War and influenza, 1915-1919

A continuation of a documentary history of the Unitarian Church of Palo Alto.

The years of the First World War proved difficult for the Palo Alto Unitarians. It was a congregation full of pacifists, but after the entry of the United States into the World War, the American Unitarian Association demanded that every congregation that received funding must support the war wholeheartedly. A financial report of the A.U.A. published in the June 6, 1918, issue of The Christian Register (p. 19) shows that the A.U.A. was paying their minister of the time, Bradley Gilman, $50 a month, or $600 a year.

The Palo Alto Unitarians had been accustomed to the pacifist views of former ministers Rev. Sydney Snow and Rev. William Short, but the war years forced them to accept the pro-war ministry of Bradley Gilman. The relationship with Gilman appears to have been strained; he left after only two years, and never served another congregation as minister; and the Palo Alto Unitarians tried to do without a minister for nearly two years.

New Unitarian Pastor (1915)

The church at Palo Alto has called to the vacant pulpit Rev. William Short, Jr., now in Boston, and highly recommended by those who know him, and also know the requirements of the church calling him. Mr. Short has accepted the call and will enter upon his ministry on the third Sunday of November.
— The Pacific Unitarian, vol. 15, no. 1, November, 1915 (San Francisco: Pacific Unitarian Conference), p. 7.

New Unitarian Pastor.— A reception in honor of the new Unitarian church pastor, Mr. William Short, Jr., who has recently arrived from the east, was held in the Unitarian church hall last evening.
— from “Palo Alto Notes” in The Daily Palo Alto [Stanford], vol. 47, no. 58, November 18, 1915, p. 3.

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A “Centre of Liberalism” on the Peninsula (1917)

Palo Alto, Cal.— Unitarian Church. Rev. William Short, Jr.: The Palo Alto church has had a very interesting two years with Rev. William Short, Jr., as minister. Although new to the service, Mr. Short has brought to it an earnestness and vigor, and a great broad humanity, which have meant to the church increased growth in those principles upon which it is founded. In this tremendous national crisis, when the democracy of the country is on trial, the Palo Alto church has been one of the very few where the privilege of complete freedom of speech in the pulpit has not been restrained. The membership of the church is small, about forty in number, and the lack of moral support due to isolation from other centres of liberal thought is very keenly felt. The nearest sister church is in San Jose, eighteen miles distant, and the next nearest in San Francisco, over thirty miles in the other direction, the dominating note in the theology of the region being definitely conservative.

The congregation is of a vigorous and thoughtful kind, avoiding a deadly conformity of opinion. It has maintained its stand for the universal character of religion. The pamphlet-rack in the vestibule must be constantly refilled. In conformity with its Unitarian heritage, the church hall has given hospitality during the past winter to Mr. John Spurgo, the noted Socialist speaker; to the American Union Against Militarism, which is earnestly fighting the cause of democracy; and to Mme. Aino Malmberg, a refugee from the persecutions of Old Russia and an ardent advocate of the cause of oppressed nations. Two physical training clubs for women and girls have had their home in the hall, as well as a dub to encourage the finer type of social dancing. The church passed a resolution of approval of the visit of Mr. Short to Sacramento in March in the interests of the Physical Training bills. The Women’s Alliance at its annual meeting was fortunate in having as guests Dr. Franklin C. Southworth and Mrs. Southworth and Secretary Charles A. Murdock. It has been the privilege of the church to welcome to the pulpit Rev. Charles F. Dole of Jamaica Plain, Mass. His sermon was “The Religion Beneath All Religions.” The church, probably in common with most others, has suffered somewhat from the mental and financial depression due to war conditions, though the members realize the importance of maintaining its integrity as the only centre of liberalism in a wide extent of country.

— The Christian Register (Boston: American Unitarian Association), vol. 96, no. 29, July 19, 1917, p. 694.

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Denial of Writ of Habeus Corpus for William Short (1918)

[The following is excerpted from the hearing for a writ of habeus corpus filed by Rev. William Short’s wife, following his arrest and detention on charges of draft evasion. The Peoples’ Council mentioned in the writ was a national pacifist organization headed by Scott Nearing.]

