Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Excellence in Ministry: An Historical Case Study

Over at iMinister, Peacebang, and Eclectic Cleric, among other places, an excellent discussion has been taking place concerning the Unitarian Universalist ministry." I post the following not to "take sides" but to illuminate a particular example from our not all that distant past.

A particular exemplar of mine is William Phillips Tilden (see post http://bostonunitarian.blogspot.com/2008/09/truer-and-nobler-life.html) Tilden was a Scituate, MA shipbuilder turned Unitarian minister who had a long and distinguished career in several parishes. This is how he was launched on his ministerial journey.
In 1836,William Phillips Tilden, under the influence of Caleb Stetson's preaching in Medford (see post http://bostonunitarian.blogspot.com/2008/12/piety-at-home.html) was burning with his desire to be a minister. He mustered his courage and confessed all in a letter to Stetson and waited his response. "A day or two after," in the words of Tilden, "as I was at work in the ship-yard, I saw my portly pastor coming, looking through his glasses, first one side and then the other, as was his wont, going up the broad aisle. I dropped my axe to welcome him, and soon found he had a gospel of hope for me…and had come to tell he thought-yes I might enter the ministry. That spot of ground is still sacred."
His lack of a college education, however, seemed daunting, and he returned to his home in Scituate where the First Parish Church had just called a new minister after a two-year search. And what a call it was. Rev. Samuel J. May, recently the general agent of the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society, was know for the passion of his political ideals.
For our friend William Phillips Tilden, Samuel J. May was literally a Godsend. May, when he learned of Tilden's desire for the ministry, took him in, studied with him and guided him. In the words of Tilden, " my best text-book, intellectual, moral, and religious, was Mr. May. He set me at work; made me superintendent of his Sunday-school; took me with him to school-house meetings, educational, temperance, anti-slavery, and religious." The Sunday-School, organized by May and directed by Tilden was the first at First Parish.
Tilden more than fulfilled his great and passionate desire to become a minister of the Unitarian Gospel. The only training he would receive would be from May, but that would prove enough. In 1840, Tilden was “Approbated to Preach” by the Plymouth and Bay Association of Ministers, thus fulfilling his dream. He served parishes in Concord, Walpole, Fitchburg and most famously at the New South Free Church in Boston where he was so loved he received the name "Brother Tilden." His enthusiasm for the ministry carried him to parishes well into his seventies.
Few have ever loved the ministry, or sought to live up to its high calling, more than Tilden. His book "The Work of the Ministry" is still of great value to ministers and all church workers (it can be found at http://books.google.com/books?id=pltbAAAAMAAJ&printsec=frontcover&dq=william+phillips+tilden&ie=ISO-8859-1&output=html)

For what its worth. Blessings


ogre said...

No sides. God save us from this whole thing having sides. I am profoundly aware of a dynamic tension in all this--the good and need of the communities (congregation, movement) involved, and the good of the individuals. Both need to be served, and neither sacrificed.

And the creation of anything that is without risks... probably means that it's been squeezed to death in the process (this was brought home again recently when someone was talking about a vision quest sort of element for a coming of age--and assuring everyone that it would be done in a completely safe way. Sometimes... some risk, at some level, is an absolutely critical element)

slt said...

Thanks Ogre,
Save us indeed from having sides! I have appreciated your posts on this elsewhere (and now here)
Blessings, BU

The Eclectic Cleric said...

I imagine that there are many worse entry points into the Unitarian ministry than serving as the Sunday School Superintendent at the First Parish in Norwell. And metaphorically speaking at the very least, I think that "shipwright" might very well be an excellent pre-professional preparation for the work of ministry as well. Thanks for this! -- and especially the link to "The Work of the Ministry." Always interesting to see what has changed, and what stays the same....

PeaceBang said...

Thanks for this, BU. It made me cry. Now, about that facial hair, Brother Tilden...! ;-)

Unknown said...

Dear Boston Unitarian,

Thank you for the article. Just one correction: Samuel J. May was minister of Second Parish Scituate. The Second Parish was gathered in the 1650s due to personality conflicts and disagreement on the manner of baptism with the minister, the Rev. Charles Chauncy, who later became the second president of Harvard College. He traded positions with Henry Dunster, Harvard's first president.

Second Parish eventually became South Scituate and then Norwell in the 1880s, I believe.

slt said...

Dear Richard,
Many thanks for your close reading of this post and for your clarification. I "lifed" most of my post from a talk I gave at Frist Parish, Norwell some time ago where I used the term First Parish in its present sense. I should have been more clear in my post.
See a more recent post "These Bad Times a Product of Bad Morals" in which I am a little more clear.
Again, thanks and, if I may ask, how is it that you come to know so much about First Parish, Norwell history?
Blessings, BU