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Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Ancient Unitarian silver in the news.

A front-page story in the Boston Globe this morning features one of the UUA's most venerable congregations. The good people at Christie's may see the auction of some of the church's 70-piece silver collection as "wildly exciting from an antique silver perspective," but I think it's more exciting to see the church deliberately look for ways to reach out, welcome new people, and wear its past lightly but well:

The First Church in Salem, which was founded in 1629 and counted victims as well as judges in the Salem witch trials among its early members, is auctioning off 14 silver tankards, flagons, and beakers in hope of raising $1 million to accelerate growth in membership and programming that began in the late 1990s. . . .

This is the second high-profile sale of early American silver by a Massachusetts church in recent years. In 2001, United First Parish Church in Quincy, which was founded in 1639 and is the burial place of Presidents John Adams and John Quincy Adams, sold 11 pieces, the value of which at auction had been estimated at around $1 million. The pieces sold for about $3 million.

In that sale, some people, including a former pastor, complained that the church was selling off its heritage; others were unhappy with the sale but felt the church had no choice, given a dwindling membership and a desperate need to fund repairs.

First Church in Salem has no such problems, Barz-Snell said.

"There is no urgency pushing this," he said. "It is the recognition that the church is growing, Salem is growing, and the church is poised, as a progressive Christian church, to become more involved with the broader community."

And, yes, I couldn't help but notice the intradenominational compare-and-contrast. Perhaps a Quincy commenter can give us an update.

("Salem church sets storied silver work on auction block," Charles A. Radin, Boston Globe 12.19.06, reg req'd)

Copyright © 2006 by Philocrites | Posted 19 December 2006 at 7:39 AM

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December 19, 2006 10:33 AM | Permalink for this comment

The Globe piece notes that the church's silver collection has already been the subject of attempted thefts. Where a piece of art becomes too valuable to safely keep on hand, the prudent thing to do is to get rid of it, either by selling it or by semi-permanently loaning it to a museum. Good for the Salem church for dealing wisely with their situation.

Christies' catalog for the sale can be reviewed here, incidentally. (The church lots are near the end.) Beautiful stuff.

Dan Harper:

December 23, 2006 10:38 AM | Permalink for this comment

Hooray for Salem for taking the long view! I admit to sentimental fondness for Salem Unitarian, since my parents were married there and my grandfather served on the board -- and as the first of our churches to be founded on the soil of the New World, may this sale help them to last another three or four centuries.

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