Changing Church: Rev. Larry E. Schultz, Minister of Music, Pullen Memorial Baptist Church, Raleigh, North Carolina

Rev. Larry E. Schultz

She’s got the whole world in Her hands. . .

She’s got the whole world in Her hands.

He’s got the little tiny baby in His hands. . . .

He’s got the whole world in His hands.

She’s got everybody here in Her hands. . . .

She’s got the whole world in Her hands.

He’s got the wind and the rain in His hands. . . .

He’s got the whole world in His hands.

She’s got the whole world in Her hands. . . .

She’s got the whole world in Her hands.

Because of his deep belief in the importance of worship language, Rev. Larry E. Schultz has changed the words of this traditional song. With the exuberance of a revival minister and the artistry of a symphony conductor, Larry directs the choirs and congregation in singing “She’s/He’s Got the Whole World.” He and the pastor, Rev. Nancy Petty, wrote a statement on inclusive language for a card on “Worship at Pullen” that takes its place beside the hymnals in the pew racks of the church:

With the understanding that all language for God is metaphorical, and that language instills truths of equality and justice in human relationships, we intentionally use inclusive language in our worship. This includes changing scripture to gender-neutral language or using a variety of feminine, masculine, and non-gender images in referring to God and humanity. Hymns, litanies, prayers, choral offerings, and other worship elements are also chosen, altered, orcreated to express this inclusive and expansive view of God and God’s people.

Larry Schultz’s story begins quite literally in church. He was born on a Sunday night when his three sisters—Linda, Louella, and Laraine—were attending the worship service at their church, Phoenix Avenue Baptist in Tulsa, Oklahoma. “My mother and father were at the hospital,” Larry says. “My sisters tell the story that right as the service was coming to an end, the phone rang. Everyone in the church could hear the phone ring, because it was in the pastor’s study, which was behind the sanctuary off the foyer. The pastor asked the person who prayed the longest closing prayers to pray so that he could run back to the phone during the benediction. My sisters knew that call had to be from the hospital, so they were anxiously sitting there, and the man was praying and praying his lengthy prayer. As soon as he said, ‘Amen,’ from the back of the church the pastor yelled out, ‘It’s a boy!’” Larry laughs and says, “And I’ve been in the church ever since.”

Larry’s father, Edmond R. Schultz, worked as a stationary engineer in maintenance and mechanical jobs in various buildings in downtown Tulsa and then for American Airlines. Although a deacon in their Baptist church, his father worked more behind the scenes than up front. Larry describes him as a “very hard-working, gentle, patient person.” Larry saw his mother, Opal Lee Yarbrough, as a “leader, a very organized, up front person.” She served as a leader in many church and community organizations. “I did not grow up in a church that had a woman on the staff as a minister,” Larry says. “My mother is probably the first woman I saw in the pulpit, because she was the director of the Vacation Bible School for years and years. My mother is a very strong woman.” These experiences of his mother and father influence the way Larry images the Divine: “Now as we think about creating hymn texts that speak of God in male terms as very gentle and in female terms as very strong, I have this picture in my home.”

A theme in Larry’s story is that he has always been ahead of his time and advanced for his age. When Larry was only 13, he made a commitment to church music ministry and began leading revivals for churches throughout Oklahoma. When he was just 16, he became a part-time minister of music at Phoenix Avenue Baptist Church and was ordained to ministry. While he was high school, Larry won his first music composition contest.

In addition to his family, other people influenced Larry’s openness to women as pastors and to the Divine Feminine. Strong women in his experience at Oklahoma Baptist University were Dr. Nancy Cobb, his major professor; Dr. Kathryne Timberlake, his first music theory teacher; and Dr. Laura Crouch, his English professor. In youth camp choirs, Dr. Warren Angell, retired dean of the College of Fine Arts at OBU, taught Larry that music finds “its best expression as it interprets the meaning of the text,” and helped him experience the Divine as Mystery, leading to “expressing God in multiple ways, including feminine.”

