August 15: John Henry Hopkins, Jr.+ (1891)

“Star of wonder, star of night, star with royal beauty bright, westward leading, still proceeding, guide us to thy perfect light.” Without doubt, there is no Christmas carol that evokes the story of the Epiphany more than “We Three Kings of Orient Are.” The words and music of this beloved song were written in 1857 by John Henry Hopkins, Jr. as part of a Christmas pageant for his nieces and nephews. How appropriate it is that there is a connection between Hopkins and the Church of the Epiphany in Washington. Hopkins was the third of eleven children and oldest son of John Henry Hopkins, Sr. and Melusian Muller Hopkins. In his life, the elder Hopkins was an artist, lawyer, ironmonger, musician, theologian and architect. He is the one who introduced Gothic architecture to the United States. Hopkins, Sr. became the first Bishop of Vermont and the eighth Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church.

After graduation from the University of Vermont, the younger Hopkins worked as a reporter in New York City while studying law. During this time, he received a call to ordained ministry. After study at General Theological Seminary (GTS), Hopkins was ordained a deacon in 1850. In the late summer of that year, Deacon Hopkins filled in at Epiphany for rector John French for about six weeks during an illness. Five baptisms and five burials in the parish register during this period are labeled “By Rev. J.H. Hopkins, Jr. Deacon.” It would be seven more years before Hopkins would write his famous song, but there is no doubt that it was inspired by his time at Epiphany Church, Washington. Hopkins would later become GTS’s first instructor in church music. Hopkins was ordained a priest in 1872 and served parishes in Pennsylvania and New York. Hopkins delivered the eulogy at the funeral of President Ulysses S. Grant.

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