Silliman, Vincent Brown

Vincent Brown Silliman
Vincent Brown Silliman

Vincent Brown Silliman (June 29, 1894-February 2, 1979), a Unitarian minister, poet, hymn writer and worship arts specialist was born to parents Dwight and Frances Silliman in Hudson, Wisconsin in 1894. His father, a physician, had five children from an earlier marriage.

After his graduation from high school in Hudson, Vincent spent two years at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis. In 1915 he began theological education at Meadville Theological School in Meadville, Pennsylvania. He left school in 1917, due to his mother’s illness, and was ordained to the Unitarian ministry in St. Cloud, Minnesota in the fall. He served Unity Church there for one year. After a brief stint in the U.S. Army, he returned to Meadville and completed work for his B.D. degree in 1925.

Even while finishing his studies at Meadville, however, Silliman served several churches, in short pastorates of one to three years, most often as an assistant minister, in Iowa City, Iowa; Brooklyn, New York; and Buffalo New York. In 1926 he was called to be the parish minister of First Parish Unitarian Church in Portland, Maine where he served until 1938. There he married Elizabeth Pettengill in 1937.

Silliman was minister of the Unitarian Church in Hollis, New York, 1939-54, and of the Beverly Unitarian Church in Chicago, Illinois, 1954-63. He was an active minister of the First Universalist Church in Yarmouth, Maine when he died on February 2, 1979. He was planning to retire within a few months, having served for sixty-two years in the ministry.

Vincent Brown Silliman
Vineent Brown Silliman

Vincent Silliman did much in the middle half of the 20th century to shape the hymnody of the Unitarian Universalist and Ethical Culture movements. He developed, with others, two children’s hymnals. He served on the commission responsible for the Beacon Song and Service Book of 1935, and he edited We Sing of Life, published in 1955 for Ethical Culture Societies. Silliman’s hand and ear are most discernible in Hymns for the Celebration of Life, the hymnal most used in Unitarian Universalist congregations for thirty years after its publication in 1964. Hymns of his composition have stood the test of time, especially ” Morning; So Fair to See ,” “One World ” and “Faith of the Larger Liberty.”

Silliman was a founder, in 1923, of the Religious Arts Guild, a voluntary organization which for more than 50 years created liturgical materials for use in liberal congregations. President of the RAG for its first three years, he set its tone and long continued an active particant. In his own churches Silliman was noted for responsive reading texts, children’s festivals, new hymn tunes, speaking choruses, and services for special occasions as well for his thousands of sermons. His creativity in the arts of worship and the warmth of his affection were much appreciated by members of his congregations.

The Vincent Silliman Archive is located at the Meadville/Lombard Theological School in Chicago, Illinois. Aside from writing occasional articles in periodicals, Silliman edited and prepared The Christian Eucharist as It Might Be Celebrated in Unitarian Congregational Churches (1929); A Chorus of Living Faith: In Celebration of Religious Freedom and World Community (1945); We Sing of Life: Songs for Children, Young People, Adults (1955); We Speak of Life: Responsive and Unison Materials for Religious Services and Assembly Programs of Children, Adults, Young People (1955); and Strange Beauty, a Unitarian lenten manua1 (1958). He was co-editor, with William J. Robbins and Robert C. Sallies, of The Celebration of Marriage (1972). A number of his hymns are in the latest Unitarian Universalist hymnal, Singing the Living Tradition (1993).

Article by Richard Speck
Posted October 10, 2000