Our wayside pulpit needs a makeover!
If you are unfamiliar with the term “wayside pulpit,” this is the large sign facing Washington Street on the FUUSN front lawn. Even in our digital age, the message in the wayside pulpit is often the first impression that our congregation makes upon prospective visitors, and upon hundreds of passers-by every day. The Unitarian Universalist Association has a fascinating history of the wayside pulpit in our faith tradition, which I have reproduced below.
Our stock of posters is growing damp and out of date, so we need some new messages for our wayside pulpit. Do you have an inspirational quotation that you would like to see broadcast from the FUUSN front lawn? What message should we be sending to the world? What should we be communicating to passers-by, or prospective visitors in search of a spiritual home, about who we are and what we stand for?
Submit your suggestions to Sam (firstname.lastname@example.org) and we’ll start printing a collection of new, congregationally sourced wayside messages. There is no deadline: let us know your suggestions and we’ll add them to the collection for future display. –Samuel Foster
From the UUA website:
More than forty years ago, a despondent Korean War veteran stood on the Brooklyn Bridge ready to jump. His suicidal mood was brought up short when he remembered a message he had seen posted outside his neighborhood church. It read: “When you come to the end of your rope—tie a knot in it and hang on.”
The man decided to hang on to life because of hope offered by a bulletin board. Roadside messages like the one he remembered once dotted church grounds in 500 cities on four continents. How this tradition began can be traced to two differing tales, one starting in Massachusetts and the other in England.
The roadside bulletin board was first introduced to North American churches in 1919 by Henry Hallam Saunderson, minister of the First Parish Church (Unitarian) of Brighton, Massachusetts, and secretary of the American Unitarian Association’s publicity department from 1915 to 1921. Saunderson noticed that “many bulletin boards in front of churches were ineffectual because they were either kept empty or held notices which had outlived their usefulness.” Inspired by the local wayside shrines he had seen in Europe, he decided to create “wayside sermons,” liberal messages that would make people stop, read, and search their conscience.
Saunderson started by posting brief quotations each Sunday night on the bulletin board outside his church. When hundreds of people stopped to read the messages, he decided the idea might have a wider usefulness. After Saunderson polled various clergy in the area, one hundred ministers agreed to subscribe to his wayside sermons. Subscribers would erect bulletin boards of the same size and proportion on their church grounds and share the expense of having weekly messages printed on 32 x 44 inch sheets that would be readable from across the street. At one point, twelve different denominations subscribed to the service, including Presbyterian, Baptist, United Church of Christ, and Episcopal churches.
These message boards became known as the Wayside Community Pulpit, reaching as many as three million readers, according to a 1924 poll. During the subscription’s early conception, Saunderson composed each weekly message. When the American Unitarian Association picked up on Saunderson’s idea, it culled quotations from the world’s literature, and, in 1956, expanded their scope to include contributions from ministers and laypeople.
The wayside message was first introduced to British churches by the Reverend H. Harrold Johnson. Called in 1919 to bring new life into the declining Cross Street Chapel in Manchester, Johnson created the Wayside Pulpit “Thought for the Week,” pithy messages that would appeal to the person in the street, rather than the person in the pew. These messages were hand painted on 40 x 30 inch posters and were changed each week. The first Wayside Pulpit was posted on December 26, 1920, for all of Manchester to see. From that day on, a new poster appeared every Sunday morning for the next fifty years. Even when England was blitzed during World War II and the Chapel stood roofless, a weekly message appeared. The legacy of Wayside Pulpits in England is carried on by the General Assembly of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches.
In North America, the Wayside tradition continued under the Unitarian Universalist Association, which was created in 1961 when the American Unitarian Association and the Universalist Church of America merged. Between 1963 and 1977, the Wayside Community Pulpit struggled to survive against changing sentiments and rising manufacturing costs. The number of Wayside subscribers had dwindled to 220 in 1968. More people viewed the Wayside Community Pulpit as an identification of a Unitarian Universalist church, rather than as a good message to be widely used. Many non-Unitarian Universalist churches agreed with the idea of the service, but didn’t always agree with the liberal content of the quotations.
By 1982, the frequency of the publication decreased from one quotation per week to one quotation every ten days. In 1986, it shrank to twenty-six quotations once a year. By 1989, the service was reduced to a set of quotations every two years. That is how it exists today.
This collection contains quotations from the Wayside tradition started in North America. Research into historical Wayside correspondence reveals that there had long been demand for a print collection of the quotations. One attempt was made in 1976, but the result was only a small pamphlet of fifty or so quotes from the last quarter century.
Like the 1976 pamphlet, this collection isn’t necessarily the best of the Wayside Pulpit, but, as Wayside editor Meredith Webb wrote in 1975, “I hope it will not be considered the worst of Wayside.” Quotations from the Wayside differs from traditional quotation books because its contents were honed from years of liberal religion. This liberal message is reflected in many of the quotations and in the categories chosen here. Included are the few Saunderson quotes that survived in the Unitarian Universalist Association archives, and much material compiled by past Wayside Pulpit editors.
When Henry Hallam Saunderson created the first Wayside Community Pulpit in North America in 1919, he thought to spread a little liberal thinking by publishing thought-provoking messages that reflect universal truths. These messages are the essence of Saunderson’s legacy, a hope to find the divine in ourselves. May we be so inspired.