UU Minute #60

King's Chapel and James Freeman, part 2

The Anglican/Episcopalian congregation, King’s Chapel, in Boston, faced a clergy shortage after American independence, so, in 1782, they called congregationalist James Freeman, then 23 years old and fresh out of Harvard. Under Freeman’s influence the congregation revised their Book of Common Prayer to delete references to the Trinity.

When the congregation sought to have Freeman ordained, however, the Anglican bishops refused. King’s Chapel chose to take a page from the polity of their neighboring congregationalist churches, and, in 1787, ordained James Freeman themselves – a power which, under congregational polity, is in the hands of congregations, not of bishops or church hierarchy.

King’s chapel was forthwith expelled from fellowship with the Anglican Church – and immediately welcomed into fellowship by the Congregational ministers of Boston.

Freeman began correspondence with the leading lights of Unitarianism in England: Theophilus Lindsey, Joseph Priestley, and Thomas Belsham – which brought Freeman into the community of those calling themselves Unitarian. Through this connection, Theophilus Lindsey was prompted to send books on Unitarianism to Harvard Library, where they influenced a generation of divinity students.

To this day, King’s Chapel is an explicitly Christian member congregation of the Unitarian Universalist Association following a liturgy very similar to the Episcopalian. Their web site today says:
“We are Christian like those who founded our church; and we are willing to continue deeply exploring the astonishing implications of Jesus’ teachings in our world today.”
It also says that:
“with the Unitarian Universalist spirit of today we treasure all the world’s religions, believing that a God of Love embraces us all, freely and fully. We proudly claim our place as the first Unitarian Church in the country, full of free and independent thinkers then, as now.”

NEXT: Liberal and Conservative Congregational Churches of Massachusetts

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