Beacon Street Blog

January 16, 2012

One of the best things for me about our library is that the collection includes so much material that fed into modern social activism. This depository has been actively collecting pamphlets and books on the topics of education, suffrage, and slavery for almost 160 years. When we consider our collection policy, a big priority is to consider what the historical view on a topic has been over the decades.

[]Among the many topics within that of civil rights, those interested in learning more about its roots should consider our collections on the American Missionary Association. The AMA was formed as an abolitionist group in the mid-19th century and continued into reconstruction with the goal of educating African Americans, particularly in the South. We have an extensive microfilm collection of their reports, as well as periodicals (The American Missionary particularly), pamphlets, sermons -- so much more.

Rachel and our band of catalogers have been very conscientious over the years about adding subject headings, so researchers are more likely to find related items on topics like Civil Rights, Abolition, Antislavery Movements, Race Relations, and so on. When searching various subjects, check out the "Suggested Search" button at the top of results pages, or click on links within the catalog records. You may find the elusive niche you were looking for all along.

As ever, if you have any questions on finding what we have, do not hesitate to contact our friendly and resourceful staff.



Image courtesy of the Amistad Research Center at Tulane University and the Louisiana Digital Library exhibit The American Missionary Association and the Promise of a Multicultural America: 1839-1954.

January 13, 2012

The library will be closed on Monday in observance of Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

All of our online resources will be available as usual, but the reading room and the staff will not. If you have inquiries for the staff, please send an email or leave a voicemail and we'll get back to you when we return.

January 12, 2012

We don't often think of the Puritans and poetry together in the same sentence, but we probably should. Massachusetts Bay Colony was home to several poets, and their poems were widely read. In an attempt to correct this (unfortunate) way of thinking, I have put together a short listing of Puritan poets worth paying attention to:


Anne Bradstreet (1612?-1672)

Bradstreet is perhaps one of the best known Puritan poets, and her verse can be easily be divided into two sections: early, imitative poetry and more personal lyrics published later in life. A free digitization of her poems can be found on Internet Archive where it is available for viewing or download in several formats.


Benjamin Thompson (1642-1714)

Although he was frequently called on to write elegies, Thompson is best known for his narrative jeremiad on King Philip's War, New England's Crisis, is available online from the University of Virginia.


Michael Wigglesworth (1631-1705)

Wigglesworth is best known for his semi-epic portrayal of the Last Judgment in The Day of Doom which became the second best-selling book published in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Of equal note, however, is Wigglesworth's didactic jeremiad "God's Controversy with New England" which changes meter based on the speaker.


Cotton Mather (1663-1728)

Mather's poetry is often overlooked in favor of his other activities in the colony, but he, too, penned quite a bit of verse, including meditations, elegies, hymns, and verses for children. Mather's “The Body of Divinity Versifyed” is available online.


Edward Taylor (1642-1729)

Taylor's poetry was kept private, left to his heirs in a 400-page manuscript book with the instruction that it should never be published. It was re-discovered in 1937 and published two years later. Taylor's verse consists mostly of private meditations and lines written in preparation for the serving of communion. Some of his verse is available from


You can find more resources on these poets (and on Puritan poetry in general) by searching our catalog!


January 10, 2012

Joseph Felt


Rev. Joseph Barlow Felt served as the Congregational Library's first librarian, and was also one of its founders. He graduated from Dartmouth in 1813 and held pastorates in Sharon and Hamilton, Massachusetts, until 1832 when he left the ministry and devoted his time to writing and research instead. He was State Archivist from 1836 to 1842, and then Librarian at the Massachusetts Historical Society from 1842 to 1853. The year he left the MHS he was formally appointed Librarian of the Congregational Library. Before being appointed to the post, Dr. Felt served as one of the founding members of the American Congregational Association and served as its Secretary. He retained the official post as Librarian until 1858 without salary.

Little is recorded about Dr. Felt's service to the library, however, it is known that, when he began his duties as Secretary, the library consisted of 100 books which had been a gift of the American Congregational Union. Upon Dr. Felt's retirement, the library's holdings had grown to 4,800 bound volumes, 15,000 pamphlets, and 800 manuscripts. While at the library, Dr. Felt wrote and published The ecclesiastical history of New England. He retired to Salem, Massachusetts, where he lived until his death in 1869. The library holds quite a few of Dr. Felt's works — many of which are also available online at Internet Archive.


January 9, 2012

I came across this word in a book I was reading about the history of memory, by the French historian Jacques LeGoff. The particular topic was how people kept track of things before there were books and computers and such. Le Goff describes the role of "memory specialists", people specifically appointed to remember on behalf of everyone else. In ancient Greece, the mnemon's principle responsibilities were in law courts they were an early form of precedent I suppose — and in religious matters they helped keep track of the liturgical the calendar of feasts and sacrifices and so forth.

But Le Goff also writes that in mythology and legend, the mnemon often accompanied a hero, always on hand to remind him of the "divine mission that will cause his death if he forgets it". An interesting model for our faithful corps of local church historians!

Do we need mnemons today? Le Goff says that after the development of writing, these walking and talking memory banks are transformed into — who else? — archivists. May their tribe increase.


January 6, 2012

We're happy to announce that we're planning a slew of events for the coming year, from entertaining discussions to educational workshops and more.

First up is the return of our Brown Bag Lunch lecture series. One Wednesday each month, we'll be hosting an informative guest to make your lunchtime a little different. The presenters are local scholars in American religion, religious history, sociology, and physics. Each topic will be a fascinating look into an aspect of religious life, from the Puritans to the present.

Take a peek at the blurbs on our homepage, or head over to our Program & Workshop Schedule for all the details.

What better way is there to spend your lunch hour than learning?

January 5, 2012

In 1942, one of the grimmest years in American history, the cover of Life magazine's November issue was a beautiful clapboard church. The caption announced that the issue was dedicated to “The Puritan Spirit".

I have had this magazine around on my desk for a while — it was given to me by my friend Arvel M. Steece — but it hadn't really surfaced until just this week when I was doing some New Year straightening up (some say archeological digging). The advertisements are absolutely captivating, a constant reminder of how much times have changed. There are men (and women) in uniform hawking Milky Way bars, RCA Victor, washing machines, cedar chests, watches, and even Prince Albert in a can. The letters to the editor include a picture of a cat with its tongue stuck out entitled “In Der Fuehrer's Face".

But what really strikes a twenty-first century person are the casual vices for sale. The issue includes ads for pipes, Model Smoking Tobacco (preferred by models everywhere), Lucky Strike and Fleetwood cigarettes, Ballantine Beer, Old Schenley, Virginia Dare, California wines, Old Crow, Jack Daniels, Philadelphia Blended Whiskey, Paul Jones whiskey, Fine Arts whiskey, Calvert whiskey, Old Mr. Boston (a two-page spread in color), Dubonnet, Ron Meritou Puerto Rican rum, Dewar's White Label — and more. These were tough times!

The Pilgrims and Puritans — Life made no real distinction between the two — occupy a 14-page spread, with full color pictures of famous historic events. Though the spread includes the usual bit of witch-burning and intolerance, it also uplifts the New England town and the little red schoolhouse — American icons both — as central to the Puritan inheritance.

The article itself was written for people in war time, uplifting the “Puritan Spirit” as the “faith that makes for victory", and the underpinnings of American democracy. Even FDR “might have been speaking for the Puritan Fathers", the article declared, “when he closed his first radio address of the war, on December 9, 1941, with the words that our cause and our hope were for “liberty under God".”

Looking back from 2012 I did have to chuckle that one issue of Life magazine could at the same time uplift the Puritans while surrounding them with lurid advertisements about cigarettes and alcohol. The irony is not exactly what it seems though. In actual fact, the Puritans and Pilgrims were ordinary seventeenth-century men and women who knew that drinking water wasn't always safe and that a good pint of ale was a fine thing, just as long as it wasn’t taken to excess. So the advertisements would have puzzled them but not entirely shocked them.

