Sunday, September 28, 2008

A Unitarian's Sunday

Ezra Stiles Gannett (May 4, 1801-August 26, 1871) had the unenviable task of being William Ellery Channing's colleague and successor at Federal Street Church in Boston. He was a founder of the American Unitarian Assoiation and was tireless in its promotion. Much more can be found at the Dictionary of Unitarian and Universalist Biography at
Following is an account of a typical Sunday at the Gannett home taken from the wonderful memoir of Ezra Stiles by his son William C. Gannett.

"And all days looked towards Sunday, the father's work-day. It began on Saturday evening. For the children, no party-going then, no noisy game, no novel after nine o'clock; even sewig after nine was mild sacrilege, against which the feeling brought from childhood made a protest. He usually took tea that evening with one dear friend close by. On returning, the week's accounts were puzzled and squared. And then, the world's work over, the children, as they came in to kiss good-night, would see perhaps the first sheet of the sermon started, theme and text at top. The thinking for it had been done before upon the streets. On and on through the small hours the lamp kept bright. Downstairs the tea-pot simmered on the range, and a little waiter held the slice of Graham bread and crackers for the midnight freshening. The study-couch was usually bed, and the morning found the sermon on page fourteenth or fifteenth. Seven or eight pages yet to be despatched; but they were sure to come, the last as the bells rang church-time.
Twice always the children went to church, besides the Sunday school. No household task that could be spared was done, that all the family might share the Sabbath rest. Year in, year out, the cold corned beef and Indian pudding, prepared the day before, appeared at dinner,-until at last a revolution happened, and a plum-pudding dynasty succeeded. Grave books were read,-Paradise Lost, Butler's Analogy, or smaller reading to match. In the twilight, as the father rested on the couch or in the great arm-chair, the children had their best hour with him: in younger days reciting Dr. Channing's little catechism; when older, giving memories of the sermons, or telling what they had read, and saying favorite hymns...Sunday evening the table must be more plentiful, to honor the likely guest; and after tea, if no engagement called him forth, the circle was apt to be enlarged by parish callers...."

Finishing the "world's work" and consecrating a time for higher thoughts and for rest. Though the forms and practices of a Gannett Sunday are long gone, we would be the better for finding ways to so live the Sabbath (even without having to write a 20+page sermon to focus our thoughts!)