Ex parte SHORT.
(District Court, N. D. California, First Division. September 5, 1918.)
No. 16417.

In the matter of the application of the wife of William Short for a writ of habeas corpus to secure his discharge from the custody of military authorities. Writ denied, and Short remanded to the custody of military authorities. …

DOOLING, District Judge. The wife of William Short seeks his discharge on habeas corpus from the custody of the military authorities. The record shows that Short, who will be designated herein as the registrant, on January 14, 1918, returned to his local exemption board his questionnaire, in and by which he claimed exemption as “a regular or ordained minister of religion.” In support of such claim he stated:

That “he had been admitted to Unitarian ministerial fellowship In January, 1916, at Palo Alto, Cal., and that on June 5, 1917, he was minister of Palo Alto Unitarian Church.”

To the question, “State place and nature of your religious labors now,” he returned no answer; but in response to the question, “Give all occupations at which you have worked during the last 10 years, including your occupation on May 18, 1917, and since that date, and the length of time you have served in each occupation,” he answered:

“Unitarian minister 1 year and 10 months. From May 15 to June 25, Unitarian minister, time included above. Chairman Northern California branch Peoples’ Council (temporarily) 5 months. Student for balance of time during 10 years.”

Upon these answers he was placed in class VB; that is to say, in the class of a regular or duly ordained minister of religion.

On June 6, 1918, a letter was sent to the local exemption board by the United States attorney, stating that registrant — “registered for the draft at Palo Alto on June 5, 1917. At that time he was acting as a minister in the Unitarian Church of that town, but shortly thereafter resigned from the church and has not been connected in any way with any church since, but has, on the contrary, devoted his time to the activities of the Peoples’ Council, which organization is decidedly unpatriotic in my opinion. I believe that Short should be reclassified and compelled to do military service, other things being equal.” …

From this reclassification he appealed to the district board, which on June 15th denied the appeal.

Thereafter, and on July 19, 1918, he was arrested and on July 20, was by the local board for division No. 1 in San Francisco, certified as a deserter, and delivered to the commanding officer of the United States army, and now is in the custody and under the control of such officer. …

Registrant has suffered no injury at the hands of the local board, and the writ of habeas corpus is therefore discharged, and he is remanded to the custody of the military authorities.

— The Federal Reporter: Cases Argued and Determined in the Circuit Courts of Appeals and District Courts of the United States (St. Paul: West Publishing Co.), Dec. 1918-Jan. 1919, vol. 253, p. 839.

Continue reading “War and influenza, 1915-1919”

Unitarian Church of Palo Alto, 1909-1915

Rev. Clarence Reed served longer than any of the other ministers of the old Palo Alto Unitarian Church, for six years from 1909-1915. Arguably, these were the best years for the congregation: they built the social hall that had been originally planned; the Sunday school grew to perhaps 60 children and teenagers; the Women’s Alliance had perhaps 40 members; and perhaps 200 adults were affiliated with the congregation. Here are documents that tell the story of the congregation during these years:

Rev. Florence Buck in Palo Alto (1910)

[Rev. Florence Buck was one of the better known women who served as Unitarian ministers in the early part of the twentieth century. During her brief stay at Palo Alto, she inspired at least one teenaged girl to become a minister — more on that teenager in a subsequent post on the Palo Alto Unitarians.]

Rev. Florence Buck has been given a year’s leave of absence at Kenosha, Wis., and is supplying the pulpit at Palo Alto, Cal.
— Unitarian Word & Work (Boston: American Unitarian Association), October, 1910, p. 5.

Mr. Reed, the minister of the Palo Alto Society, has been ill, but hopes to take up work again in December. His pulpit mean-time is being supplied by Rev. Florence Buck.
— Unitarian Word & Work (Boston: American Unitarian Association), November, 1910, p. 8.