If Life magazine did a similar feature issue today, we would find a lot “no-no's” in the magazine, but in the advertisements, not in an article about Puritans. All of the print given to hard liquor and cigarettes would be unthinkable today, knowing what we know about the risk of cancer and the effects of alcoholism. Regardless what we may think about these kinds of bans — whether they’re an affront to free speech or a matter of public safety — they have become widely accepted in American culture today. In the end I think the best route, if we can take it, is to be puritanical in the best sense — enjoying life's pleasures for what they are, but never being ensnared by them.


January 3, 2012

[]The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life recently released their latest report on the size and distribution of the world's Christian population. It's quite thorough, covering a variety of traditions in 232 countries across five regions, with spotlight countries in each region. Their findings might surprise you.

In addition to the report itself, they have created interactive maps, data tables, and a quiz to test your knowledge. Who knew statistics could be so much fun?


January 2, 2012

Frederick T. Persons


Rev. Frederick T. Persons served as the library's fifth librarian. He was born in 1869 in Sandisfield, Massachusetts, graduated from Yale College in 1894 and from Union Theological Seminary in 1902. He was ordained a year later and went on to serve churches in Connecticut and Maine. For the eight years prior to his employment at the Congregational Library, he served as Librarian and instructor at Bangor Theological Seminary in the school's New Testament department. He came to work at the Congregational Library in February of 1924 and held the position until 1947.

During his 23-year tenure here, he was responsible for an expansion in the library's circulation, allowing materials to circulate nation-wide, and the establishment the Quarterly Bulletin. In a retrospective on former Congregational Library Librarians, John Quint, the chair of the Library Committee, wrote: "All in all Mr. Persons's contributions to the development of the Library are of inestimable value in the goodly line of the Librarians who have so faithfully and efficiently rendered their devoted service." Rev. Persons was known to be an authority on church architecture and early New England religious and secular history, according to Mr. Quint, and often rendered his "most valuable assistance to people desiring to look up old records, books, and manuscripts of the beginnings of the Puritan epoch in America."

The library currently holds one work by former librarian Rev. Persons: an address he delivered in Bethany Connecticut at the dedication of the Clark Memorial Library.

December 30, 2011

William H. Cobb


William Henry Cobb served as the Librarian at the Congregational Library from 1887-1923, during which time he also served as assistant treasurer of the American Congregational Association.

Born in April of 1846 in what is now Marion, Massachusetts, William attended Amherst College, graduating in 1867, studied theology at Princeton Theological seminary, and graduated from Andover Theological Seminary in 1872. He was both married (to Emily Wiggins of Philadelphia, PA) and ordained that same year and went on to serve parishes in Chiltonville, Medfield, and Uxbridge until being hired as Librarian in 1887.

While holding that office, Dr. Cobb advocated for the building of a new Congregational House and saw the building at 14 Beacon Street built and dedicated. He sought to strengthen the Puritan and Pilgrim literature collections (which, under his tenure grew to include some 3,000 volumes). Dr. Cobb was responsible for the procurement of the S. Brainerd Pratt Collection, much of which is on display in the Pratt Room today. He also wrote and published several books, sermons, and articles, including Seven centuries illustrated in the Congregational library. He died "in office" while working on yet another book. The library holds two of his sermons, in addition to Seven centuries.


December 29, 2011

Corrine Nordquest


This is not the first time we have blogged about Corrine Nordquest Harrer -- you may remember the obituary we posted in 2009 -- but she, too, is a Person of the Stacks here at the Congregational Library, and deserves a place in our recognitions.

In December 1948, she was commissioned as a missionary of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions and sent to South Africa where she served for five years. She returned to the United States where she served at the City Mission Society in Boston for three years. In 1958 she joined the library staff as an Assistant Librarian. It was at this time that she enrolled in the library science program at Simmons College. She graduated with her Master's in 1961 and a year later was promoted Associate Librarian. In acknowledgement of her impending graduation, the Library Committee wrote: "This double assignment of work and study has not been easy. It is to her credit that she has been able to carry the extra burden."

In 1963 Corrine became the first female Librarian of the American Congregational Association, as well as the first Librarian to hold a Master's in the field of Library Science. During her tenure, the Rare Book and Study Rooms were built, an electric book-lift was installed in the stacks to facilitate the moving of books between floors, and the card catalog which currently resides in the library entryway was installed.

The then-Miss Nordquest left the library in 1968 and went on to work at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary Library and Yale Divinity School Library. In 1984 she and John A. Harrer, then-custodian of the Archives at the Congregational Library, were married. They are pictured here together in 1984.

The library holds a copy of the pamphlet published for Corrine's ABCFM Commissioning service.


December 27, 2011

Emma Elizabeth White


In 1888 Emma Elizabeth White left her job as a teacher in Uxbridge and was hired by the Congregational Library to be the second assistant librarian. While very little about the Assistant Librarians is recorded, some details can be gleaned from the annual reports. After Miss White's first year of service, the Library Committee noted that she had "developed very desirable qualities and given good satisfaction." In her time at the library, she helped to compile an alphabetical listing of all past Association members (totaling 10,000), and made the transition from the first Congregational House on Somerset Street to the second (and current) Congregational House on Beacon Street. She also prepared, at separate times, catalogs of the Pratt collection and the library's collection of Bibles. She served as Assistant Librarian for 46 years before retiring in September of 1934.

The 1935 the Library Committee of the American Congregational Association acknowledged her retirement, saying:

"The most important event your Committee has to report at this time is the termination of Miss White's active connection with the Library, after forty-six years of service. She has given to it a lifetime of loyal devotion and has contributed very largely to the expanding usefulness of the work. As a committee we hereby record our deep appreciation of her genial friendliness, her kindly helpfulness and her quiet fidelity and extend to her our sincere thanks for all she has done for the institution that is dear to us all. We wish for her many years of well-earned rest and enjoyment and it is a great satisfaction to us that arrangements have been made by which she is to receive a generous retiring allowance."



December 26, 2011

It's that time again –- that time when those of us at the Congregational Library take a small break from the rush of cataloging, digitizing, processing, acquiring, researching, studying, administrating, and just general library-ing, to celebrate the holidays with our families and friends. It has been our habit, in years past, to post a series of pictures that we find interesting or relevant. This year we have decided to take a slightly different track and pay homage to those librarians (and assistant librarians) who have come before us. So, without further ado, we present the first post in an ongoing series: The People of the Stacks.

Joseph S. Clark


Joseph Sylvester Clark (1800-1861) holds the distinction of being the library's second librarian, serving from 1859-1861. Under his leadership, the library's collection grew to contain 6,138 bound volumes, 23,696 pamphlets and 1,232 manuscripts.

He was born in Plymouth, Massachusetts, in December of 1800. He attended Amherst College, graduating in 1827, and Andover Theological Seminary. In 1842 he was called to a pastorate in Strubridge, Mass., where he served for over seven years. For eighteen years he served as the Secretary for the Massachusetts Home Missionary Society, and then as Corresponding Secretary of the Congregational Library Association. Upon his death in 1861, Congregational Quarterly wrote, "He was literally diligent in business, while he was fervent in spirit, serving the Lord."

Dr. Clark was a prolific writer (most notably in the Congregational Library Association's publication Congregational Quarterly), and the library holds several archival collections and publications which he created. Don't want to wait until we re-open to read some of his works? Dr. Clark's A historical sketch of Congregational Churches in Massachusetts, from 1620 to 1858 is available online!


December 23, 2011

The library has gotten several new collections in over the past few months, including a group of records from the Michigan Conference, UCC. They had been holding onto pre-UCC material that they realized would be better served in our space. Of that set, the largest collection (one banker's box worth) is from the Congregational Association of Detroit. The bulk of the material covers the Trustees meetings and minutes from the 1930s-1960s. There is also representation from some women's groups: a Union, a Missionary Union and a Fellowship, to be precise.

We have very little material from the Michigan Conference, so this collection presents a new opportunity to see what the mid-western Congregationalists were doing, particularly during World War II era.



Update: We found some additional Michigan Conference records among the donated material, so the collection has been expanded and renamed. It is now the Michigan Conference of Congregational Christian Churches.

