Sunday, March 13, 2016

William Channing Gannett

William Channing Gannett was born today in Boston in 1840.  His father, Ezra Stiles Gannett, was one of the founders of the American Unitarian Association, which formalized the earlier separate Unitarian churches into a denominational structure,  His mother, Anna Tilden Gannett (who died when William was two years old), was a student of Ralph Waldo Emerson and a friend of Harriet Martineau.

He graduated from Harvard in 1860 and taught school for a year in Rhode Island, but did not believe that he was particularly good at it.  He was no more convinced that he could succeed in business or in the ministry, but he began studying at Harvard Divinity School.  He left before finishing to work with freed slaves on the Sea Islands of South Carolina, later describing this work as the most significant of his life. He returned to Boston a few years later because his father was in poor health, and eventually completed his studies at the Divinity School.  After graduation, he served churches in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, and eventually Rochester, New York (his longest tenure: 1889-1908).  He was involved in the social causes of his time: including first abolition and later women's suffrage; Susan B. Anthony was on of his parishioners in Rochester.  Gannett and Anthony worked for years to have women admitted to the University of Rochester, and raised funds toward that campaign, which eventually succeeded.

Gannett wrote many hymns (some of which we have already seen here), and collaborated with Frederick Lucian Hosmer on two influential Unitarian collections: Unity Hymns and Chorals (1880) and The Thought of God in Hymns and Poems (1885).  Both collections were revised and updated by the pair in later years.

He clearly believed in an indwelling God that was accessible to every person; the basis for this hymn as well as some of his others.

O God within, so close to me
That every thought is plain,
Be Rock, be Friend, and Comfort still,
And in your heaven reign!

That heaven is mine -- my very soul!
Your words are sweet and strong;
They fill my inward silences
With music and with song.

They send me challenges to right
And loud rebuke my ill;
They ring my bells of victory,
They breathe my "peace, be still!'"

They ever seem to say "My child,
Why seek me so all day?
Now journey inward to yourself,
And listen on your way."

William Channing Gannett, 20th cent.; alt.
Tune: EXETER  (C.M.)
Lowell Mason, 1823

Gannett the 'poet-preacher,' as a colleague described him, died in Rochester in December 1923, having continued his connection to that congregation as pastor emeritus since his 1908 retirement.

Six Years Ago: William Channing Gannett

Five Years Ago: William Channing Gannett

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