WOMAN MINISTER TO FILL PULPIT
Rev. Florence Buck Has Been Chosen Pastor of Unitarian Church of Alameda

Alameda, [Calif.,] Dec. 19. — Rev. Florence Buck has accepted a call to become the minister of the First Unitarian church of this city. She will begin her pastorate Sunday, January 1, on which date she will conduct services and deliver her initial sermon. She will be the first divine of her sex to take permanent charge of a local church and will be one of the few women ministers in service on the Pacific coast.

The new minister is unmarried. She has had extensive experience In religious work and has been a preacher of the Unitarian faith for some years. She was associated with Rev. Marian Murdock in conducting a church in Cleveland, O. She also filled the pulpit of a Unitarian church in Kenosha, Wis. Of late Rev. Miss Buck has been temporarily occupying the pulpit of the Unitarian church in Palo Alto in the absence of the regular minister, Rev. Clarence Reed, former pastor of Alameda Unitarian church, who is on a vacation in Japan. Since Rev. Mr. Reed left here and went to the Palo Alto church the First Unitarian church has been without a regular pastor. Rev. J. A. Cruzan, field secretary for, the Unitarian society or America, has been acting temporarily. Rev. Miss Buck was heard here twice in the pulpit: of the Unitarian church last month. On both occasions she made a good impression and the trustees decided to extend her a call.

— San Francisco Call, vol. 109, no. 20, December 20, 1910, p. 11.

ReedAbdulBahaSmall

Above: Rev. Clarence Reed and the Baha’í prophet ‘Abdu’l-Bahá in Palo Alto, 1912

Continue reading “Unitarian Church of Palo Alto, 1909-1915”

The Unitarian Church of Palo Alto, 1905-1909

Here are documents that tell the story of the early years of the old Unitarian Church of Palo Alto.

The Women’s Alliance (1906)

PALO ALTO.
Branch Alliance of the Unitarian Church, 25 members.
Pres., Mrs. Agnes B. Kitchen, 912 Cowper St., Palo Alto.
Vice-Pres., Mrs. Isabel Butler, 853 Middlefield Rd., Palo Alto.
Sec., Mrs. Isabelle Wocker, 853 Middlefield Rd., Palo Alto.
Treas., Mrs. Emily S. Karns, P. O. Box 148, Palo Alto.
Ch. Cheerful Letter, Mrs. Jessie B. Palmer, 765 Channing Ave., Palo Alto.
Includes all the women’s organizations of the church.
Committees: Hospitality, House, Decoration, Entertainment, Work.
Meetings second and fourth Tuesdays at 2 P.M.
Money raised, $205.15. Disbursed: $8.35 to National Alliance; $150 for church lot; $6 for hymn books; $25.98 for materials. Organized October 21, 1905.

— Manual, 1906, National Alliance of Unitarian and Other Liberal Christian Woman (New York, Knickerbocker Press, 1906), p. 168.

The New Church Building (1907)

The most important event in the department of church extension during the past month was the dedication of the new church-building at Palo Alto. This occurred on Sunday morning, March 24th. It was a home affair, simple, but very interesting to the faithful Unitarians who have worked so hard and sacrificed so much to bring the enterprise to a successful termination. The erection of this church was made possible by the generosity of Mrs. Frances A. Hackley, of Tarrytown, N. Y., who has done so much for the Unitarian cause in this department. The members of the church entered into the work with a determination to make the new church-building not only useful but beautiful and convenient. The interior of the new church is all that could be desired; the exterior will not show its merit until the vines grow over it, as the vines are an essential part of the plan. The services in dedication were well attended.

— The Pacific Unitarian, vol. 15, no. 6, April, 1907 (San Francisco: Pacific Unitarian Conference), p. 165.

OldChurchAisle

Above: The old Unitarian church, designed by Bernard Maybeck (from The Pacific Unitarian, May, 1907, p. 206)

Continue reading “The Unitarian Church of Palo Alto, 1905-1909”

Charter members, Unitarian Church of Palo Alto, 1905

Below is a list of the charter members of the Unitarian Church of Palo Alto, organized on November 12, 1905. This list is taken from Donna Lee’s transcription, found in her 1991 history of the old Unitarian church. I believe she made some transcription errors; unfortunately the original document appears to have been destroyed, though a photocopy definitely exists, and at some point I will look at the photocopy to try to check the accuracy of Lee’s transcription.