December 22, 2011

The library will be closed for the holidays from December 24th through January 2nd.

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 will respond to them when we return.

We hope you have a safe and happy week. And as Tiny Tim said, "God bless us, every one!"

December 20, 2011

Some of our most common reference questions are simple inquiries into our holdings.

[]The easiest way to find out whether we have an item you're looking for is to search in our catalog. It already includes the most frequently used materials in our collections, and more records are added every day. Over the past year, Rachel has been hard at work adding our local (individual) church history materials, as well as new acquisitions, and materials we received from Chicago Theological Seminary. More and more of our pamphlets and images are being made available online through our digitization projects. The archival staff also adds and revises guides to our record collections on a regular basis.

If your searching doesn't turn up the results you'd hoped for, but it seems like something we're likely to own, you can always contact the librarian or reference librarian by phone or email for assistance. As mentioned above, there are a few sections that haven't made it into the online catalog yet, and we're happy to double check in the old-fashioned card catalog in those instances.

When you do find something you'd like to read, come on in and request it at the front desk. If you're too far to visit, check if the catalog record either has a link to a digital copy or is categorized as "circulating". We lend books published in the past 35 years, in person or by media mail. Our policies for borrowing, renewal, and late fees are detailed on our website.

Non-circulating materials -- including older books, all microfilm, and un-digitized archival collections -- need to be used within the library or requested as reproductions within U.S. copyright standards.


What if you don't have it, or I can't come in to the library to use it?

If the material you need isn't in our collections in a convenient format, you still have a lot of options:

  • For materials we own, ask if it can be copied or scanned. We do offer scan-on-demand services within reason.
  • Our Useful Links page includes a number of religious, state, collegiate, cooperative, and independent repositories.
  • The Internet Archive contains a large (and growing) number of out-of-copyright digitized materials, including some of our own.
  • You may be able to find a copy of a published work closer to your location in, the worldwide catalog created by OCLC. It's not comprehensive, but it certainly comes close.

In the end, our goal is to help you find the information you need, whether it's in our collections or somewhere else. While we hope these tips will be useful in your research, you are always welcome to contact us for further assistance.


December 19, 2011

[]More and more research is being done online these days. In some ways, that's great. Researchers don't always have to take expensive trips, arrange their schedules around library hours, make long phone calls, or send hand-written requests for information that may or may not exist.

But it can also be overwhelming. There is so much information on the internet that it can be difficult to find what you're looking for and discern whether it is reliable. Most colleges these days are including seminars or even entire courses on information literacy as part of their basic curricula to help their students make the most of their research time.

Here are a few hints and tools that may be useful for you:


  • Take A Class -- Since you're reading our blog, you've probably got the basics of computer use worked out. If you'd like a little more practice, want help with a particular program, or know someone else who could use a hand, check your local public library. Many offer classes to help their users get up-to-speed with new technologies. Here in Boston, the BPL has a range of continuing education workshops covering everything from the basics of using a mouse to file management, genealogy software, and borrowing e-books.

    See if your area has other continuing ed. options, as well. Both the Boston Center for Adult Education and the Cambridge Center for Adult Education have a range of technology courses on topics as diverse as introductory skills, social media, photo editing, web design, financial management software, and Java programming.


  • []Search Better -- Google is a lot of people's first stop when looking for information, but not everyone knows how to get the most specific search results. This handy infographic shows examples of techniques that go beyond simply typing in keywords and hitting Enter.

    It also includes a section on keyboard shortcuts that make reading online easier and more efficient.


  • Do Some Reading -- If you're a bit more "old school" and still prefer to get your information from the printed page, the Old Dominion Univeristy Libraries have a list of books on their page of Information Literacy Resources. They also offer a number of video tutorials, how-to guides, and further links to resources at other institutions. The wording is geared toward college students, but research is research, and the same tools can be helpful to everyone.


  • Get More Savvy -- The guides on the November Learning website are primarily geared toward teachers, but they contain some great information to help you evaluate the trustworthiness of websites you may come across. Learn how to read the parts of a web address, find out who created a given site, and see previous versions that might give you a clearer picture of the author(s). And if you already know these things, at least take a look at their list of evaluation sites, because some of them are hilarious.


The more you know about how the web works, the better you'll get at making it work for you. Play around with some of these resources. You might be surprised at what you find.


December 16, 2011

We've really enjoyed having April Johnson as our Assistant Archivist for the last six months. She's been extremely helpful, diligent, and downright pleasant to have around.

April leaves us this week to prepare for the birth of her second child. We wish her and her growing family all the best. We hope that she will come back to visit (and show off her new baby) in the new year.

December 15, 2011

One of the questions I most often get is from churches wondering how to care for their records. It might be that they're a healthy church, but have the usual limited space. They may be merging or closing, though, too. The questions range from "How do I care for them?" to "Will you take our records?".

[]We have spent a great deal of time here in the archive creating resources to help churches with these issues. I have been offering a records management class both in house and out at churches. It's structured around the booklet I wrote about how churches can care for their own records. Please check out our page dedicated to records management. If your church/ association/ conference may have an interest in having the workshop visit, please call me. I'm also always available to discuss particulars if a church chooses to take on this sort of project.

For those facing the arduous task of closing their church, we have a specialized page of frequently asked questions. We also have a pamphlet that summarizes the questions and answers on that page in a handy tri-fold format if you need to share the information with less tech savvy people. It's also handy to have at the inevitable committee meeting. Above all, if your church is closing, contact me as soon as possible to discuss the safe transfer of the historical records (that includes material from the recent past, not just 50+ years ago). The process will take longer than you might expect. We're always happy to advise.


December 13, 2011

The Congregational Library exists to preserve the rich history of the Congregational tradition and provide a repository for clergy, religious scholars, or curious parishioners who wish to gain a fuller understanding of Congregationalism past and present. Throughout the past few months, as a student at the Boston University School of Theology, I have interned at the CL and was given the task of organizing a portion of the vast collection given to the library by Chicago Theological Seminary earlier this year. The hundreds of boxes delivered to the library contained a variety of texts, some new, some old; some religious, some secular. Anyone who's handled aging books knows how messy they can be, and this semester was no exception. Leather-bound books are beautiful... until they begin to disintegrate from wear and age! On many a Friday afternoon my stained hands showed just how important simple preservation measures can be for the life of the physical book, and the valuable information it contains.

Individual monographs and multi-volume sets were a significant portion of the materials I regularly handled. Chicago Theological Seminary's gift included the works of many prominent thinkers, including Stephen Charnock, Thomas Brooks, David Clarkson, Joseph Bellamy, William Law, Edmund Calamy and Thomas Chubb to name a few. Many of these multi-volume sets had been rebound and will surely last for future generations. Also included is an improved set of the works of Jonathan Edwards; not surprisingly several of the library's copies were well worn to the point of disrepair. Also among the collection were many general association and convention reports of various state congregational organizations, many of which the library already held, although the library's holdings of western states such as North Dakota and Washington were strengthened.

CTS also sent a fair number of periodicals which needed to be checked against the library's holdings not only online, but also in the stacks themselves to assess their physical condition. Here too the collection from CTS proved valuable, and a number of the CL's copies were replaced with identical editions in modern or superior bindings. I had not previously had extensive experience with 19th century periodicals, and it is an understatement to say they are complicated. A quick glance at one of the library's (very helpful) periodical finding aids will show that a magazine's title likely changed as often as the wind. That said, with the help of Claudette and other staff at the library, I was able to sort through a portion of the periodicals to the betterment of the library's collection. There remains work to be done, and while a dent has been put in the large collection from CTS, the semester has been fruitful and it was a pleasure working with Claudette who fielded my many questions graciously.

-Trevor Winn

December 12, 2011

We are all probably familiar with the stereotype of the New England Puritans as the ultimate kill-joys, always on the alert, as H. L. Mencken once said, for fear that "somewhere someone was having fun". What better evidence than the fact that they refused to celebrate Christmas? In 1659 the Massachusetts Bay General Court officially banned the holiday; anyone caught taking the day off or even 'feasting' was liable for a fine. Cotton Mather himself declared Christmas an "affront unto the grace of God". "Can you in your consciences think that our holy savior is honored by mirth," he demanded of his flock, "by long eating, by hard drinking, by lewd gaming, [or] by rude reveling? ... []Shall it be said that at the birth of our Saviour ... we take the time to please the hellish legions and to do actions that have much more of hell than of heaven in them?"

