Thou Shalt Not Play Sports Nor Smoke Tobacco

Reposted from Once Upon a Time in Needham.

The Great Pastoral Coup d’Etat of 1903

Cyclists in the first Tour de France in 1903. Men of dubious moral character, all. Especially that guy in the white jersey. He's Maurice Garin, aka "The Little Chimney Sweep" and had the dubious distinction of winning the race. (Image: AP Photo/Conservatoire du Patrimoine Sportif)

Cyclists in the first Tour de France in 1903. Men of dubious moral character, all. Especially that guy in the white jersey. He’s Maurice Garin, aka “The Little Chimney Sweep,” and had the dubious distinction of winning the race. (Image: AP Photo/Conservatoire du Patrimoine Sportif)

Every once in a while I come across something in the archives of the Congregational Church of Needham that reminds me how very different life used to be. For example, the firing of the Rev. Frank Estabrook in May 1903 after a long and contentious spiritual battle with church members.

In his blistering six-page resignation letter, Rev. Estabrook recommends that the congregation take a hard look at its by-laws for:

“only a broad and liberal platform of faith, an immediate and radical revision of your By-laws, and the utmost consecration and devotion on the part of all your members can make you even moderately successful. I see no good ground to hope for any of these things.”

Several pages of the letter are devoted to describing an intolerable situation in which the Rev. Estabrook was subjected to a

“season of exaggeration whispered in dark places… and tale-bearing which it is revolting to recall.”

If he were to stay on as pastor, he writes, he could

“neither forget these things nor repair the damage that has been done.”

What on earth could have caused this rift?

“I frankly admit that I do not agree with many members of this church in matters of faith and personal practice. Indulgence within the limits of temperance in all sport and games I consider not only harmless but sane, wholesome and beneficial. The horror with which many of you regard the use of tobacco finds no sympathetic response in me.”

That’s right. The congregation forced the Reverend Frank P. Estabrook to resign because he liked to play sports and smoke tobacco.

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About Shala Howell

I spent two decades helping companies like Bell Labs, Juniper Networks, and a genetic testing company that was later acquired by CVS translate some of the world’s most complicated concepts into actionable, understandable English. Now I'm working on a much harder problem -- fostering children’s curiosity and engagement in the scientific, artistic, and linguistic world that surrounds them. The first book in my Caterpickles Parenting Series, What’s That, Mom?, focuses on how to use public art to nurture children’s curiosity in the world around them. My next book, Did Dinosaurs Have Belly Buttons?, is currently planned for release in 2018. In the meantime, you can find me blogging about life with a very curious Ten-Year-Old at Caterpickles.com, chatting about books and the writing life at BostonWriters.blog, and tweeting about books, writing, science, & things that make me smile at @shalahowell.
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