Hymn writer anniversary marks Baptist women focus
The stories of Baptist women have not always received a prominent place in the written accounts of British Baptist life.
Marking the tercentenary of the birth of Anne Steele (1717-1778), a prolific Baptist hymn writer, the October issue of The Baptist Quarterly seeks to redress this imbalance by publishing all of the articles in this issue by women, and about women. By Karen Smith and Simon Woodman
Ruth Bottoms examines Anne Steele’s hymnody, in dialogue with contemporary Baptist worship. She notes that ‘we are, and we become, what we sing’, and although Steele’s hymns may have been lost to common usage, their influence on Baptist worship endures, not just in the more cerebral tradition of hymnic worship, but also in the more over(t)ly emotive engagement of the charismatic tradition.
As Bottoms compares Steele’s hymns and the songs used at the 2009 Baptist Assembly, she suggests that the combination of honesty and emotion in Steele’s writing challenges contemporary Baptist worship. Indeed, how can worship be both intellectually rigorous, emotionally engaging, and authentically celebratory; while also allowing space for the exploration of emotions such as doubt, sorrow, or suffering?
Sue Barker paints an engaging picture of Susannah Spurgeon, the wife of the Charles Haddon Spurgeon who emerges from her husband’s shadow as an enterprising and faithful partner in ministry. Readers may be surprised to discover that it was Susannah Spurgeon who was largely responsible for her husband’s wide-spread fame as she formed a ‘Book Fund’, which during her life time distributed thousands of books to support pastors around the world. She also founded the ‘Pastors Aid Society’ and the ‘Westwood Clothing Society’, to counter the ‘evil’ of ministerial poverty.
Karen Smith traces the role played by two pioneering women educators Martha Smith Trinder (1736-1790) and Henrietta Neale (1752-1802). Their insistence on learning as ‘play’ may also inspire teachers today.
These articles along with several book reviews in this issue of The Quarterly serve as a reminder that the history of Baptist life must include the stories of the contributions of women and offer a timely reminder that as we recall the past, Baptists may reflect on current issues and be challenged and inspired for tomorrow.
The Baptist Quarterly is a publication of the Baptist Historical Society. If you would like to browse some past issues see http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/ybaq20.
Details of membership in the Baptist Historical Society may be found at http://baptisthistory.org.uk. This is the first in a series of articles from the Baptist Historical Society for The Baptist Times
Simon Woodman and Karen Smith are the editors of The Baptist Quarterly.