Feast of James Montgomery (April 30)   1 comment

Above:  Statue of James Montgomery

Image Source = Mick Knapton

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JAMES MONTGOMERY (NOVEMBER 4, 1771-APRIL 30, 1854)

Anglican and Moravian Hymn Writer

James Montgomery was one of the greatest English hymn writers, by quality of those texts as well as the quantity of them–more than 400.  The Hymnal and Liturgies of the Moravian Church (Unitas Fratrum) (1923) included 52 of his hymns–certainly an impressive count.

James Montgomery, born on November 4, 1771, at Irvine, Ayrshire, Scotland, was one of several sons of John Montgomery, the only Moravian minister in Scotland.  Our saint, who started writing poetry at the age of 10 years, studied at Bracehill, a Moravian settlement in Ireland, where his family had settled in 1776.  A few years later the parents left their sons behind, in the care of the Moravian Church, and became missionaries to Barbados, where they died.  Young James continued his education at Fulneck Seminary, Fulneck, England.  He was, however, a bad student, so school officials apprenticed him to a baker.  Montgomery ran away from the baker and fled to Mirfield in 1787.  There he got a job in retail, but became bored with that position.  So it came to pass that he left that job and relocated to Wath, near Rotherham, and went to work in another store.  That position did not satisfy Montgomery either, so he left for London.  In that city he searched in vain for someone to publish his poetry.  In 1792, however, he did find a job he liked–assistant to one Jospeh Gales, an auctioneer, a bookseller, and the publisher of the Sheffield Register.

Montgomery was, by the standards of Tory politics, a revolutionary; so was Gales.  Our saint approved of the storming of the Bastille, favored the abolition of slavery and of the slave trade, and was concerned about the plight of child laborers.  He was a radical who did not shrink from challenging conventions and institutions.  In the wake of the French Revolution the administration of Prime Minister William Pitt the Younger clamped down on dissent (even that of the peaceful variety) and suspended the writ of habeas corpus.  There was, therefore, no freedom of speech or of the press for a time–all in the name of national security, a poor excuse for suppressing civil liberties.  Gales fled the country rather than go to prison for having published certain articles and editorials.  Montgomery assumed leadership of the newspaper, which he renamed the Sheffield Iris.  For 31 years, until 1825, he edited the publication.  Twice he went to prison for political reasons.  The first term was due to a text in praise of the storming of the Bastille.  The second period of incarceration followed the printing of details of a riot at Sheffield.

Montgomery, who helped to found the Eclectic Review in 1825 and contributed to it frequently for years, lectured on poetry at Sheffield and at the Royal Institution, London.  Our saint, who left the Moravian Church for The Church of England, returned to the Unitas Fratrum in 1812.  As an Anglican, Montgomery promoted the congregational singing of hymns, as opposed to the traditional metrical Psalms.  (Congregational hymn singing displaced metrical Psalms in Anglicanism in the 1800s.)  Our saint also encouraged foreign missions and worked with the British Bible Society.  Some of his hymns were parts of these evangelistic efforts.

Some of Montgomery’s notable hymns were:

  1. “We Bid Thee Welcome in the Name of Jesus” (for the ordination and installation of a minister),
  2. “Hail to the Lord’s Anointed,”
  3. “Lift Up Your Heads, Ye Gates of Brass,”
  4. “Angels, from the Realms of Glory,” and
  5. “O Bless the Lord, My Soul.”

Major works of our saint, awarded (by a Whig government) a royal pension of 200 pounds–that is, 17,400 pounds, adjusted for inflation to 2016 currency, measured according to the retail price index–per annum in 1833, included:

  1. Prison Amusements (1796),
  2. The Ocean (1805),
  3. The Wanderer of Switzerland (1806),
  4. The West Indies (1810),
  5. The World Before the Flood (1812),
  6. Greenland, and Other Poems (1819),
  7. Songs of Zion (1822),
  8. The Christian Psalmist (1825),
  9. The Pelican Island (1827),
  10. Collected Poems (1841), and
  11. Original Hymns (1853).

Montgomery died in his sleep at his home on The Mount, Sheffield, on April 30, 1854.  He was 84 years old.  A large public funeral followed.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 28, 2017 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF FLORA MACDONALD, CANADIAN STATESWOMAN AND HUMANITARIAN

THE FEAST OF NANCY BYRD TURNER, POET, EDITOR, AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF THE PIONEERING FEMALE EPISCOPAL PRIESTS, 1974 AND 1975

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Dear God of beauty,

you have granted literary ability and spiritual sensitivity to

James Montgomery 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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One response to “Feast of James Montgomery (April 30)

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