Above: Franklin and Marshall College, Lancaster, Pennsylvania, 1921
Image Source = Library of Congress
Copyright Claimant = Darmstaetter’s, Lancaster, Pennsylvania
J247993 U.S. Copyright Office
ALICE NEVIN (AUGUST 1, 1837-NOVEMBER 19, 1925)
U.S. German Reformed Liturgist and Composer of Hymn Tunes
Alice Nevin, one of six children and three daughters of Martha Jenkins and John Williamson Nevin (1803-1886), a great Mercersburg theologian in the former Reformed Church in the United States (1793-1934), was an heiress to her father’s legacy. She carried it well, with an emphasis on hymns.
Our saint, born at Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on August 1, 1837, when her father taught at Western Theological Seminary, spent most of her life in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Professor Nevin transferred to Mercersburg, Pennsylvania, in 1840 then to Lancaster 11 years later. Alice walked with a limp, albeit not a debilitating one, because a nurse dropped her when she was a baby. Our saint, who never married, served as an organist and choir director at both Franklin and Marshall College and First Reformed Church, Lancaster, for many years. She also helped to found St. Luke’s Reformed Church, Lancaster, in 1879.
[Aside: First Reformed Church has become First Reformed United Church Christ. St. Luke’s Reformed Church became St. Luke’s United Church of Christ. St. Luke’s, like many urban congregations, lost most of its membership to suburban churches. It closed on May 31, 2015, and remaining members transferred to Trinity United Church of Christ.]
Nevin cared deeply about the quality of hymns and songs for children. She edited Hymns and Carols for Church and Sunday School (1879), a volume more formalistic congregations of the Reformed Church in the United States used. In the preface our saint criticized many hymns and songs for children for being childish when they should be childlike. She also condemned many of them for featuring
meaningless, jingling rhymes and melodies.
The hymnal included five of her hymn tunes and three of her arrangements. Two of these tunes were nameless, but the other three were RESURRECTION, CECIL, and ELSIE. The arrangements were WILLIAMSON, COBLENTZ, and CORNISH MELODY. The Hymnal of the Reformed Church in the United States (1890), The Hymnal of the Reformed Church (1920, with the Reformed Church in America, which barely used it), and The Hymnal (1941, Evangelical and Reformed Church, immediate successor to the Reformed Church in the United States) contained RESURRECTION and WILLIAMSON. The committees for The Hymnal of the United Church of Christ (1974) and The New Century Hymnal (1995) omitted all tunes and arrangements by our saint.
Nevin was also active in the civil life of Lancaster. She helped to found the Visiting Nurses’ Association. Furthermore, she was one of the organizers of the Cliosophic Society, a literary society, in 1879. And, in 1895, she founded the Iris Club, an organization for women, which she led for six years.
In 1922, toward the end of her life, Nevin published Poems, a slim volume she distributed only among her friends. She died at home on November 19, 1925, aged 88 years.
Her insistence upon quality in hymns and songs for children remains relevant.
KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR
AUGUST 4, 2016 COMMON ERA
THE FEAST OF ALFRED TENNYSON, ENGLISH POET
THE FEAST OF FREDERICK WILLIAM FOSTER, ENGLISH MORAVIAN BISHOP, LITURGIST, HYMN WRITER, AND HYMN TRANSLATOR
THE FEAST OF JOHN BROWNLIE, SCOTTISH PRESBYTERIAN MINISTER, HYMN WRITER, AND TRANSLATOR OF HYMNS
Holy God, whose majesty surpasses all human definitions and capacity to grasp,
thank you for those (especially Alice Nevin)
who have nurtured and encouraged the reverent worship of you.
May their work inspire us to worship you in knowledge, truth, and beauty.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
1 Chronicles 25:1-8
KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR
NOVEMBER 27, 2012 COMMON ERA
THE FEAST OF SAINT JAMES INTERCISUS, ROMAN CATHOLIC MARTYR
THE FEAST OF HENRY SLOANE COFFIN, U.S. PRESBYTERIAN THEOLOGIAN