Presented by Lincoln Gray
July 8, 2007
This talk was presented as a part of Our Spiritual Journeys service.
I am proud to be the 12th great grandson of Roger Williams (claimed as a spiritual leader by the Unitarians). I knew my great-grandmother, a Williams who married a Gray, and heard the stories. Roger was a Puritan who came to the Massachusetts Bay colony in the 1600’s seeking religious freedom. He soon ran afoul of the local leaders because he believed in too much religious freedom. He was eventually banished for promulgating his signature principle of “separation of church and state”. The story goes that the banished criminals were thrown out the back of the English settlement on the coast to face their fate in the wilderness to the west. Roger knew of a penal colony, called Rouges Island, and set out trudging through the woods to find that minimal refuge of kindred spirits. Despite his belief in the separation of church and state, he was a devoutly religious man and felt that the Almighty directly assisted him in safely reaching the destination of that (spiritual) journey. While that story may not be true in all details, many followed, and his new settlement grew. History does record that he named that place “Providence” to honor the generosity of the Almighty, and the colony became Rhode Island. He was the first English leader of an American colony to pay the Native Americans for the usurped land. He was the first to allow Jews and Quakers in his colony. His grandson was granted 2000 acres in far northern Vermont in return for his service in General Washington’s Army. Roughly 100 acres have now come to me to preserve and protect, and hopefully to pass on to the next generation. As I walk that land, I often feel the ghost of my ancestors. I surely support religious freedom, the separation of church and state, and acceptance of those who have different religious views. I only hope that the stewardship of all I have inherited (both the intellectual traditions of religious tolerance and freedom, and that bit of land) will not falter on my watch. Toward that end I can only hope for such Providence as might come my way. (That said, I must admit I feel that the Spirit of Almighty Providence is more likely a mysterious internal force rather than an elderly, European-looking, man-in-the-sky who magically directs events on earth in response to our prayers – as Roger Williams undoubtedly prayed on his trek through the wilderness). [Read more…]