Post by njk on Feb 3, 2017 11:34:33 GMT -5
The Power of Friendship
Close to the nine o’clock hour of a Sunday morning, a bell began to toll in the town of Boston, summoning all good Puritans to church. Most were already on their way through the dusty narrow lanes, many by foot, others by horseback or wagon. Reaching the humble thatched-roof meetinghouse, Psalm books in hand, they gathered by the front door, the mood low and quiet. No laughter of noisy children. No boisterous greeting of friends and neighbors. Just simple nods and serious expressions. Yet in a backdrop to this solemn scene were the riotous colors of autumn—fiery oranges and spectacular reds, for it was mid-October in New England, when the leaves were in their final glory.
The group shuffled in and parted ways, men to one side, women to the other. Children filed in behind their parents, girls joining their mothers, boys to their own section. The more important members, such as Governor Winthrop and his wife Margaret, took their places at the front, their servants to the back. A dim morning light seeped through the few tiny windows revealing a small, simple room laid bare of anything—statue, organ, paintings, flowers—that could distract from focus on the service.
A hush came over the room as Pastor John Wilson entered. A tall, bony man, he wore a long black coat and a stern face. Immediately, everyone stood while he escorted his wife Elizabeth to her seat. Then he stepping into the pulpit, he paused to scan the congregation packed shoulder to shoulder upon the timbered benches. There in her usual place sat Mistress Anne Hutchinson, her back straight, her eyes intent on his.
Did he flinch or did he hold her gaze?
The question is asked because they were hardly friends. Hardly friends at all.
It’s easy to imagine what might have been running through Pastor Wilson’s mind at the sight of Mistress Hutchinson, sitting there in her high and mighty way.
The boldness of her! Inviting women into her home to talk about Sunday’s sermons, his sermons! Freely interpreting Scripture on her own, as if equal to a minister! Criticizing his preaching and infecting women’s heads with abominable ideas! Questioning his very ability to be a minster. Walking out his sermons and causing other misguided members to follow her! She had overstepped her bounds. She was acting not like a woman at all!
Anne Hutchinson had embarrassed him. She had humiliated him.
Governor Winthrop cast a suspicious eye on her, too. It was Anne Hutchinson who had urged male church members to refuse to fight in the war against the Pequod Indians or to give money to support it. To Governor Winthrop’s way of thinking, anyone who would seek to divide the community was dangerous. Obeying laws and conforming to rules was the only way to keep the young colony unified, strong and safe. Nothing less was treason.
Mistress Hutchinson was getting too powerful.
But as Pastor Wilson knew, the tide was beginning to turn against her. He and a group of like-minded ministers had banned her home meetings on the grounds that they were unauthorized; a woman had no right to preach. So, on this day, this Sunday morning in October, Pastor Wilson was feeling righteous and emboldened. He would put the haughty, opinionated woman firmly in her place.
First, though, there would be prayers and Psalm singing and Bible reading.
Once finished, he readied himself with his notes. Bodies shifted their weight. Feet scuffled. Children tried not to squirm. Everyone did what they could to settle in for what would be the next two hours. Pastor Wilson looked out upon his flock. Then he began to preach in his dull, nasal voice.
Somewhere in the middle of the sermon, Pastor Wilson turned to Anne Hutchinson. Suddenly, with his anger rising, he denounced her from the pulpit, calling her out for her “monstrous” and “notorious errors.” Depart this service, he loudly commanded.
Heads turned. Gasps escaped. Harsh whispers disturbed the air.
Mary Dyer, sitting nearby, shuddered. How could she bear to see her beloved teacher and friend be so publicly shamed? Did she search Anne’s expression for a sign? Did she seek out William, her dear husband, for a nod of encouragement? How like an eternity a split second can seem when weighing the consequences of a single act. A decision you cannot undo. She had her family to think about and the child she was carrying.
Anne Hutchinson, ever dignified, rose from the bench. She said not a word, her chin held high. Then as she turned to leave, another person rose with her. How her heart must have leapt at the sight. For it was her young friend and devoted student, Mary Dyer, ill-looking and visibly pregnant, teetering with the weight of her swollen belly.
Together, Anne and Mary walked out of the meetinghouse, leaving a shocked, scandalized congregation behind them.
This forced departure marked just the beginning of the trouble both women were about to experience at the hands of the Puritans elders, the men who made the rules and governed the colony.
Have you ever heard of them, Anne and Mary?
Walk the Freedom Trail in Boston, you you'll see their statues in the shadow of the gold-domed Massachusetts State House, standing at opposite ends of the front expanse.
Anne, depicted in a cap and long dress, holds a book and looks toward the sky. A child, imagining her daughter Susannah, clutches her skirt. Mary, in the clothing of a Quaker, is seated, eyes cast submissively downward, hands folded neatly in her lap.
Anne and Mary and their families were among the first English settlers to come to the New World. Today, they are memorialized as symbols of freedom of conscience and religious liberty in America.
In their own time, however, they were the last people the government would ever erect a statue to. In their own time, Governor Winthrop would sooner put them in the stocks than on a pedestal for all to admire. In their own time, they were troublemakers—with a capital “T.”
They challenged certain laws of the Massachusetts Bay Colony they thought were unfair. Back then, no one was supposed to defy authority, least of all, women.
But that didn’t stop Anne and Mary.
Neither woman ever held an official role in government or had a professional title of any sort. Neither left a diary or wrote a book or saved her letters. Rather, each was simply herself—wife, mother, midwife, church member—who fought for the principles she believed in—and paid the ultimate price.
Remarkably, they were the best of friends, drawing strength from one another as surely as they drew water from the same town spring. They stood by one another when all odds were against them.
Anne and Mary.
This is their story.