You may not know that Colorado College was founded in 1874 by the Congregational Conference of Colorado (now the Rocky Mountain Conference UCC). Its first faculty member and principal was the Rev. Jonathan Edwards of Dedham, Mass., a Congregational minister who also founded First Congregational Church in Colorado Springs that same year. (Clearly an underachiever!)
In the summer of 1893, and several members of the faculty of Colorado College arranged an ascent of Pikes Peak… without benefit of the funicular railway. Their journey took them first by prairie wagon and then by mule. “I was very tired,” recalls one teacher from New England, “But when I saw the view, I felt great joy. All the wonder of America seemed displayed there, with sealike expanse.” How many of us have seen the incredible view and failed to be moved?
The impact of having seen the vista that day prompted Katherine Lee Bates to write a poem, “America the Beautiful,” which we sang in church last Sunday. The poem was first published in 1895 in The Congregationalist, a weekly paper based in Boston.
Bates was born on Cape Cod in Falmouth, where her father was a Congregational minister. He died shortly after his daughter’s birth, and Bates was raised by her mother and aunt, both of whom had graduated from Mount Holyoke Seminary (now College), and they steeped Katherine in literature. When she was 17 she entered Wellesley College and four years later, in 1880 was part of their second graduating class. She spent a year at Oxford University and returned to serve on the faculty at Wellesley.
Bates had seen the impacts of urban poverty in the United States and Britain and was part of the Social Gospel movement, a dominant part of Protestant theology between the Civil War and up through the First World War. The movement sought to connect the teachings of Jesus with the social problems of the industrial age and the income disparity of the Gilded Age. The later stanzas of the poem reflect some of that theology: “God mend thine every flaw, Confirm thy soul in self-control, Thy liberty in law! … O beautiful for heroes proved In liberating strife, Who more than self their country loved, And mercy more than life!”
We certainly have “flaws” to mend, and we can play a part in “liberating strife,” but to do that, we will need to love our nation, indeed God’s world, more than ourselves. As we celebrate Independence Day this year, may we commit to becoming a more civil society that turns toward justice and the common good.
P.S. Plymouth Gives Day is coming in less than a week (on July 10)! Think about how God fills your cup and how you might share than abundance.