UU Minute #65

Pulpit Exchanges and a Foray to Baltimore

New England Ministers of the 18th and 19th centuries typically exchanged pulpits with one or another neighboring minister one or two Sundays a month. As sermons then were scholarly labors: painstakingly constructed essays about an hour and half long, creating a new one every week was not sustainable. The pulpit exchange allowed for prior work to be re-used for a new audience.

The liberals didn’t mind having conservative guest preachers in their pulpits because, for liberals, doctrine wasn’t terribly important. For conservative ministers, however, doctrinal orthodoxy was essential, so conservatives increasingly refused to do any pulpit exchanges with liberal ministers.

The liberals tended to have a “big tent” attitude, feeling that the churches of the standing order could tolerate diverse opinion. The conservatives found liberals intolerably heretical – their faith and very sanity questionable.

Goaded by these attacks and at the urging of like-minded colleagues, [William Ellery] Channing reluctantly agreed to set forth the tenets of this liberal faith – which he did in a famous sermon in 1819.
“the persons involved were determined, by a conscious, deliberate act, to make it a manifesto to which the religious community would have to give heed. It was not the isolated utterance of an individual but a party proclamation.” (Conrad Wright)
This sermon, it was decided, would be given not in Boston, but in Baltimore. A half a dozen of Boston’s most prominent ministers traveled with Channing 650 kilometers from home. The foray
“signaled the acceptance by the liberals of their own distinctive theological and ecclesiastical position at home; it also declared their intention to carry the gospel of liberal Christianity to other parts of the land as well.” (Conrad Wright)

NEXT: Six Theological Disputes

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