be lost. I was shocked that some of them are not properly available anywhere on the Net. To my surprise, the lesbians’ music has been preserved, while the men’s music is being forgotten. I’m not sure if these songs were lost due to assimilation as you say, or due to the AIDS crisis, or simply due to the usual suppression that forces queers to keep reinventing our culture.

Trudie said...

Thank you again, Kitt. For Those Tears I Died tops my list, followed of course by everything else Marsha Stevens has written and performed since. Her songs are not only my favorite spiritually oriented music, but she is one of my favorite people, and I've been blessed to see several live performances by her.

I agree with you that the lesbian gems seem to have survived better. But let us not forget that some of the more traditional hymnody is in fact by men who were not out at the time...smile.

C.W.S. said...

Thanks for the link. In brief, I don't necessarily think that things are being forgotten because they are not available on the internet, but it does take a determined effort to keep them alive and there has been no institutional support for such an effort.

We have to remember that all the LGBT hymns of the last 40 years are still under copyright and should not appear anywhere (in full) without the permission of their owners. I do appreciate the amazon.com links posted in this entry and hope that some have made use of them.

As I may have said before, I was involved in the effort to develop a denominational hymnal for UFMCC twenty years ago, which, as we know, did not happen, though much good material was distributed to many congregations worldwide and some is still in use today. My blog is derived in part from that work, though focused more on the aspects of inclusive language, the broadening of hymnody beyond the sometimes-restrictive evangelical focus of many MCCs, and use of a larger proportion of words and music by women than it is on specifically LGBT material. This is probably because I don't know of many LGBT people reading the blog; my commenters are all (save Kitt) somewhat conservative (if polite) straight people who simply ignore me when I do talk about LGBT issues or content.

Oh, and We are the Church Alive is probably my favorite of these (which is why it was posted at my blog) -- talk about a prophetic voice!

C.W.S. said...

In a separate post, so it doesn't get lost...

These are the hymns on the program for the festival this afternoon in Berkeley. (I just did some of the research; unfortunately I'm on the opposite coast)

Four of Kitt's six will be sung:

Singing for our lives
Holly Near

We are the Church Alive
Jack Hoggatt and David Pelletier

Our God is like a eagle
Laurence Bernier

Once we were not a people
J. Thomas Sopko (this is the opening)

For those tears I died was considered but didn't make it, possibly over copyright issues, though I don't know for certain (the publisher was not cooperative during my own negotiations with them, though that was a long time ago).

There are four 19th century hymns:

America the beautiful
Katharine Lee Bates

I look to thee in every need
Samuel Longfellow

These things shall be
John Addington Symonds

Blessed assurance
Fanny Crosby and Phoebe Knapp
No, not by LGBT creators as far as we know (though why did Fanny refuse to live with her husband after the first year or so of their marriage?) but certainly a meaningful hymn to many -- "This is my story, this is my song..."

Two other modern hymns:

Hope of the world
Georgia Harkness

Ours the journey
(which I must confess to not knowing anything about)

The final hymn was commissioned by the festival organizers with a request to celebrate the Feminie Divine, and will be sung for the first time:

Goddess of Love
Dan Damon (also not LGB or T but a Methodist pastor and hymnwriter who has contributed several hymns for MCC use over the years)

Should be a fun time and words cannot express my disappointment at not being there!

MusicDyke said...

To me, the brilliant Michigan Womyn's Music Festival, and all the great lesbian feminist singers of the 70s and 80s were hymns to me. I well remember going to a Z. Budapest ritual, and we sang a beautiful song called "We All Come from the Goddess."

Holly Near, Chris Williamson singing "Filling up and spilling over it's an endless waterfall" about captures my best memories of lesbian abundance, a world where women ruled, created and sang to other womyn.

Alix Dobkin, another amazing artist just wrote her autobiography. Gather a group of lesbians together and sing songs or have women artists sing to you, and that is about the best religion you can have!

You can never have enough lesbian music, hymns and anthems in my opinion! This post was brilliant BTW.

KittKatt said...

Wow, what a wealth of LGBT hymns! Trudie, you’re right that Marsha Stevens has written and sung many more songs celebrating the LGBT faith experience. At least some of them are much more explicit about the LGBT angle. I especially appreciate her “Come Out and Go Forth.”

Yes, some of the traditional hymns were indeed written by closeted gay men. I suppose that a couple of those are included on the list kindly supplied by CWS.

A big (((THANK YOU))) to CWS for sharing the entire program from the festival in Berkeley. It seems to provide an excellent mix. I like “I Look to Thee in Every Need,” but did not know that its author was gay. I couldn’t find any LGBT connection for Georgia Harkness on a quick Internet search, and I adore her text for “ A Song of Peace

The new “Goddess of Love” sounds intriguing. I hope that somebody will let me know if it is online somewhere.

