Beacon Street Diary

August 13, 2015

What better way to spend the last weeks of summer than with a good book? Whether you're headed to the beach or taking refuge in air conditioning, Associate Librarian Steve Picazio has five suggestions for you summer reading list. Brush up on your Congregational history and knowledge of early New England with these summer reads, all available to borrowing members of the Congregational Library & Archives.

David Powers' work Damnable Heresy is a rich, fascinating look at the first book banned in Boston. It's a biography of William Pynchon, an influential landowner whose work The Meritorious Price of Our Redemption was burned on the Common in 1650 for its argument against Puritan theology.

Francis Bremer's new work, Lay Empowerment and the Development of Puritanism, looks at how laypeople influenced Puritan society, where religious figures had an outsize influence on government, society, and private life. Frank will be speaking at the CLA on November 12 as part of our History Matters speaker series.

Colonial Comics: New England, 1620-1750 is a great pick for younger readers. It features twenty-five stories told by an eclectic mix of comic artists, authors, professors, and historians. Colonial Comics provides an inclusive history of New England's first century: Stories about women, slaves, and Native Americans appear alongside familiar stories of the Puritans' migration, and well-known characters like Cotton Mather.

If you're not already familiar with Cotton Mather, try The First American Evangelical by Rick Kennedy. This entertaining biography recasts Mather as a neighborhood preacher, instead of a larger-than-life religious figure, or overzealous witch hunter. Kennedy is a Mather expert, and spoke at the Library's Mather Redux program in 2013.

A Storm of Witchcraft is a new survey of the Salem Witch Trials. Salem State University professor Emerson Baker has synthesized the many theories about why the witch trials happened. It's great for anyone casually interested in the witch trials, or as a jumping-off point for deeper study. If you're in the Boston area, you can hear Dr. Baker speak at 14 Beacon on September 16 as part of the History Matters series.

Executive Director Peggy Bendroth recommends The Rainborowes: One Family's Quest to Build a New England. The book follows one of the original English families to settle at Plymouth, Massachusetts, tracing their influence through a generation in England and New England. From the father's taste for adventure, to his daughters' social ambition, to his sons' passion for democracy, this English family embodied American values. Adrian Tinniswood's new biography resurrects the all-but-forgotten clan that left its mark on England and the United States alike.
August 11, 2015

Boston is well known for having a literary past — Louisa May Alcott, Henry David Thoreau, and earlier writers like African American poet Phillis Wheatley. But Boston present is in the midst of a literary renaissance.

We have a vibrant community of writers and readers, and that vibrancy is expressed in organizations across the city, from the Boston Public Library to the Boston Athenaeum to the preeminent writers group GrubStreet. Now, with all things literary under the one Literary District roof, the writing community has a stronger platform to showcase its art, and the reading community has a one-stop clearinghouse to find out what’s going on — what writers are speaking where, what literary panels are being presented, what literary works are being performed, on and so on.

The Congregational Library & Archives is a proud partner in Boston's new Literary District. Stretching from the corner of Charles and Boylston, the site of the Poe Returning to Boston sculpture to Gloucester Street on the Commonwealth Mall where sculpted figures of Abigail Adams, Lucy Stone, and Phillis Wheatley comprise the Boston Woman's Memorial, the District is the first of its kind in the Commonwealth

"The best part may be that the Boston Literary District will tap readers who don't yet know they are readers." says the District's coordinator Larry Lindner, and he adds, "For many people, reading is sort of like math — something they feel phobic about. But if you go see an author speak, if you can see a literary work performed, reading becomes less of an abstract thing — it's now more something you can reach out and touch, and it will make people more comfortable about engaging with the written word. So not only writers benefit — everyone will."

August 5, 2015

The latest addition to our New England's Hidden Histories program is the common-place book of Thomas Weld (1702-1757), a pastor in New England from 1727 until his death in 1757/8.

This notebook from his time at Harvard University contains notes on various subjects and topics, mostly of a religious nature. Of note is that different handwriting appears in the latter half of the book, but it is presumed that the first half is Weld's. It is unknown who else has written in this book, but sometime after 1723 the book was gifted to politician John Fairfield (1797-1847) who gifted it to his nephew, J. Wingate Thornton (1818-1878) who was attending Harvard, two inscriptions on the inner cover document these events.