One of his professors at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, was Dr. Molly Marshall, who was later forced to resign when fundamentalists took over the seminary and objected to her as an ordained pastor. “I think what formed me most at Southern Seminary was the fundamentalist takeover of the Southern Baptist Convention,” Larry says. “The Bible was being used as a weapon to hurt others, and those I saw being hurt were women professors, like Dr. Molly Marshall. My support of women in ministry connected also with my upbringing in my family, knowing that women were strong leaders in the church. I think that would eventually connect with my supporting worship of the Divine Feminine.”

Another formative experience for Larry at Southern Seminary was studying the distinction between the Jesus of history and the Christ of faith. “We studied Albert Schweitzer’s book, The Quest of the Historical Jesus. My Christology began to change. Most of the hymns I sang growing up would equate Jesus to God. Now I’ve come to the place where I say the ‘God in Jesus.’ It’s helpful to me when we want to sing of God as ‘She’ or as ‘Ruah’ or with other female names, that Christian worship doesn’t have to be tied up in the male Jesus of history, but the God in Jesus, which is the God in us, expressed in so many ways.”

At Southern Seminary Larry met his future wife, Cindy. “I was in awe of Cindy for many reasons, especially for her gifts. We have shared a partnership in ministry and in life.  So I could easily love a Divine Feminine God, loving Cindy as I do. And then later when I came to understand parenthood, I could see God as Parent. And the image of God as Friend comes to life for me, because Cindy and I have always been best friends. Cindy and my children, Ryan and Kelly, instill in me the importance of a balance of masculine and feminine divine images.” Larry’s belief in this balanced divine imagery comes through in his dedication on the front page of Imagine God! A Children’s Musical Exploring and Expressing Images of God:

To Cindy, Ryan and Kelly—magnificent images of God.


Many ministers of music are even more resistant to inclusive language than pastors because of the difficult tasks of finding inclusive anthems and hymns, of changing existing exclusive words, and of creating new hymn texts. Also, ministers of music often face copyright issues when trying to change words in more recent music as well as the resistance of choir members and congregations to singing new words. “You have to be brave enough and to find ways to bring inclusive music to worship,” Larry comments.

At First Baptist Church, Walterboro, South Carolina, Rev. Schultz began with selecting hymns with gender-neutral language and highlighting the few feminine images in the hymnal. At First Baptist Church of Greenwood, South Carolina, he used Brian Wren’s “Bring Many Names” and other hymns that incorporated some feminine imagery. He got complaints that he was “just trying to be politically correct.” He says that some people didn’t understand that his “emphasis on language in hymns was for reasons of theology.”

While minister of music at the Greenwood church, Rev. Schultz became more active in Cooperative Baptist Fellowship (CBF), one of the groups that broke away from the Southern Baptist Convention. But when the CBF voted to exclude homosexual people, Larry left CBF. “I remember being almost physically sick because that’s how the Southern Baptist Convention had been treating people. At the end of that meeting, I stood up and recited the passage that in Christ there is ‘neither male nor female, Jew nor Greek, slave nor free,’ adding ‘in Christ there’s neither heterosexual nor homosexual, for we are all one in Christ Jesus.’”

In 2001, Rev. Schultz became minister of music at Pullen Memorial Baptist Church. Pullen had taken a stand in 1992 to endorse acceptance of homosexual Christians and their full participation in the life and work of the church. Within the year, Pullen was excluded from the Raleigh Baptist Association, the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina, and the Southern Baptist Convention. Now Pullen has an openly lesbian woman as pastor.

At Pullen Larry has also found more openness to inclusion of the Divine Feminine in worship. Rev. Schultz ventures where few ministers of music will go, altering the words of some well-loved familiar hymns that are not under copyright. For example, Larry modified “Wonderful Words of Life,” to include Sophia (Wisdom) language:

Wisdom graciously gives to all wonderful words of life;
listen now to Her loving call, wonderful words of life.
All so freely given, moving us to heaven;
beautiful words, wonderful words, wonderful words of life.

Sweetly echo Sophia’s call, wonderful words of life;
offer justice and peace to all, wonderful words of life.
Wisdom-Guide and Savior— sanctify forever;
beautiful words, wonderful words, wonderful words of life.

