Written by Rebecca Woods
Seventeen people will step from the pages of UCC history to talk with GS28 visitors.
Abigail Roberts, in plaid bonnet and apron, walked through the Exhibition Floor on Friday afternoon to talk about the Christian thread of the UCC tradition. She lived from 1791 to 1841 and founded eight churches as an itinerant evangelist.
“I discovered that I had a gift for bringing people together, exhorting them and starting churches,” Roberts said. “I could found churches but, as a woman, I couldn’t be a pastor. I couldn’t sign the papers, so I was free to go on to start more churches.”
Although she had a great deal of success, not everyone was pleased with her work.
“Lots of men said that it was okay for women to go into the mission fields where the heathens were. I always replied that, judging from what I’ve seen, I’m among them right here.”
Among the churches she and her husband Nathan founded was a congregation in Milford, N.J., which still exists today as First UCC.
But Roberts was troubled by the denominations that were growing up and adding more and more layers to their beliefs.
““Jesus didn’t come to make denominations; he came to make disciples,” she said. “We called ourselves Christians, just Christians. We believe we should be judged not by our creed but by the content of our characters.”
In the same spot on Saturday afternoon, the Hon. Samuel Sewall, a Puritan, held forth in judicial robe and powdered wig. Sewall, who lived from 1652 to 1730, presided at the Salem witch trials and condemned the accused women to death. Years later, he admitted that he had acted wrongly and understood that the defendants had been falsely accused.
“I was able to turn about and experience transformation,” Sewall said. “God was still speaking and I’m glad that I had the ears to hear. My one regret is that I never pardoned them. In hindsight, I know the ‘spectral’ evidence was probably staged. Back then, the standards of evidence were much different. Hearsay was accepted in court.
“These women were odd and they were singled out for it.”
The appearances of these historical figures were arranged jointly by the project of the Amistad Research Center, UCC Archives Historical Council, the American Congregational Association/Historical Council and the Evangelical and Reformed Historical Society.
“We always used to have a lunch at Synod, but we decided this year not to spend the money on that and try to do something dramatic instead,” said Barbara Brown Zikmund of the Historical Council.
Those who took on the dramatic roles were friends of Zikmund whom she “could talk into doing something like this,” she said.
Abigail Roberts was played by Marjorie Royle of the New Jersey Association who is on the board of the American Congregational Association. Taking on the role of Sewall was the Rev. Norman Bendroth, an interim minister from the Boston area.