But as is so often true, context is everything. The Puritans' resistance to Christmas formed at least partly in response to over-the-top celebrations in the English court. As Penne Restad writes in her wonderfully informative book, Christmas in America, the "annual indulgence in eating, dancing, singing, sporting, card playing, and gambling escalated to magnificent proportions" during the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. King James I, of Bible fame, was said to have hosted a "moderate dinner" with a first course of 16 dishes!

What Cotton Mather and the other Puritans really wanted was a quiet and reflective day. They did not observe any of the special events in the traditional liturgical calendar — Sunday was the day to worship, period — but as a rule they did not object to non-Puritans celebrating Christmas by taking the day off. The problem was when they went out into the street to play noisy games or shoot off firecrackers. If you are going to observe the day, the reasoning went, observe it. Christmas should not provide an excuse for bad behavior.

But of course it does. Restad points out that from the very start, Christmas was a problem for Christians. At some point in the fourth century the Church combined celebration of Christ's birth with the Roman Saturnalia. It was a neat trick, ensnaring a pagan festival into the Christian calendar, but it introduced a new set of irritations that would only grow over time. When Gregory of Nanzianzus, who died in 389, urged the faithful to celebrate Christmas "after an heavenly and not after an earthly manner", could he have envisioned crowds of desperate shoppers streaming into the stores on Black Friday, armed with pepper spray?

One more interesting observation from Penne Restad about the Puritans and Christmas: shortly after the Massachusetts General Court outlawed the celebration in 1657, King Charles II demanded that they rescind the ruling; it was deemed an affront to royal authority. The Court complied, but barely, and over the years, New England's resistance to Christmas became more and more of a political statement against the power of the English hierarchy. In 1686, when the royal governor Edmund Andros attempted to hold a Christmas service in a Congregational meeting house, Bostonians forced him out and into the Town Hall. In 1722, the royal governor attempted to persuade Samuel Sewall to adjourn the General Court on Christmas Day, but he refused. We dissenters have come "a great way" for our liberties, he declared, and we will not allow you to tread on ours now.

Sometimes I feel the same way. I am not a great lover of Christmas — my family calls me the "Grinch", in fact — but it's the over-the-top celebrations that get me weary and grouchy. And I'd bet that in a week or so, as the television commercials have numbed our minds and the incessant Christmas muzak has drilled into our souls, a lot of us are going to feel some solidarity with old Sam Sewall. There are still powers to resist these days — not Anglican governors but every bit as overbearing. I imagine myself standing arm-in-arm with Sam when I refuse to buy a Pajama-gram for my cat. (It's true — you really can.) We've all come "a great way" for the liberty not to overdo it, and I'm not going to give that up without a fight.



Publick Notice image courtesy of the Northern Michigan Reformation Society blog

December 9, 2011

We get a lot of people researching their family histories here. During the colonial period, especially, church records were often the only records kept in a town, so baptisms, marriages, and church memberships can play a big part in figuring out where and when your ancestors lived. Because each Congregational church is responsible for its own records, we don't have all of the information about every church that has ever existed. Take a look at our list of archival finding guides to see if the one you're looking for is available.

[]If you're looking for American Congregational ministers or missionaries, we have a tool that should be helpful. Our necrology database contains more than 25,000 citations for obituary notices and biographical sketches spanning four centuries. (I'm currently in the process of adding entries for 17th and 18th century clergy from Emerson Davis's unpublished Biographical Sketches of the Congregational Pastors of New England.) There is a page of frequently asked questions and search tips for the database, as well as a video demonstration of how to use a citation to find the full necrology.

You may be able to find biographies or published works of more prominent people in our catalog. Ministers often published their more popular sermons, and missionaries sent home reports about their work in the field. There is also a series of "Vital Records of..." books for several cities in Massachusetts compiled from civic and church records through 1849.


If you can't find what you're looking for in our collections, there are a number of options to try on our Useful Links page. In particular:

For British Congregational ministers, try the Surman Index. It contains listings for primarily English and Welsh clergy from the mid-seventeenth century through 1972, and includes early Presbyterians and Unitarians.

To find burial records, search Find A Grave. It has an impressive 72 million records, many of which include photographs or maps.


We are always happy to offer assistance with our online resources or the physical collections in person. Call, write, or visit at your convenience.


December 8, 2011

Our history-minded organization made a bit of its own history this past week, when Carolyn Hewitt came on as our new Director of Development. The board and I have spent many hours talking about plans for the future, putting together case statements, and creating a three-year business plan. We are truly ready to move the library and 14 Beacon Street into a new future and Cary will play a valuable role in helping us realize our dreams. She reminds us that she does not walk on water, but she does have wonderful skills and looks to be a great "fit" for all of us at 14 Beacon Street.


December 5, 2011

The archive houses most of our rare and unique materials, including missionary correspondence, illuminated Bibles, maps, three-dimensional objects, photographs, lithographs, and glass-plate slides. The bulk of it, however, is comprised of record collections from Congregational churches and organizations that have closed their doors. These collections usually contain records of membership, board meeting activities, auxiliary committees, publications, and correspondence.

Because each congregation is responsible for its own record keeping, the size and details vary greatly, and not every extinct church sends their records to us. That doesn't necessarily mean that we can't help you find the information you're looking for, though. Here are a few tips to get you started.


[]"Do you have the records for XYZ Church?"

This question can be about a closed or active church. My first response will be what luck you may have had in our online catalog. All processed church collections that reside in our archive are listed there. We also have a set of pages on the website that list all of our finding guides; more recently added collections have embedded guides, while guides for older collections have been scanned to PDF (and will be converted later).

The catalog also includes material from our "local church history" section that houses both formal and informal histories as well as published material created by the church. Town histories are also a good resource. Individual ministers' sermons are in -- you guessed it -- the sermon section.

If you do not find what you are looking for on the website or within the catalog, you are welcome to call or email us. While it would be exciting to be the storehouse for all Congregational church records, our collection is limited to what is sent to us by the church, usually after it closes. If you are looking for records from an active congregation, they should still have them or at least know where they are kept.


"Do you have the baptismal / marriage / membership record for [a person] ?"

We most often get this question from genealogists, or from parents whose children are getting married in a Catholic church and need to provide proof of baptism. As mentioned above, we are not the repository for every Congregational church the way a diocese office is. Finding a mention of a specific church member starts by finding the records of the church they belonged to.

If you do see that we have records from the church you're looking for, the next step is to check the finding guide to determine whether it lists that kind of information. The more you know before you visit or contact us, the easier it will be to find specific lines in the church's record books.


[]"Do you have a picture of [a person or place] ?"

Our former archives assistant, Abraham, created a fantastic guide to finding items in our Image Collection, which is a great place to start. That collection is still being added to the online catalog, so if you don't find what you're looking for, please feel free to contact us for a second look.

We are also compiling a database of images depicting prominent people and places within the books in our collection. It is not available to the public, but we'll be happy to check that as well.

December 5, 2011

As I look back over the semester that I have spent as an intern at the Congregational Library, I am surprised to realize that my time with the library spanned only fourteen weeks. Over the course of that time, I have gained far more knowledge about librarianship and Congregationalism than I could have imagined when I started in late August. When I came to the library, I hoped of gaining some practical experience as a cataloger. Now, I'm leaving, not only with that, but also with a much deeper appreciation for the wide range of work and knowledge that it takes to run a library.

