Ted Olsen has written a fascinating article inspired by the recent decision of Boston’s Old South Church to sell off one of its two remaining copies of the original edition of the Bay Psalm Book, used liturgically by the New England Puritans in the 17th century: What You Need to Know About the Bay Psalm Book.
Last week, Boston’s Old South Church voted 271-34 to sell one of its two remaining copies of the 1640 Bay Psalm Book—one of the most historic volumes in American religious history. When it goes up for auction, Sotheby’s vice chairman David Redden told The Boston Globe, it’s likely to fetch between $10 million and $20 million. (The historic and liberal United Church of Christ congregation is also selling 19 pieces of early American communion silver.)
The church says its building needs at least $7 million in repairs, and its endowment needs to grow to support at least $300,000 in annual repairs after that. “We will take this wonderful old hymn book, from which our ancestors literally sang their praises to God, and convert it into doing God’s ministry in the world today,” Nancy Taylor, the church’s senior minister, said in a press release.
While one can understand the congregation’s desire to raise funds for its ongoing ministry, one is justified in hoping that the historic volume ends up in the right hands. It’s certainly too dear for me to bid on. On the other hand, I am content to own a copy of the 1903 facsimile edition of the Bay Psalm Book, which my beloved wife gave me for Christmas three years ago. Despite its evident literary flaws, the Bay Psalm Book is testimony to our forebears’ eagerness to sing God’s praises in his own words.