In the mean time, I have been doing some research on these early Palo Alto Unitarians. The majority of them are associated with Stanford — students, faculty, staff; and spouses and parents of same. There are several people I have not been able to track down; let me know if you happen to know anything about them.

The list of charter members is below…. Continue reading “Charter members, Unitarian Church of Palo Alto, 1905”

Documents on Eliza Tupper Wilkes in Palo Alto

The documents below tell the story of Rev. Eliza Tupper Wilkes and her efforts to start a Unitarian organization in Palo Alto, in the years 1895-1896. (Though a Universalist, she was at that time working for the Unitarians.)

Wilkes first came to the Bay area in 1890: “By the early 1890s, as heart problems and a hectic schedule caught up with her, Wilkes began to spend the winter months in California. During the winter of 1890-91 she served the Alameda, California, Unitarian Church.” [Article on ETW, http://www25.uua.org/uuhs/duub/articles/elizatupperwilkes.html accessed Oct. 10, 2013, 14:32 PDT]

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In 1893, she began serving as Rev. Charles Wendte’s assistant in Oakland. “It should be added that when, in 1893, Mr. Wendte reassumed the Unitarian superintendency for the coast for two years more, he invited Rev. Mrs. Eliza Tupper Wilkes to become his assistant and substitute during his absence. Mrs. Wilkes greatly endeared herself to the congregation during her eighteen months of earnest and efficient service.”

— The Unitarian (collected ed., Boston: George Ellis), March, 1897.

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Since hiring Wilkes allowed Wendte to hold down another paying job, as the Pacific Coast superintendent for Unitarians, he had to pay her out of his own pocket. She was charged with overseeing the Sunday school, pastoral calling, adult organizations, and she was asked to do occasional preaching. Wilkes resigned from Oakland in March, 1895. “Her health had not improved, and Wendte could not afford to pay her.”

— Arnold Crompton, Unitarianism on the Pacific Coast (Starr King Press / Beacon Press, 1957), p. 151.

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By November, 1895, the Pacific Unitarian reported that the Women’s Unitarian Conference voted to continue its support for Wilkes’s missionary work. At that time, she was living in Berkeley.

— “Notes,” November, 1895, vol. 4, no. 1 (San Francisco: ), p. 6.

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According to Doug Chapman, Wilkes “was the first woman to preach at the Stanford University Chapel — in May, 1895. Her sermon was titled ‘Character in the Light of Evolution’.”

— “Dakota Territory’s Eliza Tupper Wilkes: Prairie Pastor,” paper delivered at the Dakota Conference on History, Literature, Art, and Archaeology, Augustana College, 2000. [For an account of this sermon, see this blog post.]

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The Woman’s Club was addressed, at its last meeting, not by Miss Holbrook as advertised, but by Rev. Eliza Tupper Wilkes, of the First Unitarian Church, Oakland. Not having a special address prepared, she was asked to speak of Woman’s Clubs. She said they were in no sense an achievement but a prophesy: the worst use to make of them is as a mutual admiration society, as has been done. That they are needed is an advertisement to the world that women have not yet found their place. Until this is accomplished and men and women stand on the same plane in our meeting Woman’s Club will be a necessity as a means to an end. Separate clubs are a training school for women. In these they hear their own voices, learn executive ability, and gain experience. Yet such clubs are one-sided, disjointed affairs.

As a mother of six children she spoke from experience when she said that mothers needed relief from their home duties, hence she would not have the club a mother’s meeting but a meeting of mothers; a place where they should not hear so much of their own duties, but something of the duties of fathers, if need be. but particularly of outside things, of literature, science, art, that they might take home with them some thought to brighten the daily routine.

— The Palo Alto Times, vol. 3, no. 18, May 10, 1895, p. 2.

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Mrs. Wilkes will hold Unitarian services at Parkinson’s Hall, Sunday afternoon, November 3rd, at 4 o’clock. All are invited.

— The Palo Alto Times, vol. 3, no. 44, November 1, 1895, p. 3.