During the course of my internship, I dedicated much of my time to creating and editing bibliographic records for the online catalog. Many of the records I created were for books on the subjects of church art and architecture and for pamphlets on the Catholic Church. The work of producing these records challenged my grasp of cataloging as the library's collection contains so many unexpected surprises. I found myself cataloging resources as diverse as a 17th century tract from London that detailed the objections of early Congregationalists against Roman Catholicism and Anglicanism, to a 20th century book that exhaustively detailed the range of altar designs found in English churches and cathedrals. As someone with a fascination with cataloging work, solving the problem of creating the appropriate records for such varied resources proved extremely rewarding. Each day of the internship, I would find myself learning how to solve different cataloging conundrums. In addition to that, being exposed to these resources afforded me the chance to learn about subjects, like church architecture, of which I had little knowledge. As a result, I came to look forward to encountering each new resource and deepening my scope of knowledge of the art and history of Congregationalism.

In addition to cataloging work, I was also afforded the opportunity to work at the reference desk in the reading room. To my surprise, I found working with patrons and researchers to be a more fulfilling experience than I had initially anticipated. Assisting in the research of the library's visitors not only furthered my knowledge of the library's unique resources, but also gave me a new appreciation for reference librarianship. While, prior to this internship, I had dedicated much of my academic attention to cataloging, I had let my focus on the whole range of librarianship to lapse. Working at the reference desk reawakened my zeal for all types of library work and reminded me why I was attracted to the profession initially.

As the internship comes to a close, I look forward to bringing along the many lessons that I learned at the Congregational Library to wherever the next step my career in the LIS field takes me to. I would like to thank the entire staff of the library, who were always friendly, helpful, and welcoming. I would also like to extend my special thanks to Rachel Moore, who guided me through my work and patiently answered the many cataloging questions that I brought to her. If I continue as a cataloger, I hope that I will be able to emulate her attention to detail and depth of cataloging knowledge in my own career.


-Steven Picazio, Simmons GSLIS Librarianship Intern

December 2, 2011

Our reading room will be closed to the public this coming Monday, December 5th, for our quarterly board meeting.

Staff will be on hand to answer questions by phone or email, and all of our online resources will be available as usual. We apologize for any inconvenience this may cause.

December 1, 2011

Entering the plastic room for the first time and seeing that all the boxes on the 11 shelving units were specifically for this archiving project initially induced shortness of breath, a racing heart beat and a numbness of the left arm. After taking a few ohm like breaths, and figuring the numbness was from lugging a heavy bag for 10 blocks from Fenway and carrying a large iced tea, I realized that a heart attack was not in the immediate future... just an overwhelming archiving project. []Thankfully I was not alone and had someone else to share my confusion with.

Sari and I started off the first week by jumping into the project and seeing what types of documents were being stored, how things were stored and what the heck the difference was from a star, a circle, an X and all the colored post-its on the boxes. Figuring that they really didn't make much of a difference and that the spreadsheet was something that you needed a cereal box decoder ring to read, we decided to start from scratch.

Going box to box, and writing in our own chicken scratch we detailed where things were, in what state the different boxes were in, and pretty much how much trouble (work) we had signed up for. Surprisingly, starting over calmed our nerves and allowed us to focus not on the plastic room as a whole, but on each shelving unit, then each shelf, and each box. Concentrating our efforts from trying to breathe and not freak out to processing (and re-processing) the materials box by box into folder by folder.

As I sit down in the plastic room and write this now, Sari and I can confidently say that over the course of this semester we have taken the collection from being about 50% processed and organized to a solid 75 to 80% fully processed, foldered, labeled, condensed and organized into appropriate boxes. []Our work could also be measured by the staggering amount of trash that was produced (old acidic folders and files), and the six boxes of acid-free folders that we used. In addition we have gotten rid of the no longer color-coding and symbol organization scheme, and simplified the spreadsheet that is working as a box container list. Finally, the spreadsheet has been put into both excel format and a format for Google Docs to allow multiple people to work on it at the same time.

As of right now there is still work to be done for the next round of interns, but with clear documentation and instructions on where and how to start it will hopefully not be as overwhelming of an experience for them. There are two and a half shelving units left to be processed, and the final arrangement and finding aid to be written. While this probably will not be completed with one more round of interns, most likely the processing will be. And here's some luck to the people for next semester.


-Christopher Stowell

November 29, 2011

It's research season here at the library! Universities are wrapping up their fall semesters, ministers are preparing their Christmas programs, and genealogists and historians are taking advantage of holiday travel to stop in and use our unique resources. As such, we thought this would be a good time to put together a series of posts containing tips, frequently asked questions, and links to relevant resources to help you find what you're looking for.

First up: an overview of our websites and social media accounts.

[] is our main website. There you can find a wealth of information about the history of American Congregationalism, the Christian (Connection) denomination, and early American history. We also provide finding guides to our archival collections; a database of clergy and missionary obituaries; resources for church historians, librarians, and record keepers; a calendar of events and educational workshops; information about the library itself; and much more. If you become a supporting member of the library, you can sign up for an account that allows you to access video seminars and back issues of our bulletin.

[]Our online catalog is updated daily with new materials from our collections. We have already added records for all of our archival collections, biographies, printed sermons, books on Congregational history, missions materials, commentaries, reference books, and new books published in the past decade. Our catalogers are currently hard at work adding individual church histories and the donations we received earlier this year from the Chicago Theological Seminary. If your searching doesn't indicate that we own something you think we should, please feel free to contact us and inquire further.

[]Our digital exhibit site launched earlier this year. It holds a growing collection of digital images and documents from our physical collections that we have arranged into exhibits about specific historical topics. The first is a reproduction of the 1843 Boston Almanac's catalog of the churches in Boston. The second is a history of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions that we created to commemorate the organization's bicentennial. We have more exhibits in the works and will let you know as soon as they are completed. You can also look at the catalog records for individual digitized items, which contain more information about their subjects and origins.

[]Our blog is hosted on Typepad, and updated three or four times each week. We strive to bring you a mix of topics including historical information, featured items from our collections, useful resources, and current events, as well as keeping you up-to-date with what's happening here at the library. Whether you make a habit of visiting the blog directly, view it in an RSS reader, or get updates on new posts through Facebook or Twitter, we hope you enjoy it.

[]Our Facebook page receives the posts from the blog for those of you who prefer to read them in your friend feed. We also use it to interact with our patrons and other institutions, and to provide links to news items that don't necessarily warrant a full blog article.


Our Twitter account receives notifications of new blog posts for those of you who like getting them that way. We also use it to check in from the various conferences staff members attend throughout the year.


So, that's where you can find us online. Keep an eye out for upcoming posts in this series that will delve more deeply into how you can use our resources to find the information you seek, whatever the topic may be.


November 28, 2011

We don't talk about it much, but part of maintaining a healthy library collection is weeding out materials that don't meet the needs of our patrons. Since the policy here at the Congregational Library for the first century or so was to accept whatever was offered or bequeathed to us, we've ended up with some quirky items over the years. Ministers' personal collections contain not only the books they used in their pastoral work, but also materials about their hobbies and outside interests.

We have also accumulated a number of items by or about local people that have historical importance, but don't necessarily fit in our collection. []One such item we came across recently was a booklet of poetry called The Song of the Library Staff written by Sam Walter Foss, an early 20th-century librarian from just across the river in Somerville. It's a lovely little collection celebrating -- and poking a bit of fun at -- the helpful employees of a public library. There are illustrations by Merle Johnson accompanying each verse. (Luckily for me, it was published in 1906, long before modern computers, let alone the role of the library webmaster.)

While this pamphlet might amuse us personally, it doesn't really belong in our collection alongside church records, Bible commentaries, sermons, pastoral theology books, religious history references, American history texts, and genealogical resources. Anyone interested in reading it can do so easily. It has been republished several times, is owned by over 150 libraries across the country, and is available to view online through the Internet Archive. These sorts of things and more are taken into account when we're deciding whether each item is in keeping with our mission and obligations to you.

And fear not. Anything interesting or useful that we remove from our collections isn't just thrown away. We make every effort to ensure that they go to other places where they will be appreciated and used.


November 23, 2011

The library will be closed this Thursday and Friday, November 24th & 25th.

All of our online resources will be available as always. If you have an inquiry that requires help from the staff, please send us an email or leave a voicemail, and we'll get back to you next week.

