Wheaton College Norton, Massachusetts
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College History



Reverend Ray Palmer, Commencement speaker

The Reverend Ray Palmer, D.D., pastor of the First Congregational Church and Society of Albany, New York, gave Wheaton's Commencement address.

Dr. Palmer, born 12 November 1808 in Little Compton, RI, but spent his early life in Boston, where he clerked in a dry-goods store. In Boston he joined the Park Street Congregational Church, where Dr. S. E. Dwight was pastor. After three years at Phillips Academy, Andover, he entered Yale College, and graduated in 1830. After teaching for a year in New York City, he became Assistant to Prof. E.A. Andrews at the Young Ladies' Institute in New Haven, Ct. He later became headmaster of the school, but resigned in 1834 to enter the ministry. Palmer married in 1832, and he and his wife had ten children. In 1835 he began his first pastorate at the Central Congregational Church, Bath, Maine, and  visited Europe in 1847. He resigned in 1850, to become the first pastor of the First Congregational Church in Albany, NY. During his sixteen tenure there, four hundred and seven members joined the church, many of them prominent professional and business men of the city.

In 1852, the First Council or Synod, representative of American Congregationalism as a whole, held since the Cambridge, England, meeting of 1646, took place in Plamer's church. The meeting, known as the Albany Convention, was composed of four hundred and sixty-three pastors, delegated from seventeen states and Canada, called by the General Association of New York “to examine the denominational situation.” Lyman and Henry Ward Beecher were both present. Spirited debates regarding the slavery question and “the plan of union” between the Congregational and Presbyterian Churches took place. At this meeting the American Congregational Union, later called the Congregational Church Building Society, had its inception.

On April 15, 1866, Palmer resigned to become Corresponding Secretary of the American Congregational Union (now the Congregational Building Society). He left in 1878 to retire in Newark, New Jersey, where he died Mar. 29, 1887.

Palmer was a noted theologian, poet and scholar. His first hymn, “My Faith Looks Up to Thee”, was written in 1830 shortly after he graduated from College, and while teaching in New York. Palmer described its composition, "I gave form to what I felt, by writing, with little effort, the stanzas. I recollect I wrote them with very tender emotion, and ended the last line with tears." He gave the hymn to Dr. Lowell Mason for use in a work then being compiled and later published as Spiritual Songs for Social Worship: adapted to the use of Families, &c. Words and Music arranged by Thomas Hastings, of New York, and Lowell Mason of Boston. Palmer's hymn is No. 141, accompanied with the tune by Dr. L. Mason, there given as "My faith looks up to Thee," but subsequently known as Olivet. It has been translated into almost every language and dialect in the world. At least sixty of Palmer's hymns have been printed and are still in use, and he also published several books, including:

(1) Memoirs and Select Remains of Charles Pond, 1829; (2) The Spirit's Life, a Poem, 1837; (3) How to Live, or Memoirs of Mrs. C. L. Watson, 1839; (4) Doctrinal Text Book, 1839; (5) Spiritual Improvement, 1839, republished as Closet Hours in 185; (6) What is Truth? or Hints on the Formation of Religious Opinions, 1860; (7) Remember Me, or The Holy Communion, 1865; (8) Hymns and Sacred Pieces, with Miscellaneous Poems, 1865 ; (9) Hymns of my Holy Hours, and Other Pieces, 1868; (10) Home, or the Unlost Paradise, 1873; and (11) Voices of Hope and Gladness, 1881.

For an image of Dr. Palmer, and a list of his hymns, visit Hymnary.org.

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