Continue reading “Documents on Eliza Tupper Wilkes in Palo Alto”

Sermon by Eliza Tupper Wilkes, Stanford, 1895

This sermon by Rev. Eliza Tupper Wilkes (1844-1917), preached at Stanford, comes from “The Sunday Sermon,” a weekly summary of the sermon preached at Stanford printed in the Daily Palo Alto of Stanford University, vol. 7, no. 78, Monday, May 6, 1895, p. 1. This reads like someone’s careful notes of the sermon; it is too awkward, and far too short, to be an actual reading text. Nevertheless, it gives a good sense of how Wilkes preached late in her career.

The sermon also gives a opportunity to see one way an experienced evangelist made herself known in a community. She doubtless chose to address the topic of evolution because it would be a topic of interest in a university chapel. In less than six months, Wilkes had gathered a group of Unitarians and other liberals, who then formally organized as a Unity Society (not a full church, but a lay-led society) in January, 1896. The Unity Society did not last long, but it laid the groundwork for the Unitarian Church of Palo Alto, which was organized in 1905, and lasted until the Great depression.

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The sermon Sunday morning was preached by Mrs. Eliza T. Wilkes of the First Unitarian Church of Oakland. The subject was “The Forgiveness of Sins in the Light of Evolution.”

Do not think I do not realize the awful presumption of speaking to you on such a subject. A short time ago a minister asked me if I believed in evolution. I said most certainly I did so far as I had gone. Sin has been considered the choice of the imperfect for the perfect. Today most of us regard it as a crime against life. Your body, complete in every function, is a model body. Violating anything which retards this, is sin; retarding life is immorality and bin. Dying to live is full complete life. A criminal has more to hope for than the licentious person. We see all around us the results of sin. It is as much a sin to think wrong as it is to do wrong.

Evolution, with its awful fact of heredity, emphasizes the old law that the father’s sins descend upon the children. Children suffer for sins not only of the father but of the third and fourth generations. It emphasizes the curse against wrong-doers. We are not living in a universe of goodness. Hell cannot be put off. “Whatever a man soweth that he reapeth.” Are we held hand and foot in the inexorable grip of vice? Cannot we get free? Must the prodigal son be stricken from the gospel’s pages? True, there are no longer any punishments left in our philosophy, only consequences. Are there no evangelists for us to see? Are there none to save the captive and to help the lost?

A few months ago I was preaching in a room over a saloon. A friend who always waited to see me home was standing in the doorway. I preached on the well known subject, “Salvation Through Character.” My sermon sounded void and empty, but when I reached the door my friend, who drinks, gambles, and according to the old saying, “whose worst enemy is himself,” said, “I like those sermons on character, but how about us poor devils who haven’t any?” We must ask that question or stop preaching. If the philosopher can not help those poor ones who need help we had better stop and tell again the old, old story.

Life has in it a re-creating force. Life brings to us sweetest results: it takes the scar and destroys every sign. Every great thought clearing the brain gives new re-creative force, puts new life into the very scum of things. Through intellect and affection, new life comes to fainting souls. Every new burst of emotion arouses the will, and it is through action alone that character arises. We change our lives by our wills. Our destinies are in our own hands. “What thou lovest thou bccomest.” Moral power has in it the life principle of re-creating. The worst consequences of sins are the breaking down of intellect and character. When one’s soul has come to sin, all the beauty of the present time is left behind. The great power is a loving power. But how docs one know it? Only through the touch of human love. You may talk to some who know not of love, but every soul forgives sins. The consequence of sin is distrust in other hearts.
Some one spoke to me of the fate of poor women who had sinned. I could not think how to help them. I was influenced by another’s sin. One of them came to me. At first I could say nothing, but my own soul helped me. Though our hearts hasten to Calvary, shall we pass by those who want us to help them?

