Friday, June 10, 2011

Minot Judson Savage

Minot Judson Savage was born on this day in 1841 in the small town of Norridgewock, Maine (which certainly sounds like an interesting place to be born). His family were committed New England Congre-gationalists, and he attended the Bangor Theological Seminary and was ordained in the Congregational Church upon his graduation in 1864. He had served a year in the Christian Commission during the Civil War, and now he was sent to California as a missionary, returning in 1867 to pastor a church in Framingham, Massachusetts.

His views and beliefs changed over time, and in 1873 he resigned from his pastorate in Hannibal, Missouri and became a Unitarian minister. Over the next thirty years he led congregations in Chicago and Boston, and was finally the associate pastor of the
Church of the Messiah in New York City (now the Community Church).

He championed the causes of progressive Christianity in his day, including comparative religion and modern biblical criticism. His 1876 book The Religion of Evolution, less than a quarter century after Darwin's theory was published, was very influential. Many of his sermons were published, and he also wrote poetry and hymns.

While in Boston he began compiling a hymnal for the use of his own church, as he was not satidfied with the available choices, but when this became known he was encouraged to publish it for wider cicculation.
Sacred Songs for Public Worship appeared in 1883. This book included several of his own hymns, and in 1899 several more were collected with those, published as Hymns by Minot Judson Savage. These texts follow his particular themes, bearing titles such as Evolution, Education, and All Truth Leads to God.

His thoughts on the hymnwriting process may be gleaned from a verse on the title page of the later collection.

But one hymn let me write
Which men will keep alive
For strength and hope and light
As up and on they strive,
And I will ask no more of fame;
For loving hearts will love my name.

His hymn O star of Truth, down shining still appears in the latest Unitarian hymnal, Singing the Living Tradition (1993), and while it is not more widely known in other denominations, that may be enough for Savage. In looking through his later collection, this one caught my eye for today.

New blessings ev'ry morning,
New blessings still at eve,
Our lives with mercy crowning,
We as thy gift receive.
As are the stars in number,
As are the seashore sands,
So many are the bounties
Still flowing from thy hands.

But of thy gifts the sweetest,
Divinest is that we,
Our own small needs forgetting,
May work and give like thee.
The world and all it's sorrows
Our hearts, like thine, can feel,
And we, as thy co-workers,
Can trust and hope and heal.

Then to this holy mission
We pledge ourselves anew:
We give our minds to seeking,
Our hearts to love, the true.
So, grateful for thy goodness,
We join with thee to prove
All service shows thy teaching:
The way of life is love.

Minot Judson Savage, 1890; alt.
Emily Swan Perkins, 1924

The footnotes indicate that this hymn was written for a meeting of the New York League of Unitarian Women in December of 1890, so it seems appropriate to match it with a tune by Emily Swan Perkins, as the original tune to which it was sung is unrecorded.

Savage retired from the Church of the Messiah in 1906 due to poor health, but he remained active in the American Unitarian Association. He died in Boston on May 22, 1918, while attending a national Unitarian conference.

Three Years Ago: Saint Ephrem

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