Every once in a while, we will have a Visitor From The Stacks interlude during our board meetings as a way to provide an entertaining way of highlighting prominent people from our history. Most recently, Charlie Hambrick-Stowe dressed up as Cotton Mather at our September meeting.
This time, I volunteered to take on the persona of one of our former staff members, Joseph Clark. We last mentioned Rev. Clark two years ago during our Christmas break posts. Dr. Clark served as pastor in Sturbridge, Massachusetts, his only church. He found the role of pastor in such an active and large community to be too taxing on his heath, so he left the ministry and served as secretary for the Massachusetts Missionary Society for almost twenty years.
During Clark's time in the Missionary Society, he must have seen many instances of venerable colonial churches discover they could not locate their founding documents and the records that supported their first hundred years. As a dedicated scholar, historian, and minister, his focus and passion was preserving Congregational history and the records he used to tell the denomination’s tales. During the final decade of his life (1851-1861) Joseph Clark and his brethren worked to establish the Congregational Library Association here in downtown Boston. Clark acted as corresponding secretary for those ten years, then took on more roles: financial officer, editor for the Congregational Quarterly, and finally as our second librarian. The stress, particularly that of financial officer, took its toll on Dr. Clark, and after only two years as librarian, he died after becoming progressively sicker in the last few years of his life, and finally died in August 1861.
Dr. Clark and his friends' hard work may well be the reason why the library didn't fail with so many other ventures did at the eve of the Civil War. For that alone, he will always be a person of note, but even so, there are so many interesting things about him and his journey that I could have discussed more. He:
- had a direct ancestor (Thomas Clark) on the Mayflower.
- came of age during the Congregationalist/Unitarian Controversy, and had a family divided over this very issue.
- joined the ministry and served when revivalism was strong and his community was actively participating in that revival.
- participated in creating a charitable and social organization that speaks of the age.
- served in the organization that was the basis of the current Massachusetts Conference, providing support and feedback to churches.
- established a publication (Then the Congregational Quarterly, which evolved into various denominational yearbooks that are still being published today).
- lived through an economic era that mirrors our modern day issues of recession, slow recovery, and political turmoil.