Phillips Brooks, Bishop (23 JAN)


O everlasting God, who didst reveal truth to thy servant Phillips Brooks, and didst so form and mold his mind and heart that he was able to mediate that truth with grace and power: Grant, we pray, that all whom thou dost call to preach the Gospel may steep themselves in thy Word, and conform their lives to thy will; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

– Collect from Lesser Feasts and Fasts, 2006

Phillips Brooks was an American clergyman and author. During the American Civil War he upheld the cause of the North and opposed slavery, and his sermon on the death of Abraham Lincoln was an eloquent expression of the character of both men. In 1869 he became rector of Trinity Church, Boston; today, his statue is located on the left exterior of the church.

“{My only ambition}”, Brooks once wrote “is to be a parish priest and, though not much of one, would as a college president be still less”.
He briefly served as Bishop of Massachusetts in the Episcopal Church during the early 1890s. In the Episcopal liturgical calendar he is remembered on January 23. He is known for being the lyricist of “O Little Town of Bethlehem”.

– Adapted from


I first heard of Phillips Brooks as a child. My family lived around the corner from a school named after the clergyman. I recall wondering why was this school so close to my house, more elaborate than the one I had to travel twice the distance to attend? The school has since been converted into low income housing. As I began my secondary education in one of the better Boston Public high schools, Snowden International School at Copley, I would walk pass the following statue:


With my adolescent/teenage eyes, I noticed the figure in the foreground (being Brooks) proclaiming something and the figure in the background, unknown to me at the time, watching. I would give the statue a cursory glance (completely ignoring the text at the base) and assumed it was honouring someone from the Enlightenment period. I assumed it was some bourgeois statesman proclaiming the pursuit of knowledge and a faith in God that justified owning African slaves. I assumed this because of the emphasis of the Enlightenment in my history and literature courses at the time and the figures who were lauded as American icons who, more often than not, believed in God, and owned African slaves. It wasn’t until one evening, years later, I sat in front of the statue to take a closer look:


I realized that Phillips Brooks was a clergyman and he guided his actions by the words of Christ, as illustrated in the statue. I was amazed that this display would be in public. The act of preaching and allowing Christ to guide the words is something that is becoming a rarity. I find that the temptation to preach to the congregation’s taste is strong. I see some of my colleagues across all religious lines either fight or submit to this temptation. I have faced this temptation as a Baptist minister in the past, and now as an Anglican Priest. This statue to me is a reminder to allow the hand of God to guide me, despite who may be happy or upset. I have a framed picture of the statue in my office and I visit the statue periodically to remind myself of God’s presence.

 – JMH+

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