Of course, you’re right, CWS, that just because something isn’t on the Internet doesn’t mean it is forgotten. But it is an important compendium of knowledge, and its influence only keeps growing. I’d love to see you put some of your material on Wikipedia. Once you get the hang of it, it’s not any harder than blogging. I’m glad that you appreciate my efforts to respect the copyright, using only short excerpts available for “fair use” and providing links where people can buy the music with royalties going to the creators.

Thanks for mentioning “Song of the Soul” by Cris Williamson. I suppose it is one of the songs remembered fondly by Music Dyke, too. That song has never been a personal favorite of mine -- maybe the odd grammar and odd rhymes just irritate me too much. But it deserves a place on the honor roll of LGBT hymns. Williamson uses part of a 19th-century hymn by Clara Scott, including these lines:

Open my eyes, that I may see
Glimpses of truth you have for me;

Once again, more info is available at the Conjubilant with Song Blog :

Music Dyke, thanks for the compliment and for reminding me of the glorious womyn’s music. I remember the songs you mention. I think we sang Z. Budapest “We All Come from the Goddess” chant at every lesbian spirituality retreat I attended. It is indeed one of my favorites. I see that it is widely available on YouTube and other Net sources. I may have to do Part 2 of the LGBT Favorite Hymns.

Lynn Jordan said...

Kitt -For your edification - From the dark recesses of my mind I keep focusing on the thought that there may be two very slightly different variations of the hymn: "I'm Not Afraid Anymore" written by Michael Herm Mank - the initial version from 1972 that first appears in a church newsletter and the one that by 1973 became the standard we know that made it into our hymnals and has been sung for decades since. Michael - a founding member of MCC San Francisco, our clerk of the Board of Directors for over a decade and our primary organist - was a teacher who was also one of the leaders of BACABI - the Bay Area Coalition Against the Briggs Initiative in 1978

It was in 1972 that the Mother Church - MCC Los Angeles had been destroyed by an arson, followed by Nashville in early 1973. This hymn I'm Not Afraid Anymore" was sung by our congregation and community supporters as we marched from our church (on Guerrero Street ( that had been torched by an arsonist and spray painted with death threats) in July 1973 to our new church location -Mission United Presbyterian Church - at 23rd & Capp Streets in the Mission. Just a month prior in June (1973) 31 members of our New Orleans MCC church had perished in an arson fire at a bar in the French Quarter. AIDS and 21 MCC churches destroyed by arson (by 1997) give us cause to raise our voices as we embody and live the music of "Singing for our Lives" and "We are the Church Alive" Lynn

KittKatt said...

Thank you, Lynn, for the detailed background info on “I’m Not Afraid Anymore.” Others can benefit and the history can be preserved because you shared it here.

My life partner remembers singing a version that began, “The Master came to earth,” but the version Troy gave me for the “Equal Rites” book says, “The Teacher came to earth.”

Thanks as well for all the great info on MCC-SF’s stained glass windows. I will keep posting more of them here in the future.

Lynn Jordan said...

Kitt He was known to us initially as Herm Mank - like a lot of members we used pseudonyms as a first name (some even their last name) in the early 70's when careers - especially teachers and government workers (hello!) still could be in jeopardy for being a homosexual. Michael "Herm" Mank was also the first and only lay elder in the MCC Fellowship of churches.

I located the original version of I 'm Not afraid Anymore" which was copyrighted in 1973. The song appears in the Winter 1973 Vol 1, No. V Cross Currents - a publication of MCC San Francisco (Doug Dean - Dean Goodman - a well known thespian, theater critic, and writer who was once married to Marlena Dietrich's daughter -was managing editor.Yours truly was publication's editor)
The notation on the song reads:"On Sunday evening, September 3, 1972 at the Third Annual Conference of the Metropolitan Community Fellowship in Los Angeles the San Francisco choir sang an original song ( "I'm Not Afraid Anymore" ) composed by Herm, for the first time..."

Audrey is correct: the song began "The Master came to Earth." If you want I can send you a copy - by mail -or type it out in an E-mail as it was originally printed in cross Currents for comparison with the version in your book "Equal Rites". Take Care Lynn

Lynn Jordan said...

In researching the hymn "I'm Not Afraid Anymore" and reflect on "Equal Rites" I came across this article in our MCC San Francisco archives- titled "Gay Weddings"

Enclosed are extracts from this article (by congregant Paul J. Siroky) from the January 23, 1972 weekly newsletter MCC Speaking Up- a publication of MCC San Francisco -Yes. 1972!

