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Sylvester Judd, “The Birthright Church”

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“The Birthright Church”

Sylvester Judd

(prepared for presentation January, 1853, and posthumously published)

Sylvester Judd

Sylvester Judd

Sylvester Judd was a novelist, parish minister, and moving force in the wider Unitarian Association of Maine before his early death at forty.

The present document is of particular interest as it underlines strongly the predicament of the mid-Nineteenth Century church growing ever smaller in numbers even as the population grew. Judd’s solution was bold and attempted to finesse many ecclesiastical/theological issues – simply declare all children of present adherents to be members of the church. He also suggested some untraditional attitudes toward what a church was and even the need to see the church organized in wider ways than the congregational parish model. Note too how Judd goes back two hundred years to buttress his argument on the Magna Carta of congregational polity, the Cambridge Platform (1648).

  1. Think through Judd’s concept regarding children. Would it be workable today and what church rites would it suggest for children as they mature?
  2. Judd’s view of the church departs from the traditional colonial view and comes much closer to the open membership most UU churches have today. What problems seem evident today in a “loose” church membership that Judd did not foresee?
  3. What are the pro’s and con’s of Judd’s arguments (near the end of the paper) about the need for organization beyond the local level?

Appended is a 1927 article on Judd by William Wallace Fenn, which tries to set Judd’s proposal into an historical setting. This is a rare opportunity to juxtapose an original document and a far later, yet no longer contemporary, commentary.


The full text of Judd’s document is available through HathiTrust, here. This version of the  text does not include William Wallace Fenn’s 1927 article.