Celebrating the Mothers of our Faith

The Rev Catherine Hollister Jones was a Deaconess in the Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand. She was among the first women to be ordained. She was a sage guide and mentor of mine. Our daughter Lucy Heather Catherine Gordon is named (in part) in honour of her. She passed away at the beginning of last year.

A month or so ago I was asked by a friend to write a song celebrating the 50th anniversary of women’s ordination in the Presbyterian Church here in Aotearoa New Zealand. I said ‘yes’ because I like writing songs. As I got into the task I began to get more and more involved in the task, and more and more aware of what we were marking and celebrating.

Initially I wrote these two verses and a chorus:

For our mothers of faith
For our sisters in Christ
For the daughters of God we will praise

For their courage and care
Their compassion and tears
For their unending prayers we will praise

For the women who carried and bore us, now this song we raise!
For their wisdom and ways so inspire us, now our God we praise! 

For courageous midwives
For the unmarried bride
And her miracle child come to save

For the barren of womb
And the poured out perfume
Then the watch at the tomb we will praise

I wanted to acknowledge the way in which women had been formative in our own faith journeys like my Granny, Jean Gordon, like Catherine Hollister-Jones, like Lois Smith., But I also wanted to pay tribute to those women in the Biblical witness. So often God chooses to speak and act from the margins, a domain women have been all too familiar with. From barren Sarai, to outcast Rahab, to lowly Mary and the scandalous Magdalene – God has been bringing God’s own life into the world through women.

But once I had written these verses and patted myself on the back, I felt a tug. The tug was along the lines of, ‘why are celebrating just 50 short years when the church has been around for 2000?’ I knew from my study of early Christianity that women featured prominently as apostles, prophets, and leaders at every level. But I knew from my experience of the church that women did not hold anywhere near the level of authority that men did. Women are not represented equally and there are still congregations who would not call a woman as their minister. Yet Jesus’ ministry was one of liberation for those who were oppressed. Women who could not learn from a Rabbi received welcome from Jesus. Women who were only allowed to serve at the table were invited to sit and share. Women who were outcast because of sickness were healed and esteemed for their faith. How then did we turn a message of liberation into one of oppression? In the contemporary church, women are still subjugated to oppression in the name of the God, the very God who in Christ came to set the captives free. This caused me to write a verse that tended towards confession and repentance – for having muted so many of God’s servants, and having blinded ourselves to the gifts they had to offer the world. This caused me to pen these words:

For the long silent age
For repression’s cruel cage
For our part in this pain we confess

For the gifts we’ve returned
And the saints we have spurned
From this blindness we turn and are blessed

To finish the song I wanted to give voice to the breadth of Biblical language around God. Jesus refers to God as ‘Father’ but also speaks of ‘wanting to gather Jerusalem as a mother hen gather’s her chicks’. Fascinatingly, just prior to saying this, Jesus is said to have compassion for the people. The word ‘compassion’ is the same as the word for ‘womb’. So we might say, Jesus had a womb for the people. Jesus carried the people and their suffering inside himself, and he gave birth to new life for them through great pain and cost. So to finish the song I wrote these words:

For our mothers of faith
For our sisters in Christ
For the daughters of God we will praise

To our Father above
With a mothering love
Won’t you lead us in freedom and grace

Here is the complete song for you to listen too:

And if you would like to use the song this Sunday (being Mother’s Day) here is a lead sheet to help your musicians: Mothers of Faith LS (1)   and lyrics: Mothers of Faith LYRICS (Full sheet music is in the pipeline).

  • Faafetai Taase.

    Thank you to all our Mothers: our human lamps always ready, full, and lit, for our Lord…<3

    May 6, 2015
  • Lee Kearon

    Another touching and meaningful song. Thank you Malcolm!

    May 6, 2015
  • Cheryl ( mum in law!)

    Nice one Malcs! Great to listen to especially after reading the ‘back story’ above. Encompasses stories of women through all the ages and applicable to women today too. Well done- hope it gets a ‘good airing’

    May 6, 2015
  • Rachael Higgs

    Thank you for your song and other comments.
    Recently I read the notes to Exodus 2: 10 which really caught my attention re Moses becoming Pharoah’s daughter’s son. “Throughout the early part of Exodus, all Pharoah’s efforts to suppress Israel were thwarted by women: the midwives 1:17; the Israelite mothers 1:19; Moses’ mother and sister 2: 3-4, 7-9; and Pharoah’s daughter 2:10. Pharoah’s impotence to destroy the people of God is thus ironically exposed.”

    July 3, 2015
  • Rachael Higgs

    I omitted to say above that the notes I quoted are from the NIV Study Bible, 1995 edition, published by Zondervan.

    July 3, 2015
  • connie masson

    When I try and find the lead sheet I get an error message.

    May 4, 2016
  • Alan Van Zee

    Aloha from Hawaiʻi. I just found this beautiful and meaningful song as I was searching for something for Motherʻs Day at my church, St. Michael and All Angels, on the island of Kauaʻi. Thank you for this song! Weʻre going to love singing it on Sunday to honor the mothers and all women. As you probably know, there are so very few decent and truly suitable Christian songs around to celebrate mothers, so Iʻm really thrilled that I found yours! Aloha ke Akua.

    May 7, 2019
  • Shannon Olivarez

    Wonderful song! Exactly what I was looking for when choosing this coming Sunday’s Music! Thank you!

    May 8, 2020
  • Tom Walker

    Every Sunday for the last year I have been laying my cornet outside of extended care facilities, Because church services are no longer held inside, and the residents, mostly very elderly, are terribly isolated [Canada is very slow on vaccinations]. So I look for him’s that would be familiar to bring some comfort. Your song is of course not and “old standard“, but it is very beautiful. I am going to recommend it to our worship leader for this Sunday’s zoom worship service in honour of Mother’s Day [Canada]. Thank you for the lead sheet. That is very generous of you.

    May 5, 2021
  • Suna Smith

    Thank you for writing and so generously sharing this song! I was looking for a song for our choir to sing on Mother’s Day and appreciate the way that you’ve treated women/mothers in such a wholly Biblical way, historical and more fully relational (esp important, perhaps, for women who have not had children themselves). I will read this post to the choir when we learn it. (Loved the comment re: compassion & womb.) God bless you & your work.

    March 21, 2023

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