Friday, June 30, 2017

Joseph Bellamy's Tall Pulpit

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: When 19-year-old Joseph Bellamy headed north from the mother church in Woodbury, CT, in 1738, called to preach during “winter privileges” to the first settlers of the “North Purchase,” it was pioneer territory. Bellamy had recently completed his studies at Yale, spent a year in Northampton, MA, studying and living with Jonathan Edwards, greatest preacher/theologian of the age, and he was newly licensed to preach by the General Court of the Colony of Connecticut.

Bellamy was a towering man in a powdered wig and black robe; an imposing 300-pounder with a thundering voice. He was one of the "New Lights" of the Great Awakening, who rejected the “mechanistic views” of the Deists and their “Clockmaker God” and favored transformation from the heart, not a lifeless god of the head. It was, perhaps, the pre-dawn glow of a transformation in style that we now call Romanticism. Style is the outward form of spirit and in this, art never lies.

In 1740 George Whitfield came to America to preach a series of sermons that would awaken religious fervor and ignite the Great Awakening. He often preached in the open air and to working people. That year Joseph Bellamy had begun year-round ministry at the new North Purchase outpost, and he would not only go on to become its wealthiest and most prominent citizen and to live in its finest home, opposite his church at the head of the green, but he would give the North Purchase its name, Bethlem (later Bethlehem) and go on preaching there for a half century until his death in 1790.

During Bellamy's first two years in Bethlehem, while the awakening blazed, he traveled widely, spreading the flames in more than 450 sermon until the fervor of the First Great Awakening began to fade. However, he had gained a wide reputation which he later burnished from his home in Bethlehem with writings that include 22 books. Like Edwards, who preached we are all “sinners in the hands of an angry god,” Bellamy believed humankind to be utterly degenerate, but his preaching style became gentler, and he told a novice, “When I was young I thought it was the thunder that killed people; but when I grew older and wiser, I found it was the lightening. So I determined to do what I advise you to—thunder less, lighten more!”

In addition to preaching and writing, Bellamy opened “a school of prophets," the first theological school in America. He eventually trained at least 42 students including Jonathan Edwards Jr. who was pastor in New Haven and wrote articles advocating abolition of slavery in 1773, Aaron Burr who became Vice President and later faced charges of treason, and Timothy Dwight who would be president of Yale College, appoint the first science professor in our history, and train many ministers of the Second Great Awakening including Lyman Beecher.

Bellamy supported the national cause, and he led his congregation though the difficult years of the Revolution into a new age. The first thing one learns about the current Congregational Church of Bethlehem (built 1839) is that the pulpit is the one built for Joseph Bellamy, and that all subsequent ministers have needed a foot stool to see the congregation over it.

“LET us stop here, a few Minutes, and think, what the Consequences would be, should Righ|teousness which is the Glory of the Deity, and the very Beauty of Heaven... descend on crowned Heads, and fill the Courts of Princes, and spread down thro' every Rank, even down to the meanest Cottage, and to the poorest Beggar. What would the Consequences be? Heaven would soon begin on Earth.

"PRINCES, even the most haughty Monarchs of the Earth, who, to gratify their Pride and Ambition, do often now, in the present state of things, summon mighty Armies, spread war, devastation and ruin thro' whole Countries, would be at once turned into other men, "be Converted and become as little Children," as harmless as Doves, as meek as Lambs. Such would be their humility, their self-abhorrence, their penitence, their reverence toward the Deity and love to the human kind, that they would, speedily and with the utmost sincerity, begin to concert measures for a universal, perpetual Peace. Ambassadors for that End would be sent from, and to, every Monarch, Prince and Court — and Orders be soon dispatched to Fleets and Armies to stop the effusion of human Blood. — The thundering Cannons would cease to roar—Peace, universal Peace be soon proclaimed; for every Monarch, from the heart, would soon begin to say, to each other, "Take your right my Brother, and let me have mine, and let us live in love and peace, and seek the true happiness of our subjects, and no longer go on sacrificing thousands of precious lives, in quarrels, which honest men might settle with the utmost ease.”