Thomas Weld was born November, 1702 in Roxbury, Massachusetts. Weld graduated from Harvard University in 1723, and with his degree taught at Roxbury Latin School until he went to preach at Southborough, and the frontier. In 1735 he became the minister at the newly formed town of Upton. Difference in theology as well as rumors of an illicit relationship with Weld's landlord's daughter, Ms. Wheeler, forced Weld to leave Upton in 1744. After suing for his wages, and defamation against Ms. Wheeler, Weld became one of two ministers in Middleborough. When the other minister, Conant, was ordained in 1745, the church split with Weld remaining in Middleborough preaching to a small group of New-Lights. By 1749/50 Weld's congregation had grown tired of his ministry, and elected to rejoin the other church. After disputing the wages owed to him, Weld returned to Roxbury before going back to the frontier to preach. During the French and Indian War (1754-1763) he joined army as a chaplain before dying in 1757 or 1758.

You can learn more about the history of this collection by viewing the finding aid, or go directly to the NEHH collection page and start reading.

July 24, 2015

Charleston came together after the shootings at Mother Emanuel. "There was really a sense of unity and camaraderie," said Matthew Lewellyn, Circular Congregational Church's youth minister at the time of the shootings. "Maybe people were so tired of being angry and the anger transformed into this need for unity," he said. Louise Turrentine is the congregation president at Circular Congregational. "I'm very glad that we've handled this without violence. Circular has been a very strong voice in that," she says. The violence in Charleston affected people differently, explains Louise. "For some people the response was a call to grieve, and for some it was a call to action."

American Congregationalists have been the vanguard of racial justice issues in the since Samuel Sewall published New England's first abolitionist pamphlet in 1700. In the wake of the shootings in Charleston and the eight fires at African-American churches in the last month: seven in the south and one in Ohio, Congregationalists are once again demonstrating their support by raising money for the nine devastated churches. The United Church of Christ has earmarked its 'Emergency USA' fund.

"The first Sunday after everything happened, our attendance was through the roof. We had to roll up the doors, put up extra chairs, it filled up the fellowship hall, and there were people sitting in the choir loft upstairs. We took that moment and collected a special offering for Mother Emanuel." That offering was the largest Louise has ever seen the church collect.

"Within all the hate and violence, there are these small stories of love," said Rev. Lewellyn.

Another small story of love is unfolding within the Congregational community. Last week, the Circular Congregational received a shipment of origami paper cranes. "We received a beautiful letter about the history of these cranes," said Louise. The letter explained that the cranes have passed through UCC churches in communities marred by tragedy, offering solace to grieving congregations in Newtown, Connecticut; Boston's Old South Church; Ferguson, Missouri; Everett, Washington, and now Charleston. "As I was reading the letter to our congregation, I just saw eyes widening in surprise at the long list of places these cranes had been, widening in a real shock of how many places have been. Now, unfortunately, we have them," said Louise.

Members of Circular Congregational have worked alongside traditionally black churches in Charleston since the shooting. They have participated in vigils and memorial services, and were very active in the effort to remove the Confederate flag from the South Carolina state capitol grounds.

The Congregational Library & Archives contains many records of Congregationalists seeking peace and justice. The upcoming issue of the Bulletin features several stories of Congregationalists in the abolition movement. Get your copy of the Bulletin by becoming a member of the Congregational Library & Archives.

July 17, 2015

Now that I have your attention, here's something to think about. In spite of all the stereotyping about Puritans as repressed, angry woman-haters, we really don't know what they'd make of our world today. I'm guessing they'd be repelled as anybody at the coarseness we now take for granted, the easy vulgarities on public media and in the conversations we overhear during the course of a day. You don't have to be a religious prude, I think, to feel a sense of loss. We do know that the Puritans thought about sex a lot, and I don't mean just the daydreaming kind. They knew it was important, powerful, and needed to be everybody's concern — it had to be a community matter, not shouldered by isolated individuals.

I used to teach women's history and often used A Midwife's Tale, a film based on Laurel Thatcher Ulrich's book about Martha Ballard and her life in rural Maine during the late 1700s. There were a few fairly detailed childbirth scenes in the movie, which I'm sure my young students did not forget easily. I remember one in particular — Martha and the women of the town were attending an unmarried woman and, as was the practice at the time, at the height of labor asked her to name the father. This young girl did, though not with the extra adjectives one would imagine, and everyone took note. But no one was standing with a scarlet "A", getting ready to shame the couple. Naming the father was simply in everyone's interest: a man was now on record in front of the community, and it would be his responsibility, not just theirs, to support the mother and child. And witnesses were there to see that he did.

The twentieth-century descendants of the Puritans didn't have anywhere near their frankness around sins of the flesh, but they did inherit a basic understanding. The two great passions of the Congregational churches, up through the 1950s and 1960s, were ecumenism — cooperation between churches and denominations — and human rights.

