Recommended Reformation Day reading

Greetings, readers — My husband, Jonathan Padget and I are back from a deeply restful and energizing vacation in southern New England. Expect much of the blogging in the days to come to reflect this.

But today, among other observances, is Reformation Day. Ours is a reformation faith; indeed when examined perhaps Protestant if not always Christian. In particular, our roots — both Unitarian and Universalist — run heavily through the English Reformed tradition, which is to say we’re of Puritan stock.

It’s not very popular to claim affinity for Puritans these days, nor indeed for several decades. And we’re apt to say we’ve gotten past that, if it weren’t so evident in how we continue to organize and imagine ourselves. But misunderstanding (or even deliberately maligning) the Puritans won’t help us understand how we got here or what shapes our particular gifts to the religious landscape.

On the road, Jonathan quizzed me on the difference between the Puritans and Pilgrims, the Massachusetts Bay and Plymouth colonies and the like. Having earned a religious history degree before going to seminary, I set out the distinctions in the usual way, but I couldn’t get some of the dates in the right order and began to second guess myself. God, in his Providence, made available a little book in a little shop conveniently next door to the Universalist Meeting House in Provincetown, Massachusetts, which I bough and devoured. I commend this to all Unitarian Universalist ministerial students and forgetful ministers, particularly if you can also get it used for half price.

This book is Francis J. Bremer’s Puritanism: A Very Short Introduction (2009, $11.95) from Oxford University Press. True to the name, it is a quick read, and quite authoritative. Compact, too, and sure to keep people from bothering you on the subway.

The biggest takeaways are its readable historical review; a good explanation of a spectrum of Puritan worldviews, with respect to social change when having different levels of political power; and background for congregational polity. In particular, Bremer reviews the precedent of Continental refugee churches for the local selection of ministers. Also, I hadn’t known of lay and ministerial conferences that carry over today in the UUA, the various ministerial study groups and independent theological organizations.

A worthy read, also valuable I think for group study.

2 Replies to “Recommended Reformation Day reading”

  1. Just this afternoon on the drive back from the Sunday service and a new member’s class I thought to myself, “I hope that no one asks me next week the difference between the Puritans and the pilgrims.” Thanks for the reference!

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