Beacon Street Diary

March 1, 2018

I haven’t made it a practice to comment on current events in our blog—we’re a library after all and have enough work to do seeing to the past without also taking on the present and the future.

But the recent death of Billy Graham has seemed an exception—and so you are welcome to keep reading, or if the subject is not your cup of tea, to move along and keep browsing our website.

Two years ago I was asked to write an “afterward” to a book of essays on Graham. (Billy Graham: American Pilgrim, was published by Oxford University Press in 2017 and edited by Andrew Finstuen Anne Blue Wills, and Grant Wacker.) My job was to try and answer the “what next” question: will there be another evangelist in Billy’s mold, and if so, who?

I worried a lot about that article. No historian wants to get caught prognosticating, after all, but even worse, I had read plenty of surveys that showed large numbers of people simply did not know who Billy Graham was. For many younger Americans he was a distant memory (or in some cases, a rock impresario).

Nevertheless, I dutifully ticked through all of the “next Billy Graham” candidates—family members, evangelical bigwigs like Rick Warren and Max Lucado, prosperity preachers like T.D. Jakes and Joel Osteen. One thing seemed reasonably certain at the time, that if another Graham-like figure was to come on the scene, he (or she) would come from the “next Christendom,” where the majority of Christians now live, in Asia, Africa, or Latin America.

At the time, I had no idea of the biggest problem facing my prognosticatings. In 2016 many people were already declaring the demise of evangelicalism—in fact, many evangelicals themselves were admitting that they had lost the culture wars and would need to adjust to being, as one of them put it, the “away team rather than the home team.” But that was all before the election of 2016 and the dramatic role evangelicals would play in the election of Donald Trump.

Not surprisingly, I’ve been thinking a lot about how I would write the article if I were given the assignment now. Two years ago I was skeptical of any radical changes in the offing—paradigms, I wrote, shift far less often than we think they do. Since then, we’ve become less sanguine. Many of my fellow historians of American religion have issued sharply critical denunciations of evangelicalism, some declaring its final demise, others wondering whether the category even made sense in the first place. Without a doubt the evangelicalism that Graham represented, the white, middle-class nexus of Wheaton College, Christianity Today, and the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, is no longer with us. “Evangelicalism” today looks more and more like an unknowable hodgepodge of religious and political agendas, alarmingly responsive to social media and stubbornly resistant to criticism.

At the very least, if I were writing the article now, I’d add a caveat: this is not a time for crowning successors. Billy Graham came on the stage in the midst of an evangelical revival that arose in the shadow of the Cold War, an era in which hope overrode fear. Conservative evangelicals, many of whom had become convinced that the end of the world was near, chose a brighter future, an America that might after all become truly Christian. Most of us today would see that optimism as narrow and naïve, and might also rightly wonder about Graham’s message. Despite the flurry of post-mortems in the press and on social media, we are only beginning to understand his complex impact on American society.

I might also risk some more open editorializing. These are dauntingly different times from the era that crowned Billy Graham an evangelical leader. Now we can measure, as never before perhaps, the hopes and expectations that all of us, evangelicals and non-evangelicals alike, have quietly relinquished, how fear has become such a normal state of mind. I think that the “next Billy Graham,” if such a person does come along, will know this. His or her message may well be every bit as simple and “biblical” as Graham’s, but in a different way. It will, like the Bible itself, make the most sense to people living in hard times, facing an uncertain future.

-Peggy Bendroth

February 16, 2018

The Congregational Library & Archives will be closed on Monday, February 19th in observance of Presidents' Day.

All of our online resources will be available as usual. If you have questions you would like to ask the staff, please send an email or leave a voicemail, and we'll get back to you when we return to the office on Tuesday.

 


presidential portrait of James Madison by John Vanderlyn courtesy of the White House Historical Association, found via Wikimedia Commons

February 13, 2018

The latest additions to our New England's Hidden Histories program come from our project partners, the Phillips Library at the Peabody Essex Museum. One is a brand new collection to the program, and two are consolidations of materials that are physically separated between our two institutions.


Essex, Mass. First Congregational Church

This church was founded as the Second "Chabacco" Church in Ipswich in 1683, and it has been through many changes over the centuries. This collection contains volumes of church records and town meeting records of Chebacco Parish. It also includes some papers written Rev. John Cleaveland during his time as pastor, a few loose administrative records, and relations of faith from female members.


Newbury, Mass. First Church

We had already published the minutes of a 17th-century ecclesiastical council from the CLA's holdings, but several new additions from the PEM's collection give a much fuller picture of the church's history. They include volumes of church records and ministers' records, as well as documents relating to later ecclesiastical councils.