November 22, 2011

We've just added two new books to the collection.

[]The first is Catch'd on Fire: the Journals of Rufus Hawley, Avon, Connecticut by Nora Oakes Howard. The description from reads:

Rufus Hawley was a man of extraordinary actions and little means. The Yale-educated pastor served Farmington's Parish of Northington, presently Avon, for forty-eight years through some of the most tumultuous periods in the town's history. Hawley prayed with the Continental army during the American Revolution, supported abolition, searched for lost children, performed surgeries, survived smallpox and floods and established a library. Although he was able to unite a congregation, Reverend Hawley was overcome by heartbreak as loved ones perished and allegations of arson were directed toward him after his meetinghouse burned to the ground in 1818. Join Avon town historian Nora Oakes Howard as she combs through fifty years of journal entries to tell the story of a deeply complex man and a devoted pastor of his community.

[]The second is New Israel / New England: Jews and Puritans in Early America by Michael Hoberman. The cover description reads:

The New England Puritans' fascination with the legacy of the Jewish religion has been well documented, but their interactions with actual Jews have escaped sustained historical attention. New Israel / New England tells the story of the Sephardic merchants in Boston and Newport between the mid-seventeenth century and the era of the American Revolution. It also explores the complex and often contradictory meanings that the Puritans attached to Judaism and the fraught attitudes that they bore toward the Jews as a people.

More often than not, Michael Hoberman shows, Puriatnas though and wrote about Jews in order to resolve their own theological and cultural dilemmas. A number of prominent New Englanders, including Roger Williams, Increase Mather, Samuel Sewall, Benjamin Colman, Cotton Mather, Jonathan Edwards, and Ezra Stiles, wrote extensively about post-biblical Jews, in some cases drawing on their own personal acquaintance with Jewish contemporaries.


If you are looking for other books on New England history, be sure to check out our collection by visiting our online catalog.


November 21, 2011

If you're looking for something fun and educational to do tomorrow, consider coming down to the library to see J. Allyn Bradford portray his ancestor, Governor William Bradford of Plymouth Colony. Hear the story of William's journey from England to Amsterdam to the shores of the New World, and his 30-year career as leader of the group that would give birth to the United States of America.

Bring your lunch and enjoy a firsthand account of the Pilgrims as they saw themselves.

Tuesday, November 22nd
12:00 - 1:00 pm

No registration is required, but we appreciate an RSVP so we know how many people to expect.

November 18, 2011

If you're following this blog, chances are pretty good that you enjoy old books. There are a lot of things you can do to keep them in good condition, and Shelly Smith, head of Conservation Treatment at the New York Public Library, has put together a list of Dos and Don'ts to get you started.

These tips will help you figure out what part of the house to store your books in, how to keep their bindings intact, where to get your already damaged tomes repaired, and more.

If you'd like to go more in-depth or put these techniques into practice in a more professional setting, take a look at our resource pages for Records Management, Church Librarians, and Church Historians.


November 17, 2011

We are pleased to announce the posting of yet another finding guide on our website. The records of Fourth Congregational Church in Chicago, IL were donated to the library by the National Association of Congregational Christian Churches in the hopes of creating an historical legacy that would stand witness to the history of this now-small Chicago church.

Fourth Congregational Church traces its roots back to a small Sunday school founded in 1867. This Sunday school gave rise to three Chicago churches: Grace Church (1867), Cortland Street Church (1888) and Maplewood Church (1892). These three churches decided to merge in 1916, and Fourth Church was born. The records in this collection document much of the daily life of Fourth Church, with particular attention to the years 1919-1971. Also of note are the records pertaining to the 1925 fire which destroyed the church building, and the subsequent campaign to rebuild.

If you would like more information on this or other archival collections held here at the Congregational Library, please visit the website. For more information specifically on the church records in the library's collection, search the Congregational Library catalog for "Church Records and Registers."


November 15, 2011

The historical tour of England entitled "Retracing Our Puritan Roots" is less than a year away. If you are planning to participate or are still on the fence, this is your chance to learn more.

Join co-guide Roger Burke for a look at the 12-day itinerary that will take participants on a reverse-pilgrimage from Salem, Mass. to East Anglia, England with stops at several Pilgrim sites in between.

Bring your lunch and your questions.

Wednesday, November 16th
12:00 - 1:00 pm

No registration is required, but we appreciate an RSVP so we know how many people to expect.

If you'd like to look over the itinerary beforehand, you can download it at your leisure.

November 14, 2011

I recently attended an online seminar where I found out about some exciting digital history projects from across the country. Today, I'd like to share them with you:


 []The Queens Memory Project is a collection of images, documents, and oral histories chronicling the history of New York City's largest borough. It is a collaboration between the Queens (public) Library and Queens College, very similar to the Mass. Memories Road Show program we featured two weeks ago.

[]The Tompkins County Public Library online local history resources include images, books, genealogical databases, and a Local History Spotlight series.Tompkins County, New York -- location of both the city of Ithaca and Cornell University -- has a vibrant history that is being preserved and made more accessible by the library.

[]Nebraska Memories is a statewide cooperative project a lot like our own Digital Commonwealth portal here in Massachusetts. It contains more than 3,500 digitized items -- photographs, documents, artifacts, papers, manuscripts, maps and audio files -- from a dozen different institutions, and is maintained by the Nebraska Library Commission.

[]The Wyoming Newspaper Project is an ambitious undertaking that has already made more than 800,000 pages of local newspaper content fully searchable. The digital archive spans nearly three-quarters of a century from 1849 to 1922.


If none of these is helpful in your own research, take a look at the websites for your local libraries and historical societies. You might find something just as exciting.


November 11, 2011

This print shows the front side of a medal created in commemoration of the sestercentennial (250th anniversary) of the Pilgrims landing in Plymouth. The image text reads, "Pilgrim Jubilee Memorial / 1620 / 1870."

Pilgrim Jubilee Memorial.

The print shows the image at about 6 inches wide, but the coins themselves are much smaller, about one-fourth that size. They were struck in silver, copper, and brass for distribution to attendees of the anniversary celebration at the Church of the First Parish in Plymouth, Mass. The medals were designed by two members of the Pilgrim Society, Joseph E. Ellis and Asa C. Warren.

Several coin collecting websites list them as rare, but that may simply be because we have a number of the actual coins in our archive. On the reverse side is a picture of an open Bible wreathed by olive and oak branches, beneath a flying dove and the words "Whose Faith Follow". Over time, they have oxidized a bit, creating rings of color on their surfaces, but the images are still quite clear.

If you'd like to learn more about the history of the Pilgrims, search for "Pilgrims (New Plymouth Colony)" in the library catalog.



November 10, 2011

The library will be closed tomorrow in observance of Veterans' Day.

All of our online resources will be available as usual. If you would like to consult with a staff member, please send an email or leave a voicemail for the appropriate person and we will get back to you next week.

November 8, 2011

Today we're highlighting two digital repositories -- one large and one small -- focused on the history of the American Civil Rights movement in the mid-20th century.

[]The Civil Rights Digital Library is based in Georgia, but it includes materials from dozens of institutions across the country. Their mission statement is to promote "an enhanced understanding of the Movement by helping users discover primary sources and other educational materials from libraries, archives, museums, public broadcasters, and others on a national scale." Their impressive multimedia collections include resources for educators, an interactive timeline, oral histories, diaries, government documents, and so much more. From the groundbreaking Brown v. Board of Education decision in 1954 to the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1968 and beyond, these resources provide an in-depth look at the struggle for racial equality in the United States.

[]The Civil Rights Movement Archives is a smaller-scale project created by Queens College in New York. Using the QC Library's Special Collections archive of images and documents from the early 1960s, the students in the Graduate School of Library and Information Science created a digital repository on the Omeka platform (the same system behind our own exhibit site). It contains photographs, fliers, and original correspondence, most of it relating to the activism of Queens College students, both in the city and in southern states.

Whether you're looking for the bigger picture or more personal stories, these sites are great places to start your search.


November 7, 2011

There's still plenty of time to register for this Thursday's events.

