Monday, September 29, 2008

A Truer and Nobler Life

William Phillips Tilden (b. 1811) is now little remembered. But as a well loved minister for many years in a variety of pulpits, he was known affectionatly as Father Tilden. A shipbuilder on the North River on the South Shore, Tilden would receive his theological training serving as Samuel J. May's Sunday School Superintendent and friend at what is now First Parish Church, Unitarian, in Norwell MA. Tilden would go on to serve several congregations, most famously at the New South Free Church in Boston. He had a deep passion for the ministry which was reflected in a series of lectures given at Meadville Theological School when he was in his 70's. These lectures, later published as The Work of the Ministry, can be found at Google Book Search as can his privatly published Autobiography. An exerpt from The Work of the Ministry:

Personal character! Unitarianism has always stood squarely for character. Disagreeing in almost everything else, it has been a unit in putting character first. Character has been the Unitarian ideal, not to say idol. The value we have set on truth, the church, worship, religion itself, has been mainly on account of their influence in forming a true and noble character. The supreme thing with us has been, and is, character. We all know what we mean by it, though to define it may not be easy. Like truth, it is too large and many-sided for definition. But when we say of one, " His character is above reproach, he is a pure, true, and noble man," no one doubts what we mean. We mean that the one of whom we say this has real intrinsic worth. He may be brilliant or dull, a genius or a plodder ; but, independent of that, he has a distinct personality, which is trustworthy and reliable, which shines, like the sun, by its own light.

Talk of character can seem a trite excercise in our time. Tilden reminds us of the joy and passion that comes from seeking to live a "truer and nobler life".

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