CASTINE, Maine — The Rev. Edward T. Taylor urged his flock to “walk large” and “dig the grave of sectarianism.”
Known simply as Father Taylor, the United Methodist minister was a popular New England preacher in the 19th century. Portions of his sermons will be recreated 10:30 a.m. Sunday, Aug. 18, at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Castine as the final event in Storytelling by the Sea.
David Avery, who teaches mathematics and science at Maine Maritime Academy, will portray the sailor turned preacher using material prepared by his wife, Wendy Knickerbocker. She has written a book about Taylor that will be published next year.
A former librarian at Maine Maritime Academy, Knickerbocker was researching the culture of sailors when she learned about Taylor and became captivated by his story.
“He was born in 1793, most likely in Richmond, Va., but orphaned as a very young boy,” she said earlier this week. “He ran away to sea at the age of 7. When he returned to Boston in 1810 or ‘11, he stumbled into a church in Boston and had a conversion experience.”
Taylor became a minister despite being illiterate, Knickerbocker said. Early in his career, he was a circuit rider and preached throughout southern New England. Because he had been to sea, Taylor was asked to be pastor at Boston’s Seamen’s Bethel, founded by his denomination. He held that position from the mid-1820s to 1850s.
When Methodists could no longer support the Seaman’s Bethel, the Unitarian Church took it over and keeping Taylor on. The minister was known for his colorful sermons, homespun metaphors and energetic preaching style, according to Knickerbocker. Unitarians William Ellery Channing and Ralph Waldo Emerson were among Father Taylor’s admirers.
Knickerbocker said that for the book, she turned to newspapers and letters that described Taylor’s sermons and preaching style. She pulled together excerpts from several sources for the sermon to be delivered Sunday.
“Society is a large moral institution,” Taylor said in one. “I believe we are improving creatures. I believe much in the virtue and the innate purity of the human soul. I believe it is very difficult for a man to walk so far from God that God has no property in him — I believe the Gospel is sent to redeem the fallen and bring the wandering home to Him, and therefore I believe that it is kindness alone that can affect it.”
Taylor retired in 1869 and died two years later. He stayed out of the debate about slavery because he felt it was divisive within denominations at a time ecumenical cooperation was rare.
“My brethren, be true to your proper and true position, maintain your old, noble and triumphant warfare against denominational bigotry, and in behalf of ‘the glorious liberty to think,’” Taylor preached. “Dig the grave of sectarianism — dig it deep — and may I be there when it is buried. If you will do it, you shall have the credit of the deed.”
He also used a story about a Native American to make a point, according to Knickerbocker.
“Preserve your ‘large walk,’ for when I think of the freedom and boldness with which you are willing to rest upon the truth and the Scriptures, avoiding the exclusiveness of almost all other bodies of Christians, I can but remember the speech of an Indian chief, who visited Boston, with some of his braves, and was feasted there in the house of one of our wealthy citizens,” Taylor said.
“The chief surveyed the magnificent parlor awhile; and, going to the master of the mansion, thus accosted him: ‘You are a pretty bird, in a pretty cage; but I — my home is in the woods — I walk for a day, and then go to my rest, with a day’s walk beyond me still. You can only walk round in your cage — but — I walk large.’ Brethren, you walk large, and my hope and desire is that you may always continue to walk large,” he said.