is not something separate and apart from ordinary life. It is
lifelife of every kind viewed from the standpoint of meaning
and purpose: life lived in the fuller awareness of its human quality
and spiritual significance."
Probably no words of A.
Powell Davies better express the universality and simplicity of his
religious faith. Minister of All Souls Church in Washington from 1944
until his death in September 1957, Dr. Davies rose to prominence as
one of America's most forthright, courageous liberal spokesmen. His
influence was felt not only in his own church and community but reached
out into national and international areas of concern. Whether it was
a question of racial injustice in the District of Columbia, unfair
methods of Congressional committees, or the needs of the underfed
and underprivileged in Asiahe spoke out simply and courageously,
reaffirming his conviction that "Religion is as large as life,
and it should go into all parts of life."
was born on June 5, 1902, in Birkenhead, England, a suburb of Liverpool.
His mother came from Penymyndd, Wales, where in his boyhood he spent
many vacations on his grandfather's farm. There in the large household
he loved to listen to the family's spirited discussions. Any and
all ideas were entertained and debated, and the growing boy found
stimulation for his already active and adventurous intellect. As
he once said of his fellow Welshmen, "They are highly sensitive,
passionate, emotionally finely balanced; poetry is natural to them.
They are full of eagerness for knowledge and seem to have a natural
faculty for finding the essence of things."
Proud as he
was of his Welsh heritage, Davies early was fascinated with Americaits
founding principles, its opportunity, and, as he foresaw, its inevitable
position of world leadership. So after completing his theological
studies at the University of London and a brief pastorate in a Methodist
church nearby, he came to the United States in 1928 with his wife,
Muriel Hannah Davies.
Always an unconventional
preacher, even within
Methodism, Davies, following a four-year pastorate in Portland, Maine,
in 1933 became minister of the Community Church of Summit, New Jersey,
where he remained for 11 years.
preaches at a memorial service honoring Thomas Jefferson, April
During the period in Summit,
through magazine articles and numerous public addresses, Powell Davies
became known as an astute analyst of national and international affairs.
His first book, American Destiny, published in 1942, opened
with the words: "Not by design, but by necessity, the American
people are moving towards world ascendancy." He developed the
thesis which he continued to stress throughout his career, that America
must take the leadership in a world which has become a single, vast,
reluctant community. The United States, he said, "not only began
with a revolution; it is a revolution, and its faith in human
freedom is the only faith which can unite the world."
His devotion to free
religion and to the democratic system which it nurtured was manifest
in the movement known in his words as Unitarian Advance:
Unitarian churches are founded upon individual freedom of belief,
discipleship to advancing truth, the democratic process in human
relations, universal brotherhood undivided by nation, race or creed,
and allegiance to the cause of a united world community.
Nation's Capital: Religion in Action
In September 1944, A. Powell
Davies became minister of All Souls Church in Washington, D. C. From
this pulpit and in his many addresses throughout the country, he continued
to champion American founding principles. He vigorously opposed racial
injustice, censorship, abuses of Congressional investigating committees,
persecution of public servants, the activities of Communist and pro-Communist
groups, miscarriages of justice, and petty police tyrannies.
Harry S Truman receives Davies at the White House.
The Washington Post
commented that Davies was militantly in the forefront of every
assault upon intolerance and racial discrimination and injustice.
He was chairman of the
Emergency Conference for Civilian Control of Atomic Energy. As president
of Food for Freedom, he rallied national organizations in support
of appropriations for the United Nations' and private overseas relief
All Souls Church
became an effective force for social action. The collection on one
occasion of more than 90 tons of canned goods for overseas relief,
the shipment of school supplies to the children
of Hiroshima in 1947, the widely publicized pledge no longer to
patronize segregated restaurants in the District of Columbia, the
founding of the integrated Columbia Heights Boys Club in cooperation
with the Unitarian Service Committeeall these are examples
of the religion-in-action that he inspired.
He was on the Board of
Directors of the Unitarian Service Committee, the Meadville Theological
School at the University of Chicago, and Federal Union, Inc. He
served on councils of the Planned Parenthood Federation, the National
Committee for Mental Hygiene, Americans for Democratic Action, the
Population Reference Bureau, and Protestants and Other Americans
United for Separation of Church and State.
A longtime student and
vigorous opponent of communism, he early saw the moral issues at
stake and took forthright positions while many were still confused.
He was equally clear as to the menace of McCarthyism, and fought
Meanwhile, during Dr. Davies'
ministry, All Souls Church, heir to a long and distinguished history,
was experiencing its greatest growth. So many people attended the
Sunday morning services that the main auditorium would not hold them
all, and the overflow heard the service over a public address system
in an adjoining hall. Seven new congregations were formed in the Washington
area, and until they called their own ministers, four of these groups
heard Dr. Davies's sermons by direct wire.
