Friday, October 12, 2012

Congregational Library

Yesterday, on October 11, I had the honor to talk about The Mainline at the Congregational Library in Boston (  Back when I was just starting work on the book (and wrapping up work on my Prohibition book), I had received a travel and research grant to come to the Library and see what I could find on both projects in their archives.  Let me say that as an American Historian, few places rival Boston when it comes to history, travel, and research.  And for both projects, the Congregation Library was a treasure trove.  So, it was wonderful to get to go back and discuss my findings with the folks who had helped make it all possible.

I got to the library early to do a little reading on the Beechers (which my Butler classes this semester will appreciate as we move along, and which will help as I work on my next project to boot).  The staff was top notch as always.  And it was nice to see my book on display at the front desk (and being watched over by Jonathon Edwards himself no less!). 

In the conference room where the brown bag discussion took place, just off of the reading room, there were other pictures and artifacts.  While his father's portrait commands a place of honor in the reading room, in the conference room I had Henry Ward Beecher (who got his pastoral start in Indiana) keeping an eye on me.  In some respects all those portraits, many of people who are discussed in the Mainline book was comforting, as we waited for people to arrive.

All told, there were about 20 in attendance.  Many of them were ministers in the United Church of Christ, others were board members or friends of the Library.  I even had an attendee from Japan (the Rev. Yukimasa Ohmae), whose church in Kobe has special ties to Boston's Congregational past.  Over the course of our time together I sketched both the book and why I had written it, and we then got into a wonderful discussion about the future of Mainline Protestantism, ranging from my arguments in the book, to the use of political labels to discuss spiritual matters, the importance of culture/experience to religious consumerism, to the findings of the recent Pew Study on Religious Affiliation (which may very well be the subject of a future blog post, once I get a chance to read deeper into it).

Simply put, though it was a whirlwind trip, it could not have gone better.  I had a great time, the talk/discussion went perfectly, and I can only hope that the guests enjoyed it as much as I did!  I can also only hope to have other such opportunities in the months ahead.

Above is Park Street Church (, which sits at "the bottom" of the hill that makes up Boston Common, about a block from both the Massachusetts statehouse and a block from the Congregational Library.  It plays an important role in the story I tell in the Mainline, and so I couldn't resist taking a picture of it all lit up by the morning sun.

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