Thursday, December 18, 2008

Phoebe Worrall Palmer

Methodist evangelist Phoebe Worrall Palmer was born on this day in New York City in 1807. She is recognized as one of the founders of the Holiness Movement because of her public speaking and popular books, one of which, The Way of Holiness (1843), sold more than 20,000 copies in its first six years and is still in print today.

Phoebe and her sister began having Tuesday afternoon prayer meetings, which grew over the years to encompass both women and men, including professors, editors, and bishops. The sisters helped found a magazine, The Guide to Holiness, and Phoebe's articles there became her books when collected. She eventually became the editor, and wrote so many articles that new ones continued to be published for some time after her death in 1874. She traveled and spoke about her religious experience and her perfectionist theology. However, she would not call when she did "preaching," as she believed that was something that women should not do.

She wrote hymns as part of her desire to instruct others in her beliefs. Her daughter (and namesake), growing up in this environment of celebrity, and having some musical skill of her own, eventually composed some tunes for her mother's texts, including one that appeared in several 19th century hymnals, The Cleansing Wave. That daughter became better known for composing gospel songs as Phoebe Palmer Knapp, collaborating with Fanny Crosby on Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine and with many other songwriters of the day.

In 1870 Phoebe Palmer and her husband were about to move into a new mansion in New York. She awoke one morning with the desire to write a hymn to dedicate the new house, where their Tuesday afternoon meetings would continue. It was published in a biography that appeared in 1876, Life and Letters of Mrs. Phoebe Palmer, edited by the Reverend Richard Wheatley.

Sung at the Tuesday Afternoon Meeting, November 29, 1870, on the occasion of the Dedication of the House, 316 East 15th Street, opposite Stuyvesant Park.

O thou Most High! in heaven adored,
While angels bow with veiled face,
And cry, O Holy, Holy Lord!
Behold! we worship from this place.

Though Zion's gates thou lovest best,
In wondrous grace thou dost ordain
That Jacob's dwellings shall be blest,
And in them thou dost live and reign.

And now, O God, behold and see!
Thy people in thy name have met
To dedicate this house to thee;
Here let thy holy seat be set.

And in this house wilt thou abide:
We consecrate it to thy name;
In every room and heart reside,
And here thy hallowing grace proclaim.

Head of the Church! O wilt thou still
Thy Church in this our house behold,
With greater grace thy people fill,
Give power beyond the days of old.

Here let the Holy Ghost abide,
And Pentecostal gifts be given;
And Christ -- the living Christ, reside
In human hearts made fit for heaven.

Phoebe W. Palmer, 1870; alt.
Tune: HAMBURG (L.M.)
Lowell Mason, 1824

The tune that they actually sang that day was not recorded. If they only had words and no music they would have used a familiar tune, and this one by Lowell Mason, often called the "father of American church music" is a (remote) possibility. But we must remember that there were many more hymn tunes that would have been familiar to Palmer's attendees, so it's really impossible to know. They could have had a leaflet printed for the occasion with the tune -- perhaps even a new one by Phoebe Knapp. I will be on the lookout for a Knapp tune in Long Meter (four lines of eight syllables) -- have not seen one yet but I've only found about a dozen of the many she is supposed to have written. And then, it's also possible Palmer's text was not sung at all -- sometimes hymns were simply recited.

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