Washington Gladden was born on this day in 1836 in Pottsgrove, Pennsylvania. After graduating from Williams College (where he wrote the school's alma mater), and also beginning a career in journalism, he was ordained a Congregational minister in 1860. He pastored a number of churches in New York and New England, then spent thirty-two years at the First Congregational Church in Columbus, Ohio, where he more than doubled membership (to more than 1,200) during his time there.
Gladden was an early leader in the social gospel movement and was one of the most well-known liberal ministers in the US. He supported labor unions and helped settle a strike in Cleveland, and spoke and wrote often on the evils of segregation. While serving as the Moderator of the National Council of Congregational Churches, he denounced a $100,000 gift to the denomination from industrialist John D. Rockefeller, believing that the money was "tainted."
He wrote nearly forty books, many of which can now be seen online thanks to Google Books. One of his most influential books was Who Wrote the Bible? (1891). In an online excerpt, he discusses his conviction that scripture must be reinterpreted for the times in which it is read, and its teachings not limited by the customs of the times in which it was written.
This hymn by Gladden, written a few years later, is a favorite of mine, written on that same theme.
Behold a Sower! from afar
Who goeth forth with might;
The rolling years as furrows are,
As seed, the growing light;
For all the world the Word is sown,
It springeth up alway;
The tender blade is hope’s young dawn,
The harvest, love’s new day.
O Source of life, to thee we lift
Our hearts in praise for those,
Thy prophets, who have shown thy gift
Of grace that ever grows,
Of truth that spreads from shore to shore,
Of wisdom’s widening ray,
Of light that shineth more and more
Unto thy perfect day.
Shine forth, O Light, that we may see,
With hearts all unafraid,
The meaning and the mystery
Of things that thou hast made;
Shine forth, and let the distant past
Beneath thy beam grow bright;
Shine forth, and touch the future vast
With thine untroubled light.
Light up thy Word; the fettered page
From killing bondage free;
Light up our way; lead forth this age
In love’s large liberty.
O Light of light! within us dwell,
Through us thy radiance pour,
That word and life thy truths may tell,
And praise thee evermore.
Washington Gladden, 1897; alt.
Tune: SALVATION (C.M.D.)
Kentucky Harmony, 1816
SALVATION is a muscular American folk tune, good for sowing fields and freeing things from bondage (though this synthesizer version tones that down a bit). Gladden wrote other hymns and poems, some of which were published in a weekly magazine he edited called Sunday Afternoon.
In another of his books, Parish Problems (1887) he includes a chapter on hymnbooks, laying out his own ideas on good hymnody and practice around congregational singing.
Today, there is a Washington Gladden Society that hopes to continue his social gospel ideals. They meet each year during the Annual Meeting of the National Association of Congregational Christian Churches. At this year's meeting in June, they will present a workshop titled There will be no World Peace until there is Peace among the World's Religions.