His annual series of
printed sermons was mailed to subscribers in all parts of the world,
and many were reprinted in magazines and newspapers.
Souls Unitarian Church in Washington, DC, where Davies was minister
from 1944 to 1957
In addition to these activities,
Davies found time to write numerous books. Mans Vast Future:
A Definition of Democracy, was translated into seven languages
for distribution overseas by the U.S. Information Agency. Other books
are: The Faith of an Unrepentant Liberal, Americas Real Religion,
The Temptation to be Good, The Urge to Persecute, and The Language
of the Heart: A Book of Prayers. With the growing public interest
aroused by the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, he intensified his
efforts to make available to the layman the results of modern Biblical
research. The two books, The Meaning of the Dead Sea Scrolls
and The Ten Commandmentsapproximately one-half million
copies of each printed as paperbackswere followed by The
First Christian: A Study of St. Paul and Christian Origins, completed
just before his death.
To those who were shocked
by the findings of modern scholarship, Dr. Davies asked, Do we fear
that the Bible will not stand investigation?
At the time of Dr. Davies's
death, the Washington Post said: Powell Davies was at
once the spiritual leader and goading conscience to his congregationand
to the whole community.
It has been remarked that
of all his many good works, perhaps the most lovably revolutionary
was to make laughter a part of a religious service. "Too often,"
according to the Washington Daily News, "the religious
man is a bigot, the righteous man a humorless doctrinaire, the crusader
an intolerant ass. Dr.Davies was certainly religious, righteous and
a crusader, but he was broad minded, witty and kind."
In a posthumous award,
Americans for Democratic Action said, He was a universal citizen."
His universality was perhaps his outstanding characteristic. "The
world," he said, "is now too dangerous for anything but
truth, too small for anything but brotherhood. Our neighbor whom
we must love as we love ourselves is anyone whatever and everyone
whatever throughout the world."
And in churches, too,
the basis should be universal. "What a shame it is that there
is anything in churches that shuts people out! For what is a church
but dreams and
hopes and yearnings? And what is worship but the longing of the
lonely human heart?
And even to those who claim
to seek no God, Davies
reached out a hand as a fellow pilgrim. In a sermon, "The God
of the Atheist," he quoted Robert Ingersoll, noted nineteenth-century
agnostic who had affirmed, "He who loves, worships." Davies
added, "Upon such a man I have nothing to urge. Certainly no
word of reproach. Nor do I have a wish to better his thinking, or
improve his creed. If he will not kneel beside me, I will stand
"Why should any
of us be confined within a single area of religious culture?"
he asked. "When I read Amos and Jeremiah, I say 'Would to God
I were a Jew.' When I read the Parable of the Good Samaritan, I
say 'Would I were a Galilean.' When I read the 13th of 1st Corinthians,
I wish with all my heart that I might be a Christian after the manner
of the Apostle Paul. When I think of Buddha and his Eightfold Path,
I say, 'I, too, would be a Buddhist.' And when I remember the trial
of Socrates, I say in awe but with exalted spirit, 'Oh that I might
be so brave a humanist.' And thus at the end, there is nothing I
can say but that, like Emerson and Channing, I want to live with
the privilege of the illimitable mind.
from a statement by the A. Powell Davies Memorial Committee of All
Souls Church, Unitarian, Washington DC.
"Friends: The organizations of All Souls
Church, Unitarian, have joined together to place a bust of the
late A. Powell Davies in this church of his greatest ministry,
and thus to make the bust available to you - and to America
- and to the world.
The sculptor is Jimilu Mason, a Unitarian
and an admirer of Powell Davies. She shaped her image as she
viewed him at his work in life. She caught for time beyond
death his visage."
-Spoken by Russell Baird Adams at the unveiling of
the bust of Dr. Davies, December 8, 1957
Spirit, who givest wisdom, show us how much of what we
pray for in the world about us is waiting to be found
us to know, O God, how vain are all our hopes, how empty
all our prayers, until we ourselves are ready to fulfill
us, O God, to see a way where there is no path; give us
to hear music when our own songs cease; and when the warm
touch of life forsakes us and our courage melts away,
may we stumble through the darkness unto Thee.
us to remember, O God, that from those to whom much
has been given, much is expected.
God, while the shame of what we are is still upon us,
touch us with the hope of our becoming.
God, when we thank Thee for what is given to us and
not to others, let us remember to pray softly, for there
will be many who overhear.
