The Rev. William Ellery Channing, Minister of the
Federal Street Church of Boston, invited all Massachusetts ministers known
to be liberal to meet in the vestry of his church (whose entrance was on
Berry Street) on May 30, 1820. At the meeting Channing delivered a
prepared address. He urged upon his colleagues a "bond of union" among
liberal Christian ministers, within which they might meet to exchange
practical ideas for strengthening their ministries.
Meeting again on the evening of May 31, 1820, the
ministers adopted a few simple rules for ensuring free and broad discussion
at an annual conference, and also the means of each year asking one or two
of their number to come with prepared remarks - or an essay. Thus was
initiated the Berry Street Conference which has convened every year save one
(during WWII) since 1820, and thus is the Berry Street Essay the oldest
lecture series on the North American continent. As from its beginning, its
purpose is to contribute to the practical strength of liberal ministries.
The convening of the Berry Street Conference, for the delivery and hearing
of the Berry Street Essay, has for many years now been the last event of the
annual meeting and conference of the Unitarian Universalist Ministers
Unfortunately, the records of the Conference were lost in transit from
one scribe to the next in 1920, so an entire century of the history was lost
along with copies of many of the essays. Prof. Charles Lyttle of
Meadville Lombard was asked to reconstruct that history to the best of his
ability, and he submitted his results to the Conference in 1927. That
document is preserved in the Berry Street Conference Archives at the
Andover-Harvard Library: (http://www.hds.harvard.edu/library/bms/bms00136.html)
Lyttle then summarized his conclusions and observations from his research in
an article entitled "An Outline of the History of the
Berry Street Ministerial Conference" in the the Meadville Theological
School Quarterly Bulletin in 1930. His work was then updated to
include all essays delivered through 1993 by Rudy Nemser when he served as
scribe in his book, The Berry Street Conference. The current
project of presenting these essays on the web is deeply dependent on the
work these two have done.
The essayist is chosen by a committee of three and a
scribe, now elected by the members of the UUMA. The scribe serves as convener of
the committee and the Conference, and also as the Conference historian.
This project was funded in part by the Fund for Unitarian Universalism.
Questions, comments, concerns? Contact the
Berry Street Scribe: firstname.lastname@example.org