Why Sam Adams' Church Is Selling a Bit of Its History to Pay for Its Future

Article excerpt

Ben Franklin was baptized by the church, and Sam Adams was a member. But the congregation in downtown Boston has causes to fund and bills to pay, not the least of which are millions of dollars in upkeep for its current home, the Old South Church, a national landmark.

So on Sunday members of the congregation voted to sell valuable historical artifacts including a 372-year-old hymn book valued at up to $20 million to fund structural repairs and expand its ministry programs.

But at the heart of the vote is a larger question about the mission of the church: Is it more important to preserve the past or invest in the future?

The congregation authorized the auction of one of its two copies of the Bay Psalm Book, one the first books ever published in North America. Only 11 copies remain of the original printing, published in 1640 by the first printer in the Massachusetts Bay Colony, Stephen Daye. The churchs two copies have been kept in the rare book collection across the street at the Boston Public Library since 1866. Other items, which will be sold privately, include 19 pieces of Colonial-era silver held in Bostons Museum of Fine Arts since 1939.

By approving the sale of these artifacts, members are agreeing that we are not conservators of rare and special objects, but a church in motion, says Rev. Nancy Taylor. We will turn the old hymn book into true doxology for today helping the homeless, working with prisoners, and assisting victims of domestic violence.

Opponents of the sale argued that the soul of the church could not be disconnected from its history.

"We use these things to sermonize and to inspire and to project our faith into the world," Jeff Makholm, the Old South Church historian, told the Associated Press.

The churchs first members were Puritan reformists and colony merchants who established a congregation in 1669. Benjamin Franklin was baptized by the church in 1706, and in 1773 Samuel Adams, a member, set the Boston Tea Party in motion from within the walls of the original building, now known as the Old South Meeting House, a landmark on Bostons Freedom Trail. …