Hope, Joy, and Wonder: The Hymns of Rae E. Whitney
AuthorBurnett, Marty Wheeler
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SubjectRae E. Whitney; Hymns; Hymn poetry; Episcopal Church; Feminine imagery; Social justice; Stewardship
AbstractRae E. Whitney is a widely published author of over five hundred hymns. Her texts are characterized by rich Biblical imagery, liturgical orientation, and a deep personal faith. Whitney’s hymns are also reflective of her diverse life experiences. A resident of Scottsbluff, Nebraska, her texts appear in hymnals in the United States, Canada, England, Scotland, Hong Kong, and Australia. This project presents a biography of Rae E. Whitney, drawing from interviews, lectures, published collections of hymns, and unpublished resources. Born in England in 1927, Whitney came to the United States in 1961 following her marriage to an Episcopal priest, the Reverend Clyde E. Whitney. She assisted her husband in parish ministry by serving as a licensed lay reader, chalice bearer, and educator. In retirement, the couple spent one year serving as missionaries in Guatemala. Since her husband’s death in 1992, Whitney has continued active involvement in her parish and diocese. She is a regular presenter at regional and national conferences, and her most recent book of hymn poetry was published in 2007. Although Whitney composed her first hymn as a teenager, the bulk of her writing began in middle age and continues to this day. A chart directs the reader to Whitney’s hymns in nine hymnals of mainline Christian denominations in the United States. Detailed analysis of selected hymns by Whitney includes the following elements: liturgical usefulness; poetic structure and quality; accessibility; date of composition; availability for use; information about the tune with which the hymn is paired. Whitney’s hymns bear the influence of decades of change within the Episcopal Church and the American cultural landscape. Her particular interests in the roles of women in the church and society, mission, and ecumenism have provided foundational material for her writing. In her lifetime, Whitney has witnessed remarkable changes in the Episcopal Church – a transformation from the complete exclusion of women from liturgical roles to a modern period when women’s ministries have been acknowledged and welcomed. As a result, many of her hymns include women and feminine imagery; several hymns focus specifically on the ordination of women. Hymns with themes of stewardship of God’s creation, social justice, and peace are also identified and related to Whitney’s life experiences.
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