God, who hast given us powers we seldom use, and possibilities
we all too readily relinquish, give us to see how much
better we might be than we are.
The Language of the Heart by A. Powell Davies
Richard F. Boeke, Minister Emeritus of the First Unitarian Church
of Berkeley, California,
now working with
the World Congress of Faiths, centered in the U.K. at Oxford.
Americas real religion is the worlds real religion:
the only religion that can save us and heal our dissensions. For
the faith upon which democracy is based is the victory of truth
over superstition, of liberty over servitude, of the universal over
the provincial, of love over fear. - A. Powell Davies
As Powell Davies grew up near Liverpool, England, he watched the
liners sail off for America, and dreamed of going there. He was
raised a nonconformist by Methodist parents from northern Wales.
As the First World War ended, he supported a dockworkers strike.
The strike leader was elected to Parliament and took Davies to London
as his private secretary. Davies was encouraged to go into politics,
but instead chose to bring religion into politics. In 1925 he graduated
from theological school and was assigned to a Methodist Mission
near the docks in East London. Soon there were more than a thousand
members. The congregation built a combined church and social center,
an idea which he would bring to America. Later he wrote: "In
my three years ministry in London, I saw more of death and dying
than in all my fifteen in America. I have taken eleven funerals
in one week. After seeing dying people all evening, I have done
my best to keep awake all night to stave off the nightmares that
December 28, 1927, Davies married Muriel Hannah, the daughter of
a Methodist minister. In May 1928 they sailed to begin serving two
small Methodist Churches in rural Maine. Within a year Davies was
called to a Methodist Church in the city of Portland where he became
friends with the Unitarian minister, Vincent Silliman. By the time
he reached Portland, Davies had dropped the Apostles Creed from
the service. In 1933 he made the break from the Methodist Church
and was accepted by the Unitarians.
was antiwar. The Britain of his childhood had lost half a generation
of young men to World War I. Yet, as Davies began his ministry as
a Unitarian in Summit, New Jersey in 1933, Hitler was coming to
power in Germany. Davies struggled with the issue of pacifism. In
a 1937 sermon he chose his text from the Sermon on the Mount: "Resist
not him who is evil: but whoever smiteth thee on the right cheek,
turn to him the other also." (Matt 5:29) Davies explored this
text saying, "Of all the disturbing things Jesus said, this
is the saying that disturbs me most. He was inviting us to achieve
a quality of humanity which scorns revenge." Week after week,
Davies sought a moral response to Hitlers Germany. Will the
meek inherit the earth? Can there be a moral equivalent to war?
Why are Jews persecuted in Germany? Davies looked for ways in which
to join democratic nations in an alliance for peace. He called the
democracies of the world to join in a federal union. As Hitler invaded
Czechoslovakia, Davies rejected pacificism. He said, "Face
the realities, only the realities. Nothing is so terrible when we
face it as when we run away from it."
As America entered World War II, Davies wrote, War is a consequence
of the kind of world we live in, a world without the fabric of common
government. We are in a world of war, and to reach another kind
of world we have to win our way in this one. To all intents and
purposes, that world is now a neighborhood."
Davies published his first prophetic book, American Destiny.
Davies takes his theme from Abraham Lincoln, who said, "The
Declaration of Independence gave liberty not alone to the people
of this country, but hope to all the world for all future time."
Davies expands this vision of Lincoln to point out America does
not mean a territory or a continent. America has always been a conceptual
force, "The New World" in contrast to the old. Just as
in the ancient world, "Rome" or "Jerusalem"
signified more than geography, "The New World" proclaims
liberty as a natural inherent right. It adopts a Bill of Rights
which rejects totalitarian churches whether Catholic or National.
it a dream?
Nay, but the lack of it the dream,
And, failing it, lifes lore and wealth a dream,
And all the world a dream."
-Walt Whitman as quoted by A. Powell Davies
"What is faith?" He answers, "Faith is what we do
with our doubts." Doubt is the minds uncertainty. But
we cannot live by doubt. All people need a faith they can believe:
a faith that reckons with realities. It knows the ancient evil,
brutal and barbarous. But it affirms the great hope of a democratic
universal commonwealth, the United Free States of the World. Davies
continues this theme in his book, Americas Real Religion.
America is not based on the creeds of Christianity but on the faith
of Jefferson and Lincoln. For Davies, none of the religions of today
can be "The World Religion." For him, beneath all religions
there is "religion." "Whatever the special emphasis,
the local worship, there is a common faith. All speak, in their
differing accents, of the living spirit, whom some leave nameless
and others call God."
