UU Minute #80

Rev. Charles Follen

Charles Follen – whose name you may have heard as responsible for bringing the Christmas tree tradition to America – was born in Germany, where as a young man, he was involved with radical politics. Forced to flee, Follen arrived in America in 1824, at age 28. Harvard University hired him to teach German. A few years later, he became instructor of ethics and ecclesiastical history at Harvard Divinity School.

Gravitating to Unitarian circles, Follen and William Ellery Channing became friends. Follen was also a close friend and collaborator with “radical abolitionist” William Lloyd Garrison.

In 1835, when Follen was age 39, Harvard fired him for his outspoken abolitionist beliefs. The hostility and scorn the newspapers heaped on Follen, Garrison, and any who called for the abolition of slavery didn’t help. Boston and Cambridge would later become centers for the abolitionist spirit, but in the 1830s, weren’t there yet.

Follen took ordination as a Unitarian minister. He was called to serve our New York City congregation that is now All Souls, but because of conflicts over his radical anti-slavery, he kept the position only one year. A lot of Unitarians weren’t there yet either.

Follen returned to Lexington, Massachusetts and designed a unique octagonal building, for the Unitarian church there, which he would serve when the building was complete. At the groundbreaking for the building, Follen declared the mission of his church:
"[May] this church never be desecrated by intolerance, or bigotry, or party spirit; more especially its doors might never be closed against any one, who would plead in it the cause of oppressed humanity; within its walls all unjust and cruel distinctions might cease, and [there] all men might meet as brethren."
Charles Follen would die in a tragic steamboat accident before his ministry there could begin.

NEXT: Channing Resigns in Place

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