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Ministerial Conference at Berry Street: History
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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 Association.

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: ( 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.


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