I stood by a poor girl who was suffering for her own and another’s sin. I said, “God will forgive.” “Yes,” she answered, “God will forgive, but women won’t.” There are sins which can never be forgiven in this world or the world to come; but out of this loss come new hope and spiritual gain. They become monuments of love, faith, and trust in fellow men.
As I finished talking to her, they sent for me to go and see a man. I found him in a dark, gloomy corner of our beautiful city — a wreck, apparently. He had sown to the wind and was reaping the whirlwind, he had done what many young men are doing — he had “sown his wild oats.” He was what we should call a delicate man; used the vernacular which learned men use; he was a college man. “I got off the wrong way,” he said, “I want to know how to get hold of life anew. I can’t see a clear way.” He told me that all through these years his one true friend had been his little wife, and now for her sake he wanted to begin life again. I said: “My friend, I can’t help you to begin life anew. Reap what you have sown. There is no power in Heaven or on earth that can give you back these years. But God isn’t in a hurry; there is plenty of time. Take hold of that wife’s faith in you and it will help you. And in after years you will say you have gained much, you have been helped to carry character to a higher level. Remember this — the universe is before you waiting to raise the will of man when he is ready.” When I had finished I thought it would have been better to say, “Except ye become as a little child, ye cannot enter into the kingdom of heaven.”

Obscure Unitarians: the Alderton family

Dorothy Marion Alderton — She was born in Oct., 1889, in New York to Henry A. Alderton and Marion Starr Alderton, the eldest of three children. She was a student at Stanford University from 1908-1912. On Sept. 17, 1912, when a senior at Stanford, she married Herbert Anthony Kellar of Peoria, Illinois, at her parents’ Palo Alto home, with Rev. Clarence Reed, the minister of the Unitarian Church of Palo Alto, officiating. The couple moved to Wisconsin, and then to Chicago, where Herbert worked at the McCormick Agricultural Library. They had one son, James, who died c. 1922. Dorothy was diagnosed with “dementia praecox” — what might be diagnosed as schizophrenia today — around 1924. She was institutionalized, and by 1930 Herbert was living with the woman he would eventually marry as his second wife. Herbert obtained a divorce in Reno, Nevada, on Nov. 8, 1934, but he continued correspondence with Dorothy’s mother Marion up to 1942, the year Dorothy died of cancer.

Marion Starr (Decker) Alderton — She was born in Aug., 1865, in Brooklyn, New York. In 1885, she married Henry Arnold Alderton, a physician; they lived in Berlin in 1890-91 while Henry studied at the University of Berlin. They made their home in Brooklyn, but when Dorothy entered Stanford in 1908, Marion, with her two other children, move to Mayfield with her. Henry, Sr., moved to California in 1912, and took up painting.

Marion withdrew from the Unitarian Church of Palo Alto in June, 1920, in protest against “the attitude taken” by the church in the First World War; the church had a pacifist minister, William E. Short, Jr., in 1916-1917, who resigned to work for a pacifist organization in San Francisco; but by 1918, the church had hired a pro-war minister, F=Bradley Gilman, and had voted to display a U.S. flag on the pulpit. The church’s turn towards a pro-war stand may have been simply pragmatic, since the church received significant financial assistance from the American Unitarian Association, and since the A.U.A. made it a condition of receiving such aid that churches must declare their support of the First World War; however, the church always included both anti-war (e.g., Prof. Guido Marx) and pro-war (e.g., Prof. Melville B. Anderson) members.

By 1924, her daughter Dorothy was diagnosed with schizophrenia; see Dorothy M. Alderton above. Henry, Sr., died c. 1931; Marion died after 1940.

Indiana Universalism, 1807-1916

Back in 1917, Rev. Elmo Arnold Robinson published a two-part history of Universalism in Indiana in the Indiana Magazine of History; the numbers of the journal were vol. 13 no. 1 (March, 1917) and vol. 13 no. 2 (June, 1917). You can find these articles in various places online, but perhaps the most convenient way to obtain them is through JSTOR; unusually for JSTOR, both articles are offered free of charge.

“Universalism in Indiana,” part one

“Universalism in Indiana,” concluded

Robinson later wrote the book-length history The Universalist Church in Ohio (Ohio Universalist Convention, 1923). And yes, there is a connection to Palo Alto: Robinson served as the minister of the old Palo Alto Unitarian Church from 1921 to 1926; he was fellowshipped as both a Unitarian and a Universalist minister.