They were tireless promoters of Christian unity, even at cost to themselves, and as early as the 1930s in the vanguard of civil rights, worker's rights, the rights of refugees, and the rights of farmers. The Commission for Social Action, established in 1934, was their signal achievement, an agency staffed by rebels and visionaries who would put the average mainline functionary today to shame. They recognized that religion had to be about more than my particular denomination or my personal relationship with God — people of faith had to care about the good of everybody.

And though it might seem a little outside of things for the Congregational Library & Archives to house a collection about the UCC Coalition, a post-1957 organization for gay and lesbian rights, it is historically accurate. We're not, of course, an advocacy organization and we have no political agenda. And I'm sure that there is no single Congregational opinion about the goals of the Coalition, much less the recent Supreme Court ruling on gay marriage. We shouldn't expect one. But there is no brick wall separating the concerns of the present from those of the past. There is instead an internal logic, a tradition of care for the common good — one that the New England ancestors might recognize and, I think, genuinely respect.

-Peggy Bendroth



July 15, 2015

Our neighbors at Trinity Church in Copley Square will be hosting a conference on spirituality this fall, sponsored by The National Society of The Colonial Dames of America in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

Private Faith, Public Witness of Boston Colonial Women

What can our Boston Colonial forebears teach us about spirituality today? How did they cultivate an inner life in the midst of family responsibilities? How do we decide what spiritual practices and rhythms are for us? How did the Colonials' spirituality affect their views on marriage? Does marriage matter to society? Join us to gain a deeper understanding of our ancestors through three fascinating short lectures by experts in the field.

Trinity Church Boston
206 Clarendon Street, Boston

Sunday, October 25, 2015
1:30 - 5:00 pm

Download the flyer for speaker and registration information, and keep an eye on Trinity's website for further details as the date grows closer.

July 2, 2015

The Congregational Library & Archives will be closed on Friday, July 3rd in observance of Independence Day.

All of our online resources will be available as usual. If you have questions for the staff, please send an email or leave a voicemail, and we'll get back to you when we return to the office on Monday.

fireworks over the U.S. fleet in Sasebo, Japan


We will be open again on Monday the 6th.


photograph of sailors, family members and Japanese citizens gathered to watch fireworks on U.S. Fleet Activities Sasebo, Japan (2005) by U.S. Navy Photographer's Mate 1st Class Paul J. Phelps

This file is a work of a sailor or employee of the U.S. Navy, taken or made as part of that person's official duties. As a work of the U.S. federal government, the image is in the public domain.

June 29, 2015

Records exploring Open and Affirming, its origins and history, as well as other materials regarding the roles of members of the LBGT community within the UCC are available on our website and you are welcome to explore the many resources at the Congregational Library & Archives. In observance of the 30th anniversary of the passage of the ONA, Marnie Warner has been assisting and advising archivist Jessica Steytler in processing even more.


For information about these and other topics, you are always free to search the online catalog, contact an archivist or librarian, or visit us in person at 14 Beacon Street, Boston.


LGBT pride flag image created by Wikimedia Commons user Guanaco

June 26, 2015

As we stand on the brink of a monumental Supreme Court decision regarding marriage equality and mark 30 years since the explosive impact of the AIDS crisis, I took the opportunity to speak with Marnie Warner and her wife, rosi olmstead, initiators of the UCC's growing commitment to LGBT support and acceptance.

"I never thought we'd be married in our lifetime," exclaims Marnie Warner with the spirit of patience, joy and wonderment. For Marnie and her wife rosi the chain of events that started around their dining room table in Boston seems as vivid today as the day it began thirty years ago. Once a dream, the quest for acceptance and love of lesbians and gays and now bisexuals and transsexuals has spread through churches across the country, known today as Open and Affirming (ONA).

What was the catalyst that sparked an initiative for the passage the ONA resolution in the 1985 Synod of the United Church of Christ? rosi would say that it was about empathy. "It all started with the AIDS epidemic… People cared about people who [are] dying, people who are being discarded by others." At the time Marnie was an active member and deacon in the Church of the Covenant in Boston's Back Bay where rosi was a co-pastor. In 1984 very few people were out but their church had opened itself up, and as more members of the LGBT community got the word, it welcomed more. This brought sorrow as well as joy. Their congregation alone experienced the devastating loss of 13 members to AIDS. They asked the question "How does God accept them?" and answered by caring.

It was time to expand the work beyond the Church of the Covenant. They took their cues from the Presbyterians' More Light initiative but realized that the program needed to be tailored to the UCC culture. Confident that their cause aligned well with the UCC's tradition of social justice and its tenet that God is active in the world. On the political side, it was up to Marnie and rosi to gain acceptance on the state and national levels, and their strategy focused on UCC core beliefs; unlike today, few people were aware that "somebody they knew next door, or their niece or nephew (was gay)".

