Historical figures bring UCC's past to life at GS28
Written by Micki Carter July 2, 2011
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
““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
“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.”
“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
Those who took on the dramatic roles
were friends of Zikmund whom she “could talk into doing something like this,”
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.
To meet other historical figures,
stop at the Historical Council exhibit area throughout the rest of GS28 and
check the schedule of appearances.