Feast of Ebenezer Elliott (March 17)   1 comment

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Above:  The Great Stack, Sheffield (1909), by Joseph Pennell (1857-1926)

Image Source = Library of Congress

Reproduction Number = LC-USZ62-22370

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EBENEZER ELLIOTT (MARCH 17, 1781-DECEMBER 1, 1849)

“The Corn Law Rhymer”

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This businessman author made himself a voice for the inarticulate cry of the downtrodden.  His hymns should arouse all Christians to a realization that in God’s sight persons are of more value than property.

–William Chalmers Covert and Calvin Weiss Laufer, eds., Handbook to The Hymnal (Presbyterian Board of Christian Education, 1935), page 394

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I am convinced that if we are to get on the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values.  We must rapidly begin the shift from a “thing-oriented” society to a “person-oriented” society.  When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights, are considered more important than the giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.

–The Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr., Riverside Church, New York, New York, April 4, 1967; quoted in James Melvin Washington, ed., A Testament of Hope:  The Essential Writings and Speeches of Martin Luther King, Jr. (San Francisco, CA:  HarperCollins, 1986; paperback, 1991), page 240

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Where injustice rules as tyrant,

give us courage, God, to dare

live our dreams of transformation.

Make our lives incarnate prayer.

–O. I. Cricket Harrison, 1988; revised in 1993; from Hymn #658, Chalice Hymnal (1995)

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Some background information is crucial to understanding the politics of our saint.

In 1815 the Tory-controlled Government of Great Britain passed the Corn Law while starving people protested outside the Halls of Parliament.  This law restricted the importation of inexpensive corn, benefiting some while harming many others.  Especially hard hit were poor people.  A peaceful protest against the Corn Law at Manchester in 1819 ended violently when soldiers attacked the crowd, which included many women and children.  Four hundred suffered severe injuries and eleven people–including one child–died.  This became a notorious incident and the cause of much political discontent, but the Government cracked down on dissent, making large public gatherings almost impossible and cracking down on the liberal press.  Law and order triumphed over social reform.

The Government finally repealed the Corn Law in 1846 due to pressure from the Irish Potato Famine.  In the meantime, people had suffered needless burdens of preventable hunger as the Government and businesses conspired to keep wages low and food prices high.  Opposition to such injustice had continued, as the Anti-Corn Law League had formed in 1838 and Ebenezer Elliott had written against the bread tax.

The family of Ebenezer Elliott (1781-1849), born at Yorkshire, had suffered because of the Corn Law and similar measures.  Although he was a conservative by temperament, the food-and-wage policies of the Tory Party (and later of the Conservative Party) pushed him into liberal politics.  Our saint, an ironmonger by profession, spent most of his life in Sheffield, a site of many abuses of industrialization.  (The reference to “dark Satanic mills” in “Jerusalem” was no exaggeration.)  On the side Elliott became a bard of the poor, publishing social protest poems in the local press and helping to build support for the repeal of the bread tax in 1846.

By accident one of his texts, “When Wilt Thou Save the People?,” published posthumously in an 1850 volume, became a hymn.  The text remains relevant.

May the faithful example of Ebenezer Elliott remind us of our responsibility to condemn injustice.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

AUGUST 19, 2013 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF ANNE HUTCHINSON, REBELLIOUS PURITAN

THE FEAST OF BLAISE PASCAL, MATHEMATICIAN AND ROMAN CATHOLIC THEOLOGIAN

THE FEAST OF SAINT JOHN EUDES, FOUNDER OF THE CONGREGATION OF JESUS AND MARY

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For Further Reading:

http://www.historyhome.co.uk/people/elliott.htm

http://spenserians.cath.vt.edu/AuthorRecord.php?&recordid=33382

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Holy and righteous God, you created us in your image.

Grant us grace to contend fearlessly against evil and to make no peace with oppression.

Help us, like your servant Ebenezer Elliott, to work for justice among people and nations,

to the glory of your name, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord,

who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Hosea 2:18-23

Psalm 94:1-15

Romans 12:9-21

Luke 6:20-36

–Adapted from Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 60

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Revised on December 23, 2016

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One response to “Feast of Ebenezer Elliott (March 17)

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  1. Pingback: When Wilt Thou Save the People? | GATHERED PRAYERS

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