Peggy Bendroth will cover more than 300 years of American Congregational history in her popular Growing Deeper Roots seminar. From the Pilgrims and Puritans to the present, hear how today's Congregationalists became what they are.

If you're more on the organizational side of things, April Johnson will lead a Records Management workshop focusing on church collections. The tips and guidelines are geared toward record keepers in Congregational churches, but most of them are useful for churches of any denomination.


For either class:

Thursday, November 10th
10:00 am – 3:00 pm

$20.00, includes lunch and flash drive. $10 without lunch
Advance registration is required.

November 4, 2011

The Massachusetts Studies Project at UMass Boston's Healey Library has embarked on a mobile scanning and oral history initiative.


The Mass. Memories Road Show is a state-wide digital history project that documents people, places and events in Massachusetts history through family photographs and stories.

In partnership with teams of local volunteers, we organize public events to scan family and community photographs and videotape "the stories behind the photos." The images and video are indexed and incorporated into an online educational database at Since its launch, the project has gathered more than 2,500 photographs and stories from across the state.

The goal of the Mass. Memories Road Show is to hold public scanning events in all of the 351 communities of Massachusetts, creating a digital portrait of the Commonwealth, providing access to family photographs and stories, and building community knowledge and connections.

If you'd like to attend or host a local Road Show event, take a look at the planning page on the Mass. Studies ning community.


November 3, 2011

We are in our fifth week at Old South and after our orientation we started working where previous teams had left off. Mostly this means sorting, organizing, and re-foldering records into acid-free folders. So far we've been working with sub-collections that belonged to various officers of the Church. According to the records left to us, we're a little more than half way through the collection and are looking forward to continuing the good work that has been done here.


[] []


We'd also like to take this opportunity to thank our supervisor, April Johnson, and the folks at Old South -- especially Helen -- for their advice and assistance so far. We look forward to working with them as we complete our portion of the project!

-Christopher & Sari,
Old South Interns

November 1, 2011

Although we may not be circulating many books, we are still adding current books to our collection.

[]Recently, on the recommendation of a Board member, we added Urban Ministry in a New Millennium by David Claerbaut. The Amazon description says:

"Urban Ministry in a New Millennium" is both a practical and academic book dealing with Christian ministry in an urban context. It provides an intelligible analysis of the city in all its complexity and then moves in the direction of showing realistic ministry models for the city. The important historical perspective is provided in order to better examine the current context of globalization and regentrification on the city, the church, and urban ministry. This contemporary, socially and spiritually sensitive book is applicable to seminarians, parachurch workers, and "first entry" people as well as those more deeply rooted academically and personally in the urban milieu.

[]Another book received is the second edition of God's Secretaries: the Making of the King James Bible by Adam Nicolson. This adds to our collection another book celebrating the 400th Anniversary of the King James Bible. The Amazon page reads:

A network of complex currents flowed across Jacobean England. This was the England of Shakespeare, Jonson, and Bacon; the era of the Gunpowder Plot and the worst outbreak of the plague. Jacobean England was both more godly and less godly than the country had ever been, and the entire culture was drawn taut between these polarities. This was the world that created the King James Bible. It is the greatest work of English prose ever written, and it is no coincidence that the translation was made at the moment "Englishness," specifically the English language itself, had come into its first passionate maturity. The English of Jacobean England has a more encompassing idea of its own scope than any form of the language before or since. It drips with potency and sensitivity. The age, with all its conflicts, explains the book.

This P.S. edition features an extra 16 pages of insights into the book, including author interviews, recommended reading, and more.

We also welcome the donation of books published by churches in celebration of their anniversaries or other events. We add these to our collection of Local Church Histories. One book donation that returned with Peggy from Greece is Not to be Served but to Serve: A History of The American College of Greece by Giles Milton. This is a lovely illustrated book.

Our online catalog is available 24 hours a day. We encourage you to browse our collections. Books that circulate may be requested through the catalog, by email, snail mail, and phone.


October 31, 2011

Just before Thanksgiving this year, we'll have a special visitor from the past: Governor William Bradford, leader of the Pilgrims in Plymouth Colony, as portrayed by his descendant, J. Allyn Bradford. Come hear the story of William's journey from England to Amsterdam to the shores of the New World, and his 30-year career as leader of the group that would give birth to the United States of America.

Allyn Bradford is president of The Bradford Heritage Corporation, a nonprofit foundation dedicated to the preservation of the history of the Plymouth Colony and its central role in the formation of American democracy. He has performed the role of his famous ancestor for groups across New England, and in William's childhood church on the occasion of his 400th birthday.

Bring your lunch and enjoy a firsthand account of the Pilgrims as they saw themselves.

Tuesday, November 22nd
12:00 - 1:00 pm

No registration is required, but we appreciate an RSVP so we know how many people to expect.

October 28, 2011

If you missed part 1 yesterday, go read it now.


On my last full day in Greece I went up to Thessaloniki, a city to the north, to visit Anatolia College. Anatolia has a history similar to the ACG, and is in many ways its sister institution. The college's Boston office is also just around the corner from the Congregational Library — it used to be in 14 Beacon Street itself — and so I decided to make a side-trip to the school while I was in the country.

Thessaloniki is only a 50-minute plane trip from Athens. It sits at the top of the Aegean Sea, west of Istanbul and just below Albania. The landscape and the architecture were unmistakably Greek, but there was also a more Balkan feel to it. I arrived on a gray and chilly day, and under the shadow of a looming air traffic controllers' strike.

Anatolia College is on a hill overlooking the city. My driver, who turned up 15 agonizing minutes late at the airport (!), knew just where to go. The campus is well-kept and covered with trees, all planted about seventy years ago at the behest of a past president's wife. The school has been celebrating its 125th anniversary, and those interested in the full story can watch the video they've put together.

I had lunch with President Gieseke and his wife Susan in their home on campus, and then I went on a campus tour, which encompassed the full gamut, from kindergarten to university. Anatolia is actually far more than just a "college" in the American sense of the world.

Another interesting note: I also had the chance to sit in on a presentation for school alumni — the class of 1966 — demonstrating the new "smart classroom" technology. Ten years ago, when I was still a classroom teacher, I was still holding out for chalk and overhead projectors. Now teachers can create a fully interactive lesson, projected from the computer and saved so students can review it later on, in the same sequence as pieces were written on the white board. My jaw was hanging open, though the class of 1966 was a little more skeptical than I was. What about people who don't have a computer? Is this more entertainment than education? In Thessaloniki, the answers are the same as Boston — computer technology is now so easily available and so much a part of the culture of young student that using it in the classroom is simply beyond debate. It was odd to think that I could have heard the same questions anywhere in the world today and with the same answers.

The real challenge of my trip turned out to be getting back to Athens. By late afternoon the strike had disrupted all of the air traffic in and out of Thessaloniki; I sat and sat and sat just waiting for any news at all about my flight, and beginning to wonder about finding the local Best Western. I didn't speak Greek and so all of the announcements were pretty much lost on me; even worse, I couldn't even read the body language of the other passengers when they got various pieces of news. I concluded that people in Greece are beyond the kind of instant impatience you'd see in an American airport when they're confronted with a delay. They are more about survival than top-notch service these days.

By the time I got back to Athens I was beginning to feel a kinship with the child who screamed with utter abandon as the plane took off and landed. But I wouldn't have traded the day for anything. I know I'm seeing pieces of a much bigger story, of schools begun by the American Board in the nineteenth century and surviving into the twenty first. All of them have become basically secular in their curriculum and identity, in most cases following government dictates or the state of religious conflict in their locality. But they are secular only in a sense — it's not the same, after all, as being devoid of religion. The American Board imprint is still there, in the ethic of service, the passion for education, and the emphasis on the common good of society. And the more I see this, in different places around the world, the more I can recognize it as something distinctive and crucially important for the world's future.


October 27, 2011

What in the world was the director of Boston's Congregational Library doing in Athens? Not only is she a busy person with plenty of responsibilities to keep her at home, but the city itself is all about pagan antiquities, sunny days, and lots of great Mediterranean food and culture — in other words, not an obvious choice for someone who spends most of her days with New England Puritans.