In 1944 as victory neared in World War II, Davies was called to
the capital of America. He became minister to All Souls Unitarian
Church in Washington, D.C. He had a passion for being current in
his preaching. His sermons were often written on Saturday night.
When atomic bombs exploded in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, he immediately
saw the implications. He chaired conferences calling for civilian
control of this new power. His testimony before Congressional Committees
was an important moral force in the establishment of the U.S. Atomic
Energy Commission. In November 1946 he had already prepared his
sermon when he saw a photograph in the Washington Post. After
his sermon he held up the photo of a party at which two U.S. Navy
Admirals are cutting a cake shaped like an atomic mushroom cloud.
A cake made of tiny angel food puffs. To Davies, the cake was obscene.
He said, "How would it seem in Hiroshima, or Nagasaki, to know
that Americans make cakes of angel food puffs in the image of that
terrible, diabolical thing that brought sudden death to thousands
of their friends, and a lingering, loathsome death to thousands
of others? It is the most corrupt and rotten thing I have seen in
eighteen years of living in this land I love and which to me is
the only hope for the human future on this globe."
Pictures of the cake, with the text of Davies wrathful judgment,
appeared in newspapers in every continent but Antarctica. Reporters
started regularly covering his sermons. As millions of Europeans
were short of clothing, he read that American fashion designers
were calling for ankle length skirts. He said women should be free
of the dictates of fashion. He called the long skirts "immoral,"
because they wasted material needed by the suffering world at that
time. His pulpit call for "short skirts" made news around
the world. He pressed for the U.S. to respond to starvation in Europe.
All Souls Church gathered and shipped two tons of food, inspiring
the government to ship a million tons more.
In 1948 Davies dedicated a new hospital in Poland made possible
by gifts from the Unitarian Service Committee. He was trying to
see Jan Masaryk in Czechoslovakia as the Communists took over. Davies
returned to America warning of the dangers of Communism. But soon
members of his congregation were facing a different danger: the
House Un-American Activities Committee and the attacks of Senator
Joseph McCarthy. Davies examined the question: "What is Un-American?"
He noted it refers not only to a nation, but also to an ideology.
In Davies' view the Un-American Activities Committee was itself
Un-American. McCarthy blacklisted movie writers and drove out government
workers. Sunday after Sunday, Davies gave moral courage to his congregation
of Supreme Court justices, Congressmen, government workers and their
families. In a nationally televised debate Davies challenged a McCarthy
staff member to name one leading Protestant clergyman who was an
espionage agent. He received no answer. Fear of McCarthy caused
the State Department to ban the books of Davies from American overseas
libraries. Finally, President Eisenhower turned against McCarthy,
and the high tide of the American Witchhunt receded.
When Davies started his ministry in Washington, it was a segregated
city: no racial mixing in clubs or coffee shops. Davies asked volunteers
in the church to check the restaurants in the District and list
those that would serve all races. Then he called on his congregation
to move beyond "The Shelter of Good Intentions." He asked
them to say, "I will not eat a meal in any restaurant that
excludes Negroes." He asked them to make this known to the
management of such places. That Sunday, most of the congregation
of over one thousand joined him in making that pledge. The small
list of restaurants soon became one hundred and two hundred. And
soon segregation in the District of Columbia would be unlawful.
Buddhist monk visits the Columbia Heights Boys Club, 1955.
faced a segregated institution in his own church. During the week
the Police Boys Club used the church gym. In 1949 the church board
requested the club to take steps toward integration. In 1954 the
U.S. Supreme Court outlawed segregation in public schools, and the
church insisted that the Boys Club be integrated. In December the
Police Boys Club moved out of the church. With the help of the Unitarian
Service Committee the church organized an integrated Boys Club.
Within a few years girls were included.
For Davies his church was the fixed point from which he could move
the world. In rented facilities around Washington, hundreds gathered
each Sunday to listen to his sermons by telephone. These gatherings
mushroomed into Unitarian Congregations, six, seven, eight and now
sixteen. Tapes and records of his sermons were played in monthly
gatherings of Unitarians from Kenya to Japan. Collections of his
sermons later became models for preachers like Forrest Church at
All Souls Church in New York City. Three Bible centered books of
Davies became paperback best sellers.
On the 26th of September 1957, A. Powell Davies died of a blood
clot. He left his wife of 30 years, Muriel, who took up a ministry
of religious education. In addition, he left two daughters, Gwendolyn
and Bronwen, as well as his many admirers. It was a former Associate
Minister at All Souls Church, the Rev. James Reeb, who was martyred
at Selma, Alabama in 1965. The death of Reeb inspired even President
Lyndon Johnson to declare, "We shall overcome."