Obscure liberal theologians of North America: Eveline Kroetsch

First in a series.

Eveline Kroetsch, second cousin of the respected Canadian poet Robert Kroetsch, was born in Cessford, Alberta, on May 2, 1936. As the flat landscape of Alberta’s prairies shaped her cousin’s poetry, so the landscape shaped Kroetsch’s theology. The town of Cessford had never been very large, but it had thrived in the 1920s. In the 1930s, the Depression, locusts, and dust storms cause almost half the population to leave, and as the town shrank it felt increasingly isolated.

Cessford had been settled by Swedes, and some of the older residents still spoke Swedish when Kroetsch was young. The elderly proprietors of the Chinese restaurant in town (no one knew why they had settled in such an isolated place though perhaps they had been laborers working for the railroad) spoke Chinese. Her mother’s mother was a Metis and could still speak Blackfoot with the occasional Siksika who wandered up from the Siksika Indian Reserve, which had been much reduced in area after the federal government gave reserve land to the Canadian Pacific Railway. Her father’s mother spoke mostly German and a little broken English.

She was confirmed in the Anglican Church, although there wasn’t a regular congregation in Cessford. About once a month, a priest would make the fifty mile trip via rail from the church in Hanna, and offer communion to the handful of Anglicans in Cessford. The lack of regular and consistent pastoral supervision may explain why Kroetsch developed such unorthodox views later in her life. But she also seems to have been prone to vaguely mystical experiences. Later in life, Kroetsch talked about visiting the Red Deer River, south of Cessford, to see the carved badlands around the river, and how the sight made her feel at one with God.

After learning that Lydia Gruchy, who, in 1936, was the first woman to be ordained by the United Church of Canada, had attended St. Andrew’s College in Saskatoon, Kroetsch determined to study there. She was sidetracked by an unhappy marriage, which she remained in until her three children were grown. But in 1976, she was finally able to begin her theological studies at St. Andrews. Continue reading “Obscure liberal theologians of North America: Eveline Kroetsch”

William R. Jones: a brief appreciation

While on vacation, I missed the death of Rev. Dr. William R. Jones, who died on July 17 at age 78; commenter Dan Gerson drew my attention to that fact today. Jones was the pre-eminent Unitarian Universalist humanist theologian of the past fifty years, one of the handful of truly important Unitarian Universalist theologians of any kind from the past half century, and arguably the best Unitarian Universalist thinker on anti-racism.

Jones is a major figure who deserves a full critical biography, which I am not competent to write. But here is an all-too-brief overview of his life and work:

Education and ministry

William Ronald Jones was born in 1933. He received his undergraduate degree in philosophy at Howard University. He earned his Master of Divinity at Harvard University in 1958, and was ordained and fellowshipped as a Unitarian Universalist minister in that year. He served from 1958-1960 at a Unitarian Universalist congregation in Providence, Rhode Island. Mark Morrison-Reed states that Jones served at First Unitarian as assistant minister (Black Pioneers in a White Denomination, p. 139), but the UUA Web site states that he served at Church of the Mediator as “minister”; I’m inclined to believe Mark’s book, as the UUA listings of ministers are prone to error.

After a two-year stint as a minister, Jones went on to do doctoral work in religious studies at Brown University, receiving his Ph.D. in 1969. His dissertation was titled “On Sartre’s Critical Methodology,” which discussed “Jean-Paul Sartre’s philosophical anthropology” (Lewis R. Gordon, An Introduction to Africana Philosophy [Cambridge University, 2008], p. 171).

As you can see, Jones quickly moved from the parish to the academy. Of course he was well suited to the academy because of his intellectual abilities, but also there is little doubt that there were few doors open for African American ministers looking for Unitarian Universalist pulpits in the 1960s.

The years at Yale

After receiving his Ph.D., Jones was an assistant professor at Yale Divinity School from 1969 to 1977. It was while he was at Yale that he gained renown as a Black theologian with a unique take on the issue of theodicy. Continue reading “William R. Jones: a brief appreciation”