Rev. Schultz even changed the “Gloria Patri” to the “Gloria Matri” and references to God as “He” to “She” in an anthem with regal images. “Many churches will just substitute ‘God’ for the word ‘He’ in an anthem or hymn. I’ve found that you end up singing such a guttural word, ‘God, God, God,’ back to back, and it’s just not pleasing poetry. And the word ‘God’ has male connotations. So a wonderful thing we’ve done, out of a sense of balance, is not to change ‘He’ to ‘God,’ but to change ‘He’ to ‘She.’ In this entire anthem we sang recently I changed every ‘He’ to ‘She.’ It was an anthem that used psalm-like words: ‘worship God in majesty,’ and ‘worship God who rides on the wings of the wind.’ I thought, ‘That’s Mother Eagle who rides on the wings of the wind.’ So it made utmost sense to sing ‘She’: ‘She rides on the wings of the wind’; ‘She reigns in glory and in majesty.’ We ended with the ‘Gloria Matri’: ‘Glory be to the Mother and to the Christ and to the Holy Spirit; as it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, world without end.’”

Rev. Schultz finds fulfillment also in creating new music for Pullen and for a wider audience through his publications. “It’s fulfilling to spread the good word, to bring the Divine Feminine and other expansive imagery to adults and children. We remember words we sing more easily than words we hear or speak. That’s one reason I’ve gravitated toward writing for children.”

An experience with his own children reinforced Larry’s determination to provide children female and male divine images to sing. Larry, Kelly, and Ryan were riding in the car, listening to a musical setting of Old Turtle, in which various animals and elements of nature argue about who God is.

“She is a great tree!” sang the willow tree.

“That’s my part!” Kelly, three years old at the time, joyfully exclaimed.

Ryan, who was seven, responded to the description of God as a growling male bear.

“When she was only three, my daughter had identified with a feminine image of God, and it made her exuberant,” Larry says. “This experience with my daughter and son affirmed that children delight in the realization that God is like them and that they are made in the divine image. This understanding gives each child a deep sense of self-worth. Kelly and Ryan related to images of God whose gender matched their own, while learning that the divine image was also in others different from them.”

Larry jumped at the opportunity to write a children’s musical which included female and male divine images. “Imagine God! has been one of the most fulfilling creations to get out there, and Choristers Guild is such a highly respected publisher,” Larry says. “I believe it’s important not just for adults to include the Divine Feminine and other expansive imagery, but that we bless our children with it, instill in them at the earliest ages. Then it becomes a natural and meaningful expression for them. One of the reasons for our Sing and Dance and Play with Joy! Inclusive Songs for Young Children is that I’ve not found any other music resources for that age group with the Divine Feminine and other open, inclusive theologies.”

Rev. Schultz describes his big vision for inclusive theology to spread throughout the church and the world. “One of my passions is that expansive theology spreads and grows because of the benefits. It gives me purpose and meaning to have discovered the Divine Feminine and other theologies of inclusion. This is the Good News message for me now, a liberating message. For me the Gospel to share is the Divine Feminine and expanding imagery and theology because of all the benefits for women and men and children. For a long time I’ve known about abuse of women and girls. My mother has been very involved throughout her mission work with a battered women’s shelter in Tulsa, and I’ve heard her talking about that. I want to provide music resources that include female and male divine images so that both girls and boys grow up to know they’re valued.”

Larry also wants to encourage others to create music with the Divine Feminine and other expansive images. “The Divine Feminine opens up so much more in our imaging Mystery. There are ways of singing about the Divine that we haven’t explored, like with transgendered images. And what are the divine images on other planets? Perhaps there’s a third gender out there, or four or five genders. It’s very important for me now to balance images, to help interpret the feminine that was lost when patriarchy took over. And now string theory, the concept of all the particles of life being vibrating strings, opens new possibilities for music ministry. If we discovered what it means for us all to be musical beings, vibrating sound waves, how would that connect us with the universe?”

For more of Rev. Larry E. Schultz’s story, see Changing Church and She Lives! Sophia Wisdom Works in the World.

For creative work by Larry E. Schultz, see his website.

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