Joseph Bellamy from a sermon delivered before the General Assembly of the colony of Connecticut, at Hartford, on the day of the anniversary election, May 13th, 1762.

My thanks to the Bethlehem Congregational Church for allowing me to photograph and for providing historical materials that helped in the preparation of this post.

The "ballot box" with the marbles was an essential part of many Puritan congregations who had to address issues of membership for new settlers coming to a town. After listening to the applicants story of his coming to the faith, elders might vote discreetly by dropping a marble into the small hole in the face of the box. Those receiving a black marble were blackballed thus assuring the congregation of "the elect" remained pure. Only those full members could enjoy the benefits of voting membership in the community.  

Friday, June 23, 2017

Heavenly Pipes

PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL: A revivalist spirit came to Litchfield along with its first pipe organ during the pastorate of its third minister, Daniel Huntington, between 1798 and 1809. Huntington, like Beecher who would follow him, was a student of Timothy Dwight. The organ was brought by ship from New York City to New Haven, and carried in three ox carts up over the hills to the Litchfield Green where the previous church then stood.  It was a sign of the town’s new wealth and prestige.

It was still there behind Beecher’s pulpit and must have been in the ears of Beecher’s daughter, Harriet, though unmentioned, when she wrote, 

“,,,the glory of our meeting house was its singers seat, that empyrean of those who rejoiced in the mysterious art of fa-sol-la-ing. There they sat in the gallery that lines three sides of the house, treble, counter, tenor and base, each with its appropriate leader and supporters. They were generally seated the bloom of our young people, sparkling, modest and blushing girls on one side, with their ribbons and finery, making the place as blooming and lively as a flower garden, and fiery, forward confident young men on the other.”

In 1856 Dr. Leonard Wolsey Bacon became the ninth minister of the congregation. By then the new and current church had been built, and the organ had been carted across the street and installed behind the high pulpit in the new meeting house. Bacon was “a vigorous preacher,” and “a liberal - one of the first to accept the new revolutionary theories of Darwin.” He was reputed to have been a man of strong passions who spoke his mind and made strong friends and, perhaps, too many enemies in his four years in Litchfield. 

Music was one of his passions, and the old organ must have been wheezing in his ear, as one of his first efforts was raising funds to replace it. When the new organ arrived he had both organ and choir moved from behind the pulpit to a gallery at the rear of the meeting house where he might better enjoy them, and where its invisibility may have made it more etherial. Pastor Bacon also re-tuned congregants voices to a new hymnal, and later in life he published a book of the hymns of Luther. Before he left Litchfield, he also purchased land on which to build a church horse shed so members might have their horses properly sheltered during the day-long sermons; a minister’s concerns had to be both spiritual and practical.

The current organ was installed in 1971 by the Reuter Organ Company of Lawrence, KS. The organist tells me it is a two-manual, 21 rank (21 timbres) organ with chimes, but it’s the array of pipes that makes the picture.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

From Lyman Beecher's High Pulpit

"We boast of our liberties.... But our foundations rest on the heaving sides of a burning mountain, through which, in thousands of places, the fire has burst out, and is blazing around us. If they cannot be extinguished, we are undone. Our sun is fast setting, and darkness of an endless night is closing in upon us.”
-Lyman Beecher

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: Lyman Beecher forecast doom from a high pulpit similar to this one in a similar building just across the street on the Litchfield Green. It was the 1820s, the church had been disestablished, and the Second Great Awakening was peaking in Litchfield and elsewhere. The cause of impending peril in Beecher’s sermon was intemperance; the abstinence he preached was absolute.  

Beecher’s sermons were popular, Litchfield was a cultural center, and by the time he left Litchfield in 1826, the flock of the Church had swelled so much that they needed a new building. Lyman Beecher went to Boston where his "Six Sermons against Intemperance" were published and brought him fame, and the current church was built with a pulpit similar to and as high as Lyman Beecher’s. 

