Lent Madness: Isaac Watts vs. Enmegabowh

Round I of Lent Madness continues with an intriguing matchup: A beloved hymn writer goes toe to toe with a Native American saint.

Isaac Watts (1674-1748) is known as the “Father of English Hymnody.” He was quite prolific with 750 hymns to his credit, 17 of which appear in the Episcopal Church’s Hymnal 1982. These include such well-known hymns as “Joy to the world,” “When I survey the wondrous cross,” “O God our help in ages past,” and “Jesus shall reign where’er the sun.”

In addition to writing hymns, Watts wrote many books on theology and his popular primer on logic went through 20 editions. The full title was the unwieldy “The Right Use of Reason in the Enquiry After Truth With a Variety of Rules to Guard Against Error in the Affairs of Religion and Human Life, as well as in the Sciences.” It was a standard text for many years at Oxford, Cambridge, Harvard, and Yale.

A Collect for Isaac Watts: Almighty God, who gave to your servant Isaac Watts singular Gifts of rendering your praises in verse, that he might write for your Church an abundant supply of psalms, and hymns, and spiritual songs: Stir up the hearts of your people, that they may joyfully sing your praises in this life and the life to come; through your Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Enmegabowh (1807-1902) was the first Native American ordained to the priesthood in the Episcopal Church. Born in Canada, he served as missionary priest to the Ojibway tribe in northern Minnesota. He was catechized and baptized by the great midwestern missionary, the Rev. Dr. James Lloyd Breck.

In 1861, he took over the mission at Crow Wing. In 1862, the year of the Sioux outbreak, Hole-in-the-Day, a leading Ojibwa chief, collected five hundred warriors and prepared for a general massacre of the white people. Enmegabowh prevented some other bands from joining Hole-in-the-Day these but was made imprisoned. He escaped, made his way to Fort Ripley, and due to his timely intelligence report, measures were taken to minimize the bloodshed that would have surely occurred.

His name means “The man who stands by his people,” something that certainly characterized his life and ministry.

A Collect for Enmegabowh: O God, you led your pilgrim people of old with fire and cloud; grant that the ministers of your church, following the example of blessed Enmegabowh, may stand before your holy people, leading them with fiery zeal and gentle humility. This we ask through Jesus, the Christ, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God now and forever. Amen.


2 Comments on “Lent Madness: Isaac Watts vs. Enmegabowh”

  1. Tam Hernandez says:

    I picked Watts. Partly because my maiden name (that can’t be the current term, can it?) is MacWatt and partly because I’m very fond of O God Our Help in Ages Past (although that could be because of Albert Finney in his youth).

  2. […] here: Lent Madness 2010. Yesterday Aelred routed Anskar 62% to 37%. And there’s still time to cast your vote for Isaac Watts vs. Enmegabowh (they’re currently running neck and […]


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