Pennefather, Willliam


b Dublin, Ireland 1816, d Muswell Hill, Middx (N London) 1873. School at Dublin and Westbury-on-Trym nr Bristol, where in 1832, he says, ‘God was pleased to teach me to love him and to prize his word’. He then had private tuition in Westmorland (Cumbria), followed by Trinity Coll Dublin (BA 1840), a course interrupted by illness. But during convalescence his evangelistic and pastoral gifts developed among Portstewart’s fishermen. After ordination in 1841 he served in parish ministry in Ireland, at Ballymachugh and Mellifort nr Drogheda, active in relieving the (mainly RC) poor during the 1845–47 famine. After marriage to Catherine in 1847 he moved to England the following year (Walton nr Aylesbury, Bucks and then Christ Church Barnet, Herts) before finally settling in Mildmay Park in Islington, N London, as Vicar of St Jude’s from 1864. At Barnet in 1860 he broke new ground by opening a small home for Deaconesses, or ‘women desirous of labouring in the Lord’s vineyard as Phoebe did of old’. Whereas Pusey’s sisterhoods had been modelled on Rome, Pennefather claimed a more primitive pattern, as revived by Prussian Lutherans. At Mildmay Park the numbers rapidly grew so that the uniformed ‘Mildmay deaconesses’ became a familiar sight in evangelical London parishes. St Jude’s also saw the beginnings of CSSM, which soon merged with the still very new Scripture Union, pioneering seaside holiday missions, Bible-study notes, chorus-singing and other evangelistic and teaching initiatives.

Pennefather was CSSM’s first President; and for adults he founded the evangelical Mildmay Conferences, transferred from Barnet and growing in numbers to 2,500. On regular holidays with friends he loved the Devon countryside: ‘William,’ said his wife, ‘if you are so long with those dragonflies we shall miss our train!’ And he would come down to breakfast singing a favourite hymn on the stairs. His collection of 71 Original Hymns and Thoughts in Verse was published posthumously in the year of his death; this included a 7-stz text for the National Anthem (loyal but evangelical), God bless our gracious Queen, written at Barnet in 1863 with one verse specially for Albert. In spite of uncertain health, he was in much demand as a preacher and has been acclaimed as one of the outstanding pastors of his generation, fostering Christian education in small groups as well as large gatherings and the parish prayer meeting. He had a keen interest in biblical prophecy and was a leader in evangelical ecumenism. Catherine continued much of his work after his death. His best-known hymn features, as here, in many current books of varied traditions. Julian grants that for their beauty, earnest simplicity and evangelical richness, ‘they deserve greater attention than they have hitherto received’, being ‘much more musical than is usual with lyrics of their class’! No.228.

Hymns and songs by Pennefather, Willliam

Number Hymn Name
228 Jesus, stand among us