This past weekend I went to Boston for a little revolutionary history sightseeing. The family I’m staying with homeschools and are studying early American history. I couldn’t resist the opportunity to return to one of my favorite cities as a tour guide.
One of our first stops on the tour was King’s Chapel. The first Anglican church in the American colonies, the land had to be taken from the burial ground because no Puritan would sell land for the building of a Church of England building.
Walking around the church I noticed the bust of one of their early ministers which talked of his decisions about support of various early protest movements and justice initiatives. In the back of the church is a plaque detailing the Chapel’s support of African American parishoners and the early racial diversity of the congregation, including support of the Underground Railroad.
Now, King’s Chapel is hardly unique in its support of justice initiatives and African American equality. I know both Park Street Church and Tremont Temple were also very active.
However, as I reflected on the lives of these early pastors and priests, I thought about the tough decisions they must have had to make, especially in those revolutionary times. A city slowly coming to a boil in protest. A religious tradition that was a break from the home country. A colony that started as a theocracy, but had slowly drifted to the point where the merchant class came to power (though the clergy still carried considerable sway).
How did the minister at Old North Church make the decision to allow the steeple of the church to be used as the center of the revolutionary communication on the night the British marched on Concord? Was it the product of hours of prayer, or the inevitable end of many other smaller decisions?
How did these pastors and priests find their justice footing? Had they banded together and spoke out against the revolutionaries, history could have been much different? Did they truly believe in the evil of the British empire? Were they just hoping to bring spiritual guidance to those leading this new and powerful movement?
And how did the clergy make such brilliant decisions when it came to race rights? Were these movement at the push of the congregations? Were the clergy acting in a prophetic way, bringing God’s justice in a world turned upside down by economics and hate?
How did these clergy decide how to use their pulpit? Boston is an educated city and has always valued public discussion, but the clergy still held influence and were often the most educated people in the community.
What was life like for those men who essentially held the power of God’s voice in troubled times?