Salem, Mass. Tabernacle Church

The majority of these materials come from our collection at the CLA. The contribution now added from the PEM's holdings is an earlier version of the church's covenant from 1786. It is a particularly useful supplement because the previously published version is a copy made almost a decade later. Other materials in this collection include both bound and loose church records, construction plans for the Tabernacle itself, and a lengthy dispute between the church's first pastor and its proprietors.


Take a look at some or all of these documents. You never know what interesting information you might find.

 

Special Thanks

These digital resources have been made possible in part by the Council on Library and Information Resources, through a Digitizing Hidden Collections grant.

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this resource do not necessarily represent those of the Council on Library and Information Resources.

January 12, 2018

The Congregational Library & Archives will be closed this coming Monday, January 15th in observance of Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

All of our online resources will be available as usual. If you have a question you'd like to ask the staff, send an us email or leave a voicemail, and we'll get back to you when we return to the office on Tuesday, January 16th.

January 11, 2018

Did you know that the Congregational Library & Archives is a member of the New England Regional Fellowship Consortium?

The NERFC is a collaboration of cultural agencies managed by the Massachusetts Historical Society. It awards eight-week research grants for scholars to study at its member institutions. If you have a project idea that meets the granting criteria, you still have time to put together your application for the 2018-19 cycle before the February deadline. Proposal requirements can be found on the MHS website.

January 4, 2018

The Congregational Library & Archives will be closed tomorrow, Friday, January 5th due to inclement weather.

All of our online resources will be available as usual. If you have a question you'd like to ask the staff, send us an email or leave a voicemail, and we'll get back to you when we return to the office.

Stay warm and stay safe!

 


photograph "Bokeh Snow tree branches in Massachusetts blizzard" by D Sharon Pruitt, via Wikimedia Commons

January 3, 2018

The Congregational Library & Archives will be closed tomorrow, Thursday, January 4th due to forecasted weather conditions.

All of our online resources will be available as usual. If you have a question you'd like to ask the staff, send us an email or leave a voicemail, and we'll get back to you when we return to the office.

Please check this blog or our Facebook page for updates regarding Friday's hours.

Stay warm and stay safe!

 


snowflake ornament image courtesy of Petr Kratochvil via Wikimedia Commons

December 29, 2017

The Congregational Library & Archives will be closed this coming Monday, January 1st.

All of our online resources will be available as usual. If you have a question you'd like to ask the staff, send an us email or leave a voicemail, and we'll get back to you when we return to the office on Tuesday, January 2nd.

However you plan to greet the new year, we hope that it will be a good one.

December 22, 2017

The Congregational Library & Archives will be closed this coming Monday and Tuesday, December 25-26, in observance of Christmas.

All of our online resources will be available as usual. If you have a question you'd like to ask the staff, send an us email or leave a voicemail, and we'll get back to you when we return to the office on Wednesday, December 27th.

We wish all of you a safe and happy holiday.

 


star ornamement image by Nina Matthews via Wikimedia Commons

December 20, 2017

The latest additions to our New England's Hidden Histories program come from groups in the North Shore region of Massachusetts that had strong opinions on the issues of the time. One forged a local fellowship of churches that has lasted to the modern day. The other achieved its purpose and disbanded. Take a look and see what you can find.

The original manuscripts in these collections are owned by our project partners, the Phillips Library at the Peabody Essex Museum.

 

Essex North Association, Mass.

The Essex Middle Association, which would later become the Essex North Association, was formed in Rowley, West Parish (now Georgetown) in 1761. Noteworthy members included Rev. John Cleaveland, who ministered Chebacco Church in Ipswich for 52 years. The Association weighed in on various social issues throughout its long history, including slavery and the temperance movement.

 

Salem Female Anti-Slavery Society

The Salem Female Anti-Slavery Society (SFASS) was formed in 1834. The preamble to the SFASS's constitution stated its three principles: that slavery should be immediately abolished; that people of color, enslaved or free, have a right to a home in the country without fear of intimidation, and that the society should be ready to acknowledge people of color as friends and equals. The majority of SFASS membership was comprised of wives and daughters of the members of the Anti-Slavery Society of Salem and Vicinity (ASSSV), who were drawn largely from Salem's middle and professional classes. Early activities of the society included distributing clothes to freed blacks in the area, supporting the National Anti-Slavery Bazaar at Faneuil Hall, organizing a sewing school for black girls, and aiding fugitive slaves in Canada.

 

Special Thanks

These digital resources have been made possible in part by the Council on Library and Information Resources, through a Digitizing Hidden Collections grant.

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this resource do not necessarily represent those of the Council on Library and Information Resources.

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