Beacon Street Diary

April 17, 2008

Check out our website for all our up coming events. We have book discussions in May, June, and July. Our popular workshops on records management and research are back in May. Jess is begging a workshop on Technology for Churches. Our library tours continue through out the summer and Peggy will begin offering walking tours of Congregational Boston in June. In July, Peggy will teach a course on Congregational History. Keep watching for more information.

April 15, 2008

Archivist Jessica Steytler will be teaching a class for the Simmons Graduate School for Information and Library Science (GSLIS) Continuing Education program here at the library on May 3, 9am-12:30pm

Using Primary Sources: a Tutorial for Educators

Learning about history can involve more than just reading a textbook—and should! There is a rich and varied world in manuscripts and archive collections that history books can never present. However, finding a path through these collections can be intimidating, particularly when there are so few opportunities to navigate this 'raw material' of history. This workshop will walk educators through the wilderness of an archive—highlighting effective research techniques, pitfalls and stumbling blocks, and gems that they can share with their classes. Participants will try out some practical applications within the Congregational Library based on the theories discussed during class.

Please contact Kris Liberman at GSLIS CE to sign up. Deadline April 30.

April 11, 2008

"Salem Witch Judge" coverPlease join us on May 13 at 12 noon for a lively discussion of Eve LePlante's book, Salem Witch Judge: The Life and Repentance of Samuel Sewall. Check out Eve LaPlante's website for book discussion questions and hear and see her interview on WGBH.

We have several copies of Sewall's Diary on display at the Library as well as books on the Witch Trials.

Please visit our website for additional events and book discussions. Questions? Email us at

April 7, 2008

Last week we had two groups come in for tours. The first was the Women's Guild with their pastor from the First Congregational Church of Rochester, MA. The ladies presented the library with a copy of "A History of the First Congregational Church of Rochester, 1703-2003" and a beautiful 300th Anniversary commemorative plate. We were delighted to share the history of our library and collections and have the group view some of our rare treasures from our archive including some unusual Bibles from our Pratt Collection.

The next day we hosted a group of librarians from the Boston Regional Library System. They also had the opportunity to feast their eyes on our outstanding collections. We discussed the history and services of the Library, Congregationalism, and the history of Boston. Phyllis Payne, a librarian from Mugar Library at Boston University, presented the library with a copy of "The Federated Church of Norfolk: a Bicentennial History".

Group tours are always welcome. To make arrangements, please contact Claudette Newhall or Peggy Bendroth or call 617-523-0470.

We also continue our twice monthly tours on the 2nd and 4th Tuesdays of the month. No reservations for these tours are necessary.

April 1, 2008

This summer, Peggy Bendroth, our resident church historian, will be conducting a five-week exploration of the Congregational Christian tradition. We'll talk about worship, music, theology, social outreach--as much as we can manage in our all-too-limited time frame! We will even find time to walk around downtown Boston and learn about the local Congregational history there.

The class will meet on Tuesday afternoons during the month of July 2008, and cover as much key material as we can through reading, discussion, and maybe even a few lecture presentations. Come one, come all! No previous historical expertise is required or assumed. Registration materials are in the works -- for now, direct inquiries to Peggy at 617-523-0470 x5.

April 1, 2008

We have just received a beautiful new edition of the 1648 Cambridge Platform from Skinner House Books. The text of this formative document -- the so-called "constitution" of the Congregational Way -- is supplemented by a preface from the editor, Peter Hughes, and a very clear and accessible introduction by Alice Blair Wesley.

It's a key text of our tradition, now available in book form, for a mere $8.00! I encourage every Congregational church to purchase at least one copy. They're available through the UUA Bookstore, either online or by phone (1-800-215-9076).

March 31, 2008

Our popular seminars are still open for registration. Records Management for Church Historians will take place on Saturday, April 5. This half day workshop includes suggestions on evaluating records, basic processing, and preservation. Cost $10.00.

Research 101: Library Orientation is a full day research workshop taking place on  Thursday, April 17. Topics include an introduction to American Congregational history, the components of church records, a description of the library's collections, methods for using these collections, and suggestions for additional research sites. Cost $20.00 includes lunch.

Please visit our website to register or call 617-523-0470 x 4.

March 27, 2008

Sorry we haven't posted for a while. We've been busy for the past month getting our plans together for spring, summer, and fall programs, tours, and educational seminars. We have activities that should appeal to many from a return of our popular seminars on Records Management, our Brown Bag lunch series, and new tours and seminars.

Watch this space for the specifics coming soon.

February 28, 2008

I just started a new online community yesterday. It clearly was a niche in need of this tool, as we've gotten 54 members in the first 24 hours. If you are an archivist who works in a solo environment, either alone in the department or in the whole organization, please join us:

Visit Lone Arrangers

February 14, 2008

This spring, I put together a list of books I wanted to read. Of course, in a lot of ways, I read for a living; but lately, I’ve been a lot more haphazard than I'd like to be. I wanted a list of books that would stretch my understanding of American religious history, and fill in some old gaps. If I'm not careful, my interest in Congregationalism tends to focus my reading far too much on New England. So I've purposefully reached in a number of disparate directions.

One good stretch was Paul Harvey's Freedom Coming: Religious Culture and the Shaping of the South from the Civil War Through the Civil Rights Era, which tells an important "backstory" to the rise of the civil rights movement.

Harvey traces a strain of religious idealism, tempered by the dire realities of life in the South in the century following the end of the Civil War. To be sure, our current understanding of that movement assumes that Martin Luther King and those who followed him were "religious", somehow inspired by ideals imparted both by Gandhi and by Christ; but Harvey adds some backbone to that often vague depiction. He offers a lineage of people, both white and black, who were fundamentally decent and courageous enough to mount a long, slow challenge to the system of racial apartheid that emerged in the wake of the war to end slavery.

Many little-known but important stories emerge, including a regular array of Congregationalists. Henry Hugh Proctor was a graduate of the denomination’s Fisk University, attending alongside W.E.B. DuBois and Margaret Murray, the future wife of Booker T. Washington. As pastor of Atlanta’s First Congregational Church, arriving there in 1894, he somewhat split the difference between DuBois and Washington's strategies for black survival. He encouraged self-help and biracial cooperation efforts through Christian Endeavor societies and Workingmen's Clubs. But in the midst of the Atlanta riot of 1906, which Harvey describes as "the single worst racist pogrom of the era," (60) resulting in the killing of twenty African Americans and the injuring of hundreds more, Proctor demanded that white churches take responsibility for the violence. Denouncing white preachers as "the most cowardly character[s] in the whole Southern situation," he won precious few allies, and perhaps in the end, demonstrated the deep difficulties that any ethic of interracial cooperation encountered during that desperate turn of the century period.

But all in all, Harvey's book is an uplifting read and a vastly interesting one, deepening our understanding of the civil rights movement and providing a few fascinating clues for those looking for the roots of the modern religious right. Harvey argues most provocatively that because the civil rights movement was so effective in squelching public support for overt racism, that incipient strain surfaced in attitudes toward gender. He explains, at least in part, the Southern Baptist tilt toward anti-feminism in the 1980s and beyond, as a different cultural manifestation of an old southern strain of ambivalence toward liberal democracy.

More to follow -- I'm still reading.

---Peggy Bendroth, Library Director