230 years ago, King's Chapel ordained James Freeman and a new church was born in a new country. By that vote of the congregation, King's Chapel made a breath-taking commitment to religious tolerance, and as a result was called heretical by both Anglicans and Congregationalists, the dominant religious forces then in Boston. What let the people be comfortable with this change? How do new ways of thinking ever take hold?
The Rev. James Freeman was young - only 24 when he first arrived - and he was courageous. In that period of the New Republic being born, his energy and courage must have been part of his attraction. Freeman also was honest, and early in his tenure preached to his new congregation about his trouble with creeds, bishops, and the religious doctrine of the trinity. He set forth his own views: the right of all people to use their reason to understand God, Jesus and the Spirit, based on their reading of the Bible, and their own freedom of conscience. For Freeman, a people who had just overthrown a monarch during the Revolutionary War should now follow similar principles in church life.
The new Episcopal Church in the United States, which would replace the Anglican Church of England on this soil, should eschew not only allegiance to the King of England, but also to the English Archbishop, and any concomitant hierarchical, creedal structure. The congregation of King's Chapel heard Freeman out, and then exercised their own new-found freedom to vote line by line on his proposed changes to the Prayerbook, adopting some and disagreeing with others. Church members also steadfastly supported Freeman's insistence on religious tolerance in the ordination process: when no Episcopal Bishop would allow him to set aside the Anglican Church's trinitarian creed, the congregation took on the task themselves, and by a vote of their lay membership, ordained Freeman, to the outcry of other area churches.
Come learn more about this early legacy of openness to new ideas, for which we rejoice and give thanks.