But there is a good reason. I traveled to Greece this past October to strengthen an old and important connection, one that very few people still remember. The tie dates back more than a century ago, when missionaries from the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions traveled to Turkey to start this remarkable school. I had been invited, along with Nancy Taylor, the pastor of Boston's Old South Church, to participate in Founders' Day ceremonies at the American College of Greece. We were to tell the students something about Congregationalism and about the missionaries who had started and sustained the school through many difficult times. We each had eight minutes to work with.

It's surprising that the early history of the school is not told more often, since it is genuinely heroic. Nowadays missionaries do not have good press: we think of them as one-dimensional figures in pith helmets going out to convert the heathen, whether the heathen were interested in conversion or not. But the reality is far more interesting and complex than that simple stereotype — it deals with many unusual people quietly learning how to live between cultures and make human connections, often through times of terrific hardship and political upheaval.

[]The College was founded in 1875 in Smyrna, a cosmopolitan city on the Aegean coast of Turkey, by Maria West, a woman best known for an earlier book about that region of the world, The Romance of Missions. She settled in among the city's Greeks, Turks, Armenians, Jews, and wealthy American expatriates, and created a top-notch school for young women, and that in a place and time when female education was frowned upon. The model for her school and others like it was Mount Holyoke, the women's college established by Mary Lyons as a seedbed for nurturing future missionaries, combining educational rigor with deep Christian piety and social responsibility.

[]Minnie Mills, also working through the American Board, continued to build the school's reputation and its enrollment — but she far more than an educator or administrator. In 1922 she found herself in the midst of an enormous humanitarian crisis, with the city of Smyrna literally burning to the ground around her.

The reasons behind the catastrophe are terrifically complex, but I'll do my best with a summary: since the end of World War I and the crumbling of the old Ottoman Empire, Greeks and Turks both had had their eyes on the Levantine coast. The Greeks were hoping for a new nation that encompassed all the land around the Aegean Sea and the Turks under Mustafa Kemal hoping for one that would rival the old European powers. In 1921 long hostilities exploded into indiscriminate bloodshed, and climaxed with the sacking and destruction of Smyrna. Suddenly Minnie Mills was providing asylum for frantic victims of the massacre, and in an amazingly heroic move, she shepherded her students and many of their families to safety across the water in Athens.

[]No sooner had the school re-established itself in Greece than the world plunged into economic depression, war, and genocide. When school buildings were commandeered for German headquarters, and then later for wounded Greek soldiers, the students and teacher kept going by meeting in private homes.

Today the American College in Greece is one of the best schools in the country. It includes a preparatory school (Pierce College) for junior high and high school students, and a college (Deree) offering a variety of degree programs. In its third Athens location, it sits high on a hill at the north end of the city, with bright well-kept buildings with lots of glass and an amazing panorama out of every window. School president David Horner and his wife Sue, who has a Ph.D. in religious studies from Northwestern University, are both members of Boston's Old South Church. They enlisted Giles Milton, a best-selling author who had written a best-selling account of the destruction of Smyrna (I read Paradise Lost pretty much from cover to cover on my way home), to write a history that would be true to the details of the school's amazing story and its memorable past. Giles came down to Athens from his home in London to launch the book and to participate in the Founders' Day program with Nancy and me.

So there we were, two slightly jet-lagged American women in an auditorium full of fidgety junior high and high school students. But they listened respectfully, aided of course by teachers who paced the aisles ready to snap a finger at the least sign of unruliness. Who knows what students that age really hear, I wondered to myself later on that night, and what might people raised Greek Orthodox ever make of the "Congregational Way"?

We had our chance to find out the next day, when Nancy and I met with a room full of juniors and seniors, all armed with different questions for the two of us. Not surprisingly, the students wanted to know how in the world Nancy became a minister, what people thought of it, and what she actually did all day. But we also talked about digital libraries and whether people will still be reading books ten years from now. (I think yes.) We talked about reasons why it's still important to study history — I am asked this a lot wherever I go — and the gulf between American history, a scant few centuries, and the millennia of Greek antiquity. It seems almost laughable that American historians commonly specialize in one or two decades, and sometimes even complain about having to be too superficial.

The most poignant questions were more personal, about their experience of growing up in Greece during month after month of strikes and demonstrations and looming economic catastrophe. There was no mistaking the difficulty people were facing every day: I could see it out my window as dumpsters on street corners overflowed with garbage because the workers running the city dumps were on strike. Riding around Athens I saw people walking the sidewalks because all of the buses, trolleys, and trains were not running; I saw empty highways and impossibly long lines for gas, this on a rumor that the refinery workers were preparing a slowdown. It was very hard not to share in the hopelessness of the situation. No one seemed to have the will or the ability to put the country into working order, or even to stem the deterioration of civil society.

There's no good, easy answer for a seventeen-year-old facing the future. But there is always the story of the past: the motto of the American College of Greece was taken long ago from the school that produced many of its best, Wellesley College — and of course before that Jesus Christ himself. The motto is, in Latin, "not to be served, but to serve." It seems a tall order in these times, but part of the school's old and still very visible Congregational legacy.



Come back tomorrow for part 2, in which Peggy visits Anatolia College in Thessaloniki.

October 25, 2011

We haven't mentioned it in a while, but the historical tour of England entitled "Retracing Our Puritan Roots" is less than a year away. This seems like a good time to have a quick overview for any of you who are going or still on the fence.

Join co-guide Roger Burke for a look at the 12-day itinerary that will take participants on a reverse-pilgrimage from Salem, Mass. to East Anglia, England with stops at several Pilgrim sites in between.

Bring your lunch and your questions.

Wednesday, November 16th
12:00 - 1:00 pm

No registration is required, but we appreciate an RSVP so we know how many people to expect.

If you'd like to look over the itinerary beforehand, you can download it at your leisure.

October 24, 2011

April, our current Associate Archivist, is expecting and will be leaving us at the end of the year to prepare for the birth of her second child. (Congratulations, April!) We're beginning the search for her successor.

General description: The Congregational Library and Archive seeks an experienced archivist for processing of both large and small collections. The Associate Archivist will be responsible for implementing work plans and arranging and describing archival collections according to professional standards, guidelines and procedures related to the appraisal, arrangement, accessioning, cataloging, description, preservation, access, use and de-accessioning of archival and manuscript collections. The Associate Archivist will provide reference and research assistance to those using the collections. The position will be responsible for creation and conversion of finding aids to the online environment, collaborating in digital preservation efforts, and promoting the digitization of archival resources. The Associate Archivist will also work closely with colleagues who are creating digital exhibits and managing born-digital material.

Schedule: Part-time (20-21 hours per week); Work Week (As scheduled M-F between 9AM-5PM); occasional evening or weekend hours; must be available beginning January 2012.

Read the complete job description on our website.

Application deadline: November 14, 2011

To apply: Send cover letter and resume to:

Claudette Newhall, Librarian
Congregational Library
14 Beacon Street
Boston, MA 02108

October 21, 2011

Are you interested in learning how to care for church records? Have questions about how long to keep files? Where do you even start?

Associate Archivist April Johnson will cover basic archival arrangement, writing and maintaining records management policies, preservation, and digital issues. Participants will have the opportunity to participate in a dialog with other record keepers and the presenter. Bring in an example of your church's records, and after lunch we will examine them for preservation purposes. Resource materials included.

Thursday, November 10th
10:00 am - 3:00 pm

$20.00, includes lunch and flash drive. $10 without lunch.
Advance registration is required.

October 20, 2011

What is Congregationalism and why is it important?

Spend the day with Dr. Peggy Bendroth for a whirlwind tour of American Congregationalism. Her popular Growing Deeper Roots seminar covers more than three centuries of Congregational history. From the early Protestants of western Europe to the formation of the current American denominations, there is plenty to discuss.

All are welcome, from scholars to the simply curious.

Thursday, November 10th
10:00 am – 3:00 pm

$20.00, includes lunch and flash drive. $10 without lunch
Advance registration is required.