Stories of Change

Top: Carolyn, Middle: Carolyn and Bruce, Bottom: Carolyn unloading CWS Kits

Praying Twice and Walking the Talk

Four years ago pastors Bruce and Carolyn Gillette arrived at First Presbyterian Union Church in Owego, New York. The first time they met the congregation, Bruce wore sneakers and Carolyn did a children’s sermon using a book called Most Ministers Wear Sneakers, which explains the many duties of a minister. After being selected as pastors by the congregation, Carolyn and Bruce kept their sneakers on and joined their new community on a CWS CROP Hunger Walk. A few weeks later, Bruce and Carolyn officially started serving at the church and to their surprise, when they arrived, the entire congregation was wearing sneakers in their honor!

Just like the sneakers they wear, Bruce and Carolyn are always ready to serve wherever and whenever. We’ve seen this firsthand through their dedication and passion as CWS volunteers.

Carolyn remembered participating in CROP Hunger Walks with her family when she was just a little girl. “It’s in Carolyn’s family genes,” Bruce remarked. When they had children, Carolyn recalls that they carried their little ones in baby backpacks or pushed them on strollers so that they could participate in CROP Hunger Walks together as a family. Many years later, the family continues to participate in CROP Hunger Walks and volunteer with the CWS Kits and Blankets program. When we spoke, they were headed to care for their grandchildren in preparation for the arrival of another grandkid. They’re excited to invite all of their grandchildren to join them on walks as well.

In 1998, Carolyn had the incredible opportunity to join a CWS program visit to Honduras. She was so moved by what she saw that when she returned, she wrote a hymn about Hurricane Mitch titled, “The Storm that Came to Honduras.” The hymn was so inspiring that it was broadcasted on national TV through PBS. Since that trip, Carolyn has led mission groups to Honduras 11 more times and serves on the Board for UrbanPromise Honduras

Recently, Carolyn became inspired to use her musical talents to write a hymn about CWS Kits and Blankets to the familiar tune of AURELIA (“The Church’s One Foundation”). She told us that whenever she writes a hymn, she always starts with prayer. She explained, “hymns are prayers. It’s just a matter of finding the right words to help congregations pray for what’s important.” Bruce echoed this by quoting Saint Augustine who said, “one who sings prays twice.”

Bruce shared that their church recently read the gospel of Matthew. He said a verse that stands out to him is Matthew 25:35 which says, “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.” He said, “These acts of compassion are what is most important to God and how he wants us to live our faith. I think Church World Service allows people to walk the talk.”

With their sneakers on Bruce and Carolyn are most definitely walking the talk. And with Carolyn’s thoughtful hymns, they are encouraging others to do the same.

You can see 400+ other hymns by Carolyn, often lifting up concerns related to poverty and justice, at Permission is given for free use of the hymn.