UU Minute #81

Channing Resigns in Place

The paddlewheel steamboat Lexington, carrying 143 passengers, left Manhattan on January 13, 1840, bound for Stonington, Connecticut. In what is still the Long Island Sound’s worst disaster, the steamer caught fire and sank. Among the 139 lives lost was Rev. Charles Follen. The Unitarian minister, controversial for his ardent abolitionism deemed radical by the white power structure of that time, was returning from a lecture tour in New York to begin his ministry to our congregation in Lexington, Massachusetts – the congregation whose building he had designed, and which today bears his name: Follen Church.

Shortly afterward, William Ellery Channing received another visit from his friend Samuel Joseph May. May had come on behalf of the Anti-Slavery Society to discuss a public memorial service for Charles Follen, which the Anti-Slavery society wished to sponsor. May would prepare and deliver the eulogy. The appropriate place would be Channing’s Federal Street Church, where Follen had been ordained, and with Channing presiding.
“All of that agreed, Channing ended by saying that he would, of course, have to ask the trustees of his society for permission for this use of their meetinghouse. Initially, they too agreed. Then, under pressure from anti-abolitionist members who had objected to any announcements at services of abolitionist meetings, they met without Channing present and voted, unanimously, to deny the use of the Federal Street Church for the Follen service sponsored by the Anti-Slavery Society. Channing was simply stunned.” (Buehrens)
He decided he could no longer accept any money from this congregation he had served for 37 years. Many of his duties could transfer to the associate minister. Channing would not, however, give up the role of being their chief pastor. He would continue as the shepherd of their souls for nearly three more years until his own death in October 1842.

NEXT: Unitarians and Slavery: Leaders Amid Resistance

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