Women’s Voices Praising God

by Gerry Lynch last modified 15 Mar, 2017 10:56 AM

Salisbury hosts Women’s Day service entirely devised, composed, and written by women

International Women’s Day, 8 March, saw acts of worship take place in a number of towns and villages in the Diocese. One of the most interesting was in St Thomas’ Church in Salisbury City Centre. 

The Friends of St Thomas’s and community organisation Multitude of Voyces decided to mark this day by holding a service where the whole content was devised, planned, composed, written, conducted, played and led by, women, including members and friends of the parish.

St Thomas’s parishioner Louise Stewart, who helped organise the service, said, “We wanted to celebrate women’s gifts of words, music and leadership through worship of almighty God.” 

The organist was St Thomas’s Assistant Organist, Ute Schwarting, whose voluntaries, by Jessica Hui and Jeanne Demessieux, framed the service and were listened to with keen attention, by a congregation of over 150 men, women and children. The singing was led by Godolphin Vocal Ensemble, under their director Olivia Sparkhall, with accompaniment by Katie Salomon, (harp).

Central to the service were two commissions; the first, an anthem, using text by Dame Julian of Norwich, ‘All shall be well’, by young composer, Carol Jones. The text was chosen in order to create a link to the women of our distant past by using the language of that day to illustrate our own longing that, for all men and women, ‘All things shall be well’. 

Dame Julian of Norwich’s inspiring words send out a resolutely hopeful message, as well as being a call for unity and action, and this year’s IWD them, ‘Be bold for change’ was illustrated elsewhere in the service through a lively and educational homily on Ruth Chapter 3, verses 1-13, given by Revd Dr Anna-Claar Thomasson-Rosingh. 

Hymns represented writers and composers from Scotland, England, America and Australia, and New Faber Poet, Rachel Curzon’s new hymn ‘The Word is the strength of a signal fire’ was commissioned especially for this service, to the tune, ‘Crimond’ by Jessie Seymour Irvine:  Curzon’s own love of hymn singing inspired a beautiful set of words, using the imagery of a flame, both bold and blazing, and gently glowing, to draw the congregation into that unique sense of the ‘individual and community’ which hymn-singing uniquely affords in church services.  

Prayers did not shy away from the pain of many women’s experiences of inequality, subjugation and abuse, and creative consultant, Juliet Brain’s heartfelt and carefully researched intercessions were given even greater impact by their delivery through the mouths of two schoolgirls, for whose generation we are striving to create a more compassionate, equal and tolerant society. A substantial retiring collection in aid of our local women’s refuge reflected our affirmation of those prayers.  

Commenting after the event, Louise Stewart said, “Around the world women’s lives are affected by the social, economic, cultural and political patterns of their experience, and International Women’s Day, held each year on March 8th provides an opportunity to reflect on these experiences around the globe and to work for better conditions and lives for women in their own, and in other, countries.”

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