Monday, October 19, 2009

Emily Swan Perkins

Emily Swan Perkins (October 19, 1866 - June 27, 1941) was one the founders of the Hymn Society in the United States and Canada (originally the Hymn Society of America) in 1922, and served as its Corresponding Secretary for nearly twenty years. Her letters to friends in England about the Society have been credited with influencing the 1936 formation of the Hymn Society in Great Britain and Ireland.

In her younger years she accompanied various singing groups on the piano, beginning at the Sunday school where her father was superintendent. She retained this interest in church music thoughout her life; after she became known for composing and writing hymns and tunes she was appointed to serve on the Commission on Worship of the Presbyterian Church in the USA.

This hymn appeared in her 1921 collection Stonehurst Hymn Tunes, and later in the Presbyterian Hymnal of 1933.

Thou art, O God, the God of might;
Thy power is never failing;
Thou safely leadest in the fight,
’Gainst every foe prevailing.

Thou art, O God, the God of truth;
Thy Word remains unshaken;
Thy justice and Thy righteousness
Have every stronghold taken.

Thou art, O God, the God of love;
Thy mercy is unending;
Thou guardest us with tender care,
Each day our souls defending.

Emily S. Perkins, 1921

At this summer's Annual Conference of the Hymn Society, Perkins was honored by the establishment of the Emily Swan Perkins Lectureship, which will be an annual presentation during the Conference. The first Perkins Lecture was delivered by theologian Marva Dawn. The Executive Committee of the Society was looking for a way to honor the retiring Executive Director, Carl P. Daw Jr., and he suggested that this lectureship in Perkins's name would be an appropriate way. Daw was presented with a copy of Stonehurst Hymn Tunes at the Conference when the Perkins Lecture was announced, and I have the somewhat offbeat hope that he will write a new text to be sung to one of Perkins's tunes. It would be an appropriate collaboration to link the past and present of the organization.

Mary Louise Bringle, current President of the Society, wrote a biographical sketch of Perkins in this year's Conference booklet (from which some of the information in this entry is taken), which concluded:

Truly, it would be ironic if a person who gave so lavishly of her time, talents, and treasure to the worship life of the church and particularly to the life of this organization were to remain an “unsung” hero.

One Year Ago: Emily Swan Perkins

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