Feast of Anne Steele (November 11)   1 comment

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Above:  The Flag of England

Image in the Public Domain

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ANNE STEELE (MAY 1716-NOVEMBER 11, 1778)

First Important English Female Hymn Writer

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A mother may forgetful be,

For human love is frail;

But thy Creator’s love to thee,

O Zion! cannot fail.

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No! thy dear name engraven stands,

In characters of love,

On thy almighty Father’s hands;

And never shall remove.

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Before His ever watchful eye

Thy mournful state appears,

And every groan, and every sigh,

Divine compassion hears.

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O Zion! learn to doubt no more,

Be every fear suppressed;

Unchanging truth, and love, and power,

Dwell in thy Saviour’s breast.

–Quoted in Henry Ward Beecher, Plymouth Collection of Hymns and Tunes for the Use of Christian Congregations (1855), #915

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Anne Steele (1716-1778) was the first important female hymn writer in England.  In 1808, when Trinity Episcopal Church, Boston, Massachusetts, published its hymnal, 59 of the 141 hymns came from the pen of our saint.  Although Steele was a Baptist, I have found some of her texts most often in hymnbooks of non-Baptist origin.  In fact, I found biographies of her in ten of the twenty-three hymnal companion volumes in my library.  Their affiliations were, in descending order:

  1. Lutheran–3;
  2. Methodist–2;
  3. Seventh-day Adventist–1;
  4. Presbyterian–1;
  5. Evangelical and Reformed–1;
  6. Episcopalian–1;
  7. Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and American Baptist Convention–1.

(The Hymnbook for Christian Worship, 1970, was the official hymnal of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and the American Baptist Convention/American Baptist Churches U.S.A.).

Her texts and biography are absent from the Southern Baptist hymnbooks of 1956, 1975, 1991, and 2008.  Furthermore, the theologically more moderate and stylistically more traditional (compared to the Baptist Hymnal of 2008) Celebrating Grace Hymnal (2010) also lacks any texts by Anne Steele.  On the other hand, the New Baptist Hymnal (1926), a joint project of the Northern and Southern Baptist Conventions, contained some Steele hymns, as did its immediate Northern Baptist successor, Christian Worship:  A Hymnal (1941), a project with the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).  I cannot make any claim as to the presence of Steele hymns in The Broadman Hymnal (1940), the first hymnal to bring some uniformity of hymnody to the Southern Baptist Convention, for the volume lacks an index of authors.

Anne Steele (1716-1778) spent her life in Broughton, Hampshire, England.  Her great-uncle, Henry Steele, served the Baptist church there as a lay pastor.  Her father, William Steele (died in 1769), was a lumber merchant with a considerable financial inheritance who served as a deacon and an occasional preacher in that congregation for thirty years before serving as the unpaid lay pastor there for three decades.

Anne spent most of her life as a frequently bedridden invalid in constant pain.  A hip injury she suffered at age 19 created that reality.  She was engaged to marry at one point, but her intended drowned the day before the scheduled wedding.  Our saint, who never married, assisted her father in his ministry as she was able.  She also devoted herself to literary pursuits, writing 144 hymns, 34 metrical psalms, and 30 poems.  She disliked publicity, so she refused to submit any of her compositions for publication for a long time.  When The Spectator published some of her texts under the name “Steele,” many readers assumed erroneously that the author must have been Sir Richard Steele (1672-1729), a politician, essayist, and playwright.  Poems on Subjects, Chiefly Devotional (1760) rolled off the presses, identifying the author as “Theodosia.”

Our saint died on November 11, 1778.  Her epitaph declared:

Silent the lyre, and dumb the tuneful tongue,

That sung on earth her great Redeemer’s praise;

But now in heaven she joins the angels’ songs,

In more harmonious, more exalted lays.

Posthumous collections of her verse and works about her appeared in 1780, 1808, and 1863.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MAY 22, 2015 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF RICHARD BIGGS, ACTOR

THE FEAST OF GEORG GOTTFRIED MULLER, GERMAN-AMERICAN MORAVIAN MINISTER AND COMPOSER

THE FEAST OF JULIA BULKLEY CADY CORY, U.S. PRESBYTERIAN HYMN WRITER

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Dear God of beauty,

you have granted literary ability and spiritual sensitivity to

Anne Steele and others, who have composed hymn texts.

May we, as you guide us,

find worthy hymn texts to be icons,

through which we see you.

In the Name of God:  Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Sirach/Ecclesiasticus 44:1-3a, 5-15

Psalm 147

Revelation 5:11-14

Luke 2:8-20

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

APRIL 20, 2013 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINTS AMATOR OF AUXERRE AND GERMANUS OF AUXERRE, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOPS; SAINT MAMERTINUS OF AUXERRE, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBOT; AND SAINT MARCIAN OF AUXERRE, ROMAN CATHOLIC MONK

THE FEAST OF JOHANNES BUGENHAGEN, GERMAN LUTHERAN PASTOR

THE FEAST OF SAINT MARCELLINUS OF EMBRUN, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP

THE FEAST OF OLAVUS AND LAURENTIUS PETRI, RENEWERS OF THE CHURCH

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  1. Pingback: Anne Steele | GATHERED PRAYERS

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