"Why should Gay Marriages" be such a controversial matter? Why should they be ceremonies that seldom performed and frowned upon by both the straight and the More conservative gay communities....A wedding ceremony is nothing more or less than a public declaration of an already pre-exiting state of mind and intent which is already known to God.. to bless and sanctify the union.. .To love is an inherent trait of human nature...Since Gay (and Lesbian) people are equally capable of love and also have the natural desire to find a partner with whom they can share their life and love in an exclusive manner, why should we frown upon them when they wish to celebrate the occasion...Let's stop analyzing the legal aspects of such unions and pray for more celebrations of unity and oneness....Let's pray that someday we too will be blessed with a partner with whom we can participate in such a joyous occasion, a marriage before God...
"The call for Marriage Equality indeed spans decades & the generations in our queer communities. We who live in the present moment bring with us those who now live & dwell in spirit within and continue the wait for this to happen.

KittKatt said...

Thanks, Lynn, for the latest tidbits from history that you provided. It’s amazing how long ago we began the battle for same-sex marriage, and I am glad to remember the early pioneers.

Anonymous said...

i love My Good is an Awesome God, even got a t shirt with it on. i also like the song with the line soar up like an eagle cant think of title at the moment. we sing these two songs quite often here at Brightwaves Brighton MCC here in uk

KittKatt said...

It’s good to know what people are singing in Brighton. I’m not sure if I know either of the hymns you mentioned. Maybe you mean a lovely hymn called “On Eagles Wings” by Michael Joncas. The chorus goes:

And He will raise you up on eagles’ wings,
bear you on the breath of dawn,
make you to shine like the sun,
and hold you in the palm of His hand.

cjbarker said...

Hi Kitt-

Been reading this blog for awhile and wanted to thank you for it, and particularly for this. I almost went to that Berkeley festival, but made the hard decision to visit a dieing friend that afternoon instead. It was the right decision for sure- he passed only a few days later, and I wouldn't have gotten another chance- but I really wish I could have seen that festival. New Spirit Community Church in Berkeley, which co-sponsored it, has had I believe all the songs from it as part of its services this month, so I've actually now heard most of them, but I really wanted to know more about them. Of their list and yours, I knew only the Marsha Stevens and Holly Near (well and of course America the Beautiful!!) before, so it's been an enjoyable education.

Regarding the early advocacy for gay marriage at MCCSF- I found it interesting that that article dates from Jan 1972. Do you happen to remember that the Dec 31 1971 issue of Life magazine had an extensive article on the gay movement titled "Homosexuals in Revolt: The Year That One Liberation Movement Turned Militant"? It's been available here-

http://thornyc.livejournal.com/371948.html

for awhile, along with most of the pictures that accompanied it. Gay weddings were prominently mentioned, including a picture of Troy Perry performing one, and an amazing picture of a wedding cake (which I'd paste here if I knew a way to do that) with two little brides and two little grooms on top, a huge lambda, and a heart with the words "gay power to gay love." NYC activists had presented it to the city clerk's office, with a demand for marriage licenses. So long ago- yet so very today, huh? I bet that article sparked conversations in alot places- it certainly had a profound affect on me.

That article, and particularly that one picture, stayed with me for years, because they were what first explained me to me. I was 12 at the time, and when I saw that wedding cake with the 2 brides and 2 grooms, I immediately *knew* that that was me. That was what I couldn't figure out how to explain to my mom when she would try to tell me that someday I'd have a husband and family of my own, and I didn't know how to say that I knew that that just wasn't what I wanted or would ever have. I've always been SO grateful that the very *first* images and notions I ever had of what it meant to be gay were ones of marriage and of civil rights style protests, and not of things conjured up by words like sin and sickness. I carried that picture around in my head literally for decades- and have spoken of it to others often, so it was a real joy recently to find out that it actually existed out there on the net where I could show it to people. Anyway, I hope that you-tubes of these hymns surface or get made soon. Because you're right- the net is becoming the defacto archive of popular culture, and it's much easier to preserve the memory of things that make it here. And those memories do matter, IMHO.

KittKatt said...

Welcome, CJ! I’m delighted to get the first comment from a person who’s been quietly enjoying this blog for a while

I understand your choice to be with your dying friend instead of the music festival. Surely the angels in heaven are singing because you chose to care. I’m glad to know that these hymns are being sung these days at New Spirit Community Church in Berkeley.

Wow, thanks for the link to the 1971 Life Magazine on the gay movement! Here’s the link in clickable form:

http://thornyc.livejournal.com/371948.html


That gay wedding cake photo would have made a huge impression on me, too, if I’d seen it back then during my early teens. The photos of MCC founder Troy Perry as a young man are also amazing. I have never seen them before, even though I worked at UFMCC headquarters and went through a lot of their archival materials to write the official history for the denomination’s 25th anniversary (1994).

I hope to hear from you again soon.

Anonymous said...

Song Title: "Hosanna"
Hear @ URL: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jYk5dwG0y1Q