Beecher’s first three sermons describe “The Nature and Occasions of...” “The Signs of…” and finally “The Evils of Intemperance.” He concludes with three sermons of remedy. In summing up the evils Beecher blamed “an aristocracy of bad influence,” but the doom he feared was:

“The great body of the laboring classes of the community, the bones and sinews of the nation will be contaminated; and when this is accomplished the right of suffrage becomes the engine of self-destruction. For the laboring classes constitute and immense majority, and when these are perverted by intemperence, ambition needs no better implement with which to dig the grave of our liberties, and entomb our glory.”

The restored high altar which exists today is named in his honor. Throughout his life Lyman Beecher also preached against Catholics, Unitarians, and slavery, and he promoted missionary activities throughout the world. He raised a large family of important children, loved fishing and played the violin.

Friday, June 9, 2017

In the Cake

PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL: The climb to the bell of Litchfield's Congregational Church began with a tall ladder from a room above the vestibule. April led the way, I followed, and Ray went last. We squeezed sideways through an opening in the main pediment behind the portico, grabbing hold of a structural bar to pull ourselves up into a large room in the base of the tower and somewhere in front of the sanctuary dome. My backpack only fit through the opening after it was off my back. I slid it backward and Ray passed it up to me, and I decided to continue the climb with just camera and tripod. 

As we came through the opening, the Seth Thomas tower-clock mechanism was directly over us, but as I try now to figure where we were, I have to guess the clock face was higher up. The old, wooden columns and beams of the box tower were above - below - around us, but the tower had been reinforced by a framework of steel beams in a manner that left the old structure unscarred. We continued up a steep, wooden stair around the tower’s perimeter to a second aluminum ladder which slid as we climbed through a trap door above to the railed space at the top of the square tower and stood in a wedding cake homage to Christopher Wren and English style. 

As much as I was eager to see the bell, I was immediately distracted in discovering that the floor was not level, as I expected, but pitched to throw off rain, and the railing was neither as high nor as strong as I had imagined. However, I was struck by how dark the bell was and, apparently, weatherbeaten. As Ray was still climbing out of the hatch, I turned to the view from the tower, mostly tree-tops now, and began taking pictures and forgot all the questions I had wanted to ask.

April invited me to ring the bell which I did too cautiously, but it chimed once, solidly. As the picture shows, there is no headstock to set the bell swinging, no clapper to swing and strike it, no swing at all - a pivot hammer. My ears are no longer reliable, but after my moderate strike I heard a clear note; a baritone knell prolonged and bounded with an edge as crisp as the most finely focused photograph. The bell, though not original, is venerable. It was cast by Paul Revere and came from a church in Goshen that was demolished.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Toward the High Altar, Litchfield Congregational Church

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: From 1873 until 1930 the building treasured today as the Litchfield Congregational Church was moved away from the green to a spot on the Torrington Road where its uses and name changed with the times. It was a place of recreation where young people danced and played basketball, put on plays and, in later years, watched silent movies. The steeple was gone and a floor was built between side galleries to provide space for more functions. Imagine how fine old carpentry must have been butchered in a half-century of adaptation and patching. The building that the people of Litchfield moved back by the Green in 1929 was far from the building people remembered from the decade after the Civil War.

Richard Dana was hired to make plans and elevations based on the surviving hall and whatever might be learned from surviving drawings and good memories. An old door from one of the pews allowed Dana to conjecture the size and shape and treatment of the rest. Four of the columns supporting the gallery had to be remade to match existing originals. paint colors were carefully matched to existing samples. A steeple was constructed to match the old pictures and a search party was formed to find the old weathervane, but it was the curator of the historical society who eventually found it in the museum basement.

The greatest challenge was the reconstruction of the high pulpit. Parts of the original existed and drawings were made from memory. The carpenters who finally recreated its grandeur were instructed to use whatever parts and fragments remained from the original. The lamps on either side of the pulpit, also found in the basement of the historical society, are the originals.

Is there a difference between spirit that builds in a style because it is fresh and vibrant and expresses truths felt deeply from the shelter of belief, and spirit which seeks to revive something mourned as almost lost?