While many churches counted gay members among their congregations, non-discrimination was not enough, they were looking for acceptance. "We really wanted churches to open their doors, but we also wanted them to affirm who the people are," Marnie asserts.

Given the atmosphere in Massachusetts, it was the logical place to launch a resolution, recalled Marnie in a 2012 interview. Here a church could "put out the welcome mat and affirm lesbians and gays into the fullness of your life, whether as just a parishioner, ordination, being a deacon, whatever, the whole package." The progress was not without tense moments. At the 1984 Massachusetts Conference meeting, in what could be called Biblical one-upmanship, she describes a period of about an hour where rosi extemporaneously parried a barrage of biblical passages from delegates unsupportive of gays and lesbians by quoting other biblical texts. At the end of the day, they gained support and, with the spiritual guidance of Rev. Reuben Sheares, the resolution passed 2/3 to 1/3.

Then it was on to the 1985 Synod in Ames, Iowa, where the resolution calling for congregations to declare themselves "Open and Affirming" took place. Bishop Desmond Tutu spoke that year, as did Presidential candidate Jesse Jackson, who addressed discrimination but failed to include gays and lesbians in a list of groups who suffered discrimination.

When procedural issues threatened the Open and Affirming resolution's way to the floor, it was up to Ann Day and the Coalition to shepherd it through the Synod bureaucracy to get before the delegates. There was a hearing where people told their stories. Ministers, both gay and straight, who pastored churches with gays and lesbians members, spoke out for the necessity of the resolution. In spite of promised confidentiality, a record of the session was played off-site and many of those who spoke felt that trust had been broken. But there was an unforeseen positive effect; people became aware of just how difficult it was for gays and lesbians to feel safe and true to their identity. And that swell of empathy helped turn the tide and moved the discussion forward.

rosi and Marnie paint the picture of the final vote. A key figure was Al Williams, conference minister from Massachusetts, who for the first time spoke publicly in favor with a consciousness of how people on both sides of the issue felt. Again it got down to that personal level and the need for collaborations and honest discussions. Williams's appeal was so persuasive that the question was spontaneously called from the floor and the vote was over 90% in favor of the resolution.

That was just the starting point for Ann Day and the Coalition. Ann's brilliant programmatic work gave the movement wings. She created discussion guides about the ONA process and took them directly to churches, growing grass roots support. She worked with churches and their congregations to adopt Open and Affirming covenants of their own. rosi remembers the importance of these sessions aimed at "exploring the kinds of things they had to do to love one another" from the bottom.

Today over 1200 congregations welcome lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) members and others are in discussion to become ONA. Nearly 250,000 members of the United Church of Christ belong to ONA churches. While their progress over the last 30 years reflects shifting cultural attitudes, their work has been a catalyst for the change in society as a whole.

Marnie has been working over the last year archiving and preparing the records of the UCC Coalition for LGBT Concerns at the Congregational Library & Archives in preparation for this month's the UCC Synod in Cleveland where the 30th anniversary will be marked. While Marnie and rosi had planned to attend, rosi's recovery from a recent stroke will prevent them. I am happy to say that this did not impede her lively participation in this interview and I thank both of them for telling their stories.

-Cary Hewitt

June 19, 2015

Our executive director Peggy Bendroth is an esteemed historian and prolific author. Her next book, The Last Puritans: Mainline Protestants and the Power of the Past, will be published in October.

Congregationalists, the oldest group of American Protestants, are the heirs of New England's first founders. While they were key characters in the story of early American history, from Plymouth Rock and the founding of Harvard and Yale to the Revolutionary War, their luster and numbers have faded. But Margaret Bendroth's critical history of Congregationalism over the past two centuries reveals how the denomination is essential for understanding mainline Protestantism in the making.

Bendroth chronicles how the New England Puritans, known for their moral and doctrinal rigor, came to be the antecedents of the United Church of Christ, one of the most liberal of all Protestant denominations today. The demands of competition in the American religious marketplace spurred Congregationalists, Bendroth argues, to face their distinctive history. By engaging deeply with their denomination's storied past, they recast their modern identity. The soul-searching took diverse forms — from letter writing and eloquent sermonizing to Pilgrim-celebrating Thanksgiving pageants — as Congregationalists renegotiated old obligations to their seventeenth-century spiritual ancestors. The result was a modern piety that stood a respectful but ironic distance from the past and made a crucial contribution to the American ethos of religious tolerance.

The Last Puritans is available for preorder now from the University of North Carolina Press.

We will also have copies available for borrowing by our members as soon as they are shipped.