Beacon Street Diary

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.

June 17, 2015

We know that not everyone can make the trip to Boston to visit us in person. That's why our staff do what we can to come to you. If you're attending either of this month's denominational meetings, be sure to stop by the Congregational Library & Archives' table in the exhibitor spaces and say hello.

Our executive director Peggy Bendroth and digital archivist Sari Mauro will be at the NACCC Annual Meeting & Conference in Salt Lake City this coming weekend (June 19-23). Both will be leading workshops, and Sari will be manning our table and holding casual "office hours" in the lobby for individual questions about records stewardship or preservation. Their scheduled appearances are listed below, and attendees are always welcome to chat with them elsewhere. You can also find Sari on Twitter @ArchivistSariM.
Saturday (6/20) 10:30 am - 12:00 pm Office hours with Sari Mauro
Sunday (6/21) 2:45 - 3:35 pm Stewarding Your Church Records workshop with Sari Mauro
  4:15 - 5:15 pm Stewarding Your Church Records workshop with Sari Mauro
Monday (6/22) 4:30 - 5:30 pm The World Beyond the Hudson River: The Story of Congregationalism in the West workshop with Peggy Bendroth
  4:30 - 5:30 pm Office hours with Sari Mauro
Tuesday (6/23) 11:15 am - 12:00 pm Office hours with Sari Mauro
  1:45 - 2:45 pm The World Beyond the Hudson River: The Story of Congregationalism in the West workshop with Peggy Bendroth


Our archivist Jessica Steytler will be at the UCC General Synod in Cleveland next weekend (June 25-30) along with current and former board members Barbara Brown Zikmund and Virginia Childs. They will mostly be found in the exhibit hall and all three will be happy to chat about the work we do and answer any questions you might have. If you're looking for Jessica in particular, you can keep up to date with her whereabouts on Twitter @JessicaSteytler.

June 5, 2015

Don't forget to reserve your seat for Thursday evening's event.

Pulitzer-nominated reporter, historian, and Boston University professor Dick Lehr tells the story of Boston's forgotten place in the story of civil rights in his latest book, The Birth of a Nation: How a Legendary Filmmaker and a Crusading Editor Reignited America's Civil War.

The 1915 film The Birth of a Nation is a groundbreaking technical achievement. It is also virulently racist, and glorifies the terrorism of the Ku Klux Klan. Early civil rights leader and radical newspaper editor William Monroe Trotter embarked on a campaign to have the film censored in Boston.

Dick Lehr will speak about his work, which explores the parallel lives of Trotter and the film's director D.W. Griffith, and the film which has remained controversial for 100 years. He will also be selling and autographing copies of his book.

This event is co-hosted with the Boston African American National Historic Site.


Thursday, June 11th
5:30 pm

Register through Eventbrite.

June 3, 2015

The latest addition to our New England's Hidden Histories program is a collection of papers from the Rev. John Rogers (1666-1745) of Ipswich, Massachusetts.

The bulk of this collection is a handful of Rogers's sermons. Unlike most sermon collections, however, we have what seem to be two different versions of each sermon on a given Bible passage. Some revisions are dated less than a month apart and composed for different audiences. The ways in which Rev. Rogers changed his text could be quite interesting for dilligent readers.

Other personal items included are a letter to Rev. and Mrs. Rogers from John Wise proposing a courtship between their children, and Rogers's unsigned will.

You can find out more about this collection by reading the finding aid, or go directly to the collection page and view the documents that interest you.

June 1, 2015

The Congregational Library & Archives will be providing space for this discussion of how an old text is being given new life in digital form.

Catechismusa Prasty Szadei (The Simple Words of Catechism) by Martynas Mažvydas was the first book printed in Lithuanian. Of the few hundred printed, there are only two known copies still in existence, one in the Lithuanian capital of Vilnius and one in Toruń, Poland.

Dr. Ian Christie-Miller has been hard at work on a project called Catechismusa 2 to study the text in depth. The music annotated on 24 pages of the Catechismusa has not only been recorded but the sound tracks have been integrated into high quality pdf images of the entire book. In addition the use of specialist front lighting and back lighting of every page of the Vilnius copy has revealed watermarks in every gathering of the book.

Prior to the project it was believed that there were no watermarks. Research into the paper has revealed the cultural and historical implications of that discovery.

Join us for a presentation that shows how the music can be accessed from the digital version of the text and examines ways in which watermark and paper research can reveal otherwise hidden data. The religious, cultural, musical, and bibliographical significance of the project will be shown.


Monday, June 8th
12:00 - 1:00 pm

To register, contact Ian Christie-Miller:


The project Catechismusa 2 is funded by the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod.

Further information is at Europeana and in a podcast from Earlypaper.

May 29, 2015

Our reading room will be closed to the public on Monday, June 1st for our board's annual meeting.

All of our online resources will be available as usual, and staff members will be in the office to answer questions over the phone or by email.

May 27, 2015

Our own Sari Mauro will be giving a presentation at the New England Historic Genealogical Society next week.

The Congregational Library & Archives is an internationally recognized resource for scholars, religious leaders, and local churches. It also offers a treasure trove of unique materials for family historians! From 17th-century church records to the personal papers of ministers and missionaries, these materials provide names and dates of past generations as well as insight into a religious tradition that deeply informed American culture. Join Digital Archivist Sari Mauro to learn about the collections that are of special interest to genealogists — accessible online and onsite.

New England Historic Genealogical Society
99-101 Newbury Street, Boston

Friday, June 5
12:00 – 1:00 pm

Cost: FREE
Register through the NEHGS site.