Several months ago I received a letter with happy news. World-renown New Zealand hymn writer, Shirley Erena Murray, was preparing another collection of hymns that she’d written between the years of 2009 and 2013. While this was great news in itself (since Shirley provides Progressive Christians with meaningful words to sing), the most exciting information in the letter was Shirley’s request that her hymn for Pullen’s 125th Anniversary, “In Our Own Voice” (Raise Up New Hope), be included!
The hymn collection was published by Hope Publishing Company in time for this past July’s annual conference of The Hymn Society in the United States and Canada. The hymnal was showcased in a session at this event where conferees were able to sing from the book and learn about its contents. (“Raise Up New Hope” is number 19 of 47 included in the book). Interestingly, a line from one of Shirley’s hymns that Pullen has recently learned to sing provides the book’s title: “A Place at the Table.”
But the most wonderful part about all of this is that Shirley included “Notes on the Hymns” in the back of her book, and her words about Pullen are truly a blessing. Read them, and appreciate Pullen’s past, present and future, and realize what an impact this church continues to have on the world.
I do not often do commissioned work, but when I saw the profile of Pullen Memorial Baptist Church, North Carolina, I felt captivated by its history and its record of courageous outreach.
The theme for its 125th Anniversary was related to ideas in Psalm 85: “Raising Up New Hope.” I was guided by Minister of Music, composer Larry Schultz, through the aspects of mission in this church. Its distinctive personality brought practical aspects of social concern into the text, such as healthcare and work, but its clinching stanza was an act of trust on my part that Pullen Memorial people would sing such sentiments – some of the most explicit I have written. The music to this, including an expansive concertato on the theme, was wonderfully matched by Larry Schultz to interpret my words.
I was deeply humbled and honored as a member of Pullen to know that the life and legacy of our congregation so inspired this great hymnist to write “some of the most explicit words [she] had written.” Now the rest of the world will be able to sing them along with us.