Recognising that New Zealand’s most published hymn writer, Dr Shirley Murray, and her colleagues, Emeritus Professor Colin Gibson and Methodist minister the Rev Bill Wallace, were all getting older, Dr Murray Laugesen and I attempted to get the Assembly and the Methodist Conference to acknowledge their contribution to the worship life of the Church.
Business pressure at the Assembly meant that the resolution was not put before the Commissioners, but the Moderator has subsequently written to Dr Murray recognising her work. The resolution to have been considered was:
- That this General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand, places on record its appreciation of the inspired work of Dr Shirley Murray, The Rev Bill Wallace and Emeritus Professor Colin Gibson who, through the hymns they have written over more than thirty years, have helped congregations throughout the country to find their faith encouraged, their understanding of Jesus and his significance deepened and their worship enriched.
- In placing on record this Minute, the Assembly recognises with gratitude, the work of the New Zealand Hymn Book Trust in publishing the words and music of so many New Zealanders thereby encouraging many to recognise that their own insights and creativity have a vital role to play in communicating the faith and giving witness to the truth of the gospel.
I write this article in response to Malcolm Gordon’s “Liturgy: The Greater Loss” Candour article and Nikki Watkin’s response on the difficulty of finding appropriate music for all parts of the liturgy.
Our most prolific hymn writer, Shirley Murray, has published over 380 hymns. You find them in the Church of Scotland’s Church Hymnary 4, in the Australian Uniting Church’s hymn book and in American hymnals besides the eight books published by the New Zealand Hymn Book Trust: In Every Corner Sing, Alleluia Aotearoa, Every Day in Your Spirit, Hope is Our Song, Faith Forever Singing, Carol our Christmas, Touch the Earth Lightly, and A place at the Table.
Theologically strong, the poetry and her deep insight into our real-life experiences and the biblical truths that confront those, ensure that her hymns contribute evocatively to the liturgy.
I am puzzled as to why they are not sung more frequently. Certainly, in congregations I have led in Aotearoa, Australia and the UK, Shirley, Colin and Bill’s hymns and songs have been appreciated. I have found the freshness of images and the creativity of thought stimulating my own reflection on the biblical stories and my writing of prayers and liturgies. Using some of them, may well mean that new tunes have to be learnt, but that should be part of the richness of our worship and the stimulus it provides to our own growth in faith and our ability to live in the Jesus way and make a difference to the world around us.
Let’s not talk about the poverty of the words in songs and hymns for worship, for we are blessed by great wealth of words and tunes that speak profoundly to our life and times in Aotearoa.
Roger Wiig is a not-so-retired minister, currently serving as stated supply minister at Johnsonville Uniting Church.