From time to time at Plymouth we sing the hymn Community of Christ, which appears on page 502 of our hymnal. It begins:
Community of Christ, who make the cross your own,
live out your creed and risk your life for God alone:
the God who wears your face, to whom all worlds belong,
whose children are of every race and every song.
The poet of this text, prolific hymn writer Shirley Erena Murray, passed away on January 25, 2020. Born in 1931 in Cockroft, New Zealand, she wrote hymns that have been translated into many languages, are sung around the world, and which have appeared in more than 140 hymnal collections. The hymn continues:
Community of Christ, look past the church’s door
and see the homeless, see the hungry, and the poor.
Take hands with the oppressed, the jobless in your street,
take towel and water, that you wash your neighbor’s feet.
Shirley was passionate about social justice. It is totally characteristic that Shirley’s published obituary stated, “In lieu of flowers, donations please to Amnesty International or the Christian World Service.”
I never met Shirley Erena Murray, though she was a great friend of the Hymn Society and was named a Fellow of that organization several years ago, but her work continues to influence mine. Her down-to-earth language and clear vision of the world around her repeatedly challenges us to live out our faith. Yet she could be whimsical: her text Upside Down Christmas reminds us that while we, in the northern hemisphere, may be celebrating Christmas “in the bleak mid-winter,” half of the world is celebrating the nativity under the summer sun.
Carol our Christmas, an upside down Christmas:
snow is not falling and trees are not bare.
Carol the summer and welcome the Christ Child,
warm in our sunshine and sweetness of air.
Sing of the gold and the green and the sparkle,
water and river and lure of the beach.
Sing in the happiness of open spaces,
sing a nativity summer can reach!
Another one of her widely sung hymns is For Everyone Born, written in 1998, with its acknowledgement of God’s equal love for all.
For everyone born, a place at the table,
for everyone born, clean water and bread,
a shelter, a space, a safe place for growing,
for everyone born, a star overhead,
and God will delight when we are creators
of justice and joy, compassion and peace…
In subsequent verses, she goes on to call for a place at the table “For women and men…”, “For young and for old…”, “For just and for unjust…”, “For gay and for straight…” – Shirley challenges us to think beyond conventional wisdom.
The next time we sing Community of Christ at Plymouth, give a thought for the lovely Kiwi lady who wrote it, and whose voice for social justice will be in our ears for many years to come. The final verse of Community of Christ reads:
When menace melts away, so shall God’s will be done,
the climate of the world be peace and Christ its Sun;
our currency be love and kindliness our law,
our food and faith be shared as one forevermore.
Rest in peace, Shirley Erena Murray.
Community of Christ, © 1992 Hope Publishing Company
For Everyone Born, © 1998 Hope Publishing Company
Carol Our Christmas © 1992 Hope Publishing Company