Sunday, June 30, 2013

The 18th Century Minister

In a blog post I wrote back in 2010 about the First Great Awakening, I explored some of the ways in which the revival movement, for all its blessings, did destabilize the parish system and the ecclesial communities that had previously tethered colonial religion to the land and to the wider social infrastructure. (See The Problem of Mediation in the First Great Awakening). Donald Scot's fascinating study, From Office to Profession: The New England Ministry 1750-1850 seems to confirm many of my observations. In the following quote, Scott describes the nature of the 18th century clergyman in the older paradigm, prior to the individualizing influence of the revival:

“The most distinctive feature of eighteenth-century New England society and culture was its communalism, a social structure and ideology in which order, harmony, and obedience to all authority were the highest public and social values. This communalism, moreover, can be said to have centered as much in the figure of a settled minister as it did in any other figure or institution, for the clergyman was both the keeper and purveyor of the public culture, the body of fundamental precepts and values that defined the social community, and an enforcer of the personal values and decorum that sustained it.”

…the minister was a ‘watchman on the walls of Zion’ with explicit, ordained responsibilities for the preservation of social order. As an ‘ambassador of God’ and the ‘faithful shepherd’ of a particular flock, he presided over the faith and knowledge which at once sustained one’s personal relationship to God and defined one’s position and duties within the community. … The ministerial office in eighteenth-century New England, then, was inseparable from the fabric of the New England towns that contained it. 
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