In 1995, following the twentieth anniversary of the ordination of women to the priesthood in the Episcopal Church USA, a group of laywomen at St. Mark’s Church, Locust Street in Philadelphia, began to meet regularly to encourage each other to find their voices in worship. The music and liturgy of the Episcopal Church was only just beginning to reflect women’s needs. Using newly authorized supplemental liturgical texts, the group worshiped monthly in the Lady Chapel at St. Mark’s.
They found very little music by women in The Hymnal 1982. Lisa Neufeld Thomas, organist for the group, began searching more widely for music by and about women. A small group of musicians started to meet weekly to learn and sing the pieces that she collected. This group evolved into The Lady Chapel Singers, an ensemble that gave regular concerts using this repertoire in the USA and abroad, and made two recordings.
This growing movement to draw attention to the contributions of women in the church through music came to the attention of then-Bishop of the Diocese of Pennsylvania, The Right Rev. Allen Bartlett. Together with bishops Barbara Harris, Frank Griswold, and John Howe, he sponsored a resolution at the 1997 General Convention of the Episcopal Church in Philadelphia, directing the Standing Commission on Church Music to prepare a supplement to The Hymnal 1982 that would emphasize “… liturgical music, hymns and other songs by women composers and poets both historical and contemporary; texts and music to be included which celebrate the contributions and diversity of women in scripture, women saints and churchwomen …” The resolution passed, and with extensive further research, review, and editorial advice, the supplement Voices Found containing more than 160 hymns, psalms, canticles, and spiritual songs was published by Church Publishing in 2003. A companion Leader’s Guide followed shortly afterwards.
Early in this process the Women’s Sacred Music Project was incorporated as a 501(c)3 entity and acted as agent of the Standing Commission in compiling “Voices Found”. Since the completion of that major project the WSMP Board has furthered the intent of the early sponsors by commissioning new works by and about women, and organizing concerts of sacred music by women emphasizing different religious traditions. Further information about these events may be found under Projects.