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The forgotten hymn writer

Updated: Nov 8, 2020

Who was Kate Barclay Wilkinson?

This may be a name you recognise, or one you have never even heard of. Kate Barclay Wilkinson was born in a village called Timperley in England on the 27th of August 1859. She died in London on the 28th December 1928. And we don’t actually know much of what happened to her in between her birth and her death. We know she got married in 1891, but there is confusion about her husband. Some sources report that he was a clerk, some say he was an engineer (some say she married a clerk and her father was the engineer!). And we know that while she lived in London, she was heavily involved in women’s ministry there. But apart from these few limited details of her life and ministry, the only other thing we have to remember Kate Barclay Wilkinson by is the hymn May the mind of Christ my saviour, which she wrote the lyrics for.

What does the bible say?

This hymn is a prayer: when you sing it, you are asking God to work in your heart and life. You are asking him to change you, and glorify himself through you. It was actually originally a children’s song, even though all ages sing it now. These words ask for us to give up control of our own lives, and let God be in control, and reflects so much of what we are called to as Christians in the bible (see Philippians 2, Colossians 3, Hebrews 12:1-2). The hymn paints a picture doing this so that we can help others and show them who God is too! The words ask for God to work through and in us, to show God to others and love them. It is entirely focussed on loving God and loving our neighbour. These words are a bold request for God to work in us!

What was Kate’s legacy?

Ultimately, Kate succeeded in what she prayed for: we have forgotten her own life, the channel God used, but remember her words as an encouragement to point us to God in praise and we still sing them today. Christians for thousands of years have responded to Jesus’ saving work in praise, expressing this through art and song and poetry, and this hymn is just one example. Even in the bible we see this: we still read the Psalms today, which were written as songs and prayers to God back in Old Testament times.

But Kate’s life (and the limited details we know about it) also gives an example that she didn’t just write about serving God, she lived out her faith in practical ways to serve those around her through her ministry in London. These words were more than just a prayer or song for others to sing, they were obviously something she wanted to grow in in her own life too, to love others more and see them come to know and love God.

What does this mean for us?

The more I read through the words of this song, the more I see how I need God to be doing these things in my life: to have the mind of Jesus, to have the word of God in my heart, to have the peace of God in my life, and to be filled with the love of Jesus. And in all these things the outworking is the same: not the glory of the singer, but to love others that God may be glorified. If you have the time now, I suggest listening to this hymn or reading through the words, and looking up the scripture passages these were inspired by, to spend some time reflecting on how these words apply to your life too, and asking God give you this mind and heart to serve him and love others.

Flinders ES- Lauren B

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