Bless his heart: the UU Enforcer has put a number of photos on his blog of the graves of famous Unitarians and Universalists, including Hosea Ballou and John Murray. The latter is, of course, the much-noted “father of American Universalism.” Much-noted, but little understood. Indeed, the honor is really haigiographic since the idea of the unique origins of Universalism was never seriously accepted outside the Sunday school, generation-past.
The Enforcer asks: “this Grave was moved here, in celebration of the Universalist Church of America’s 100 or 150th anniversary. Why didn’t the UUA come and lay wreathes here when GA was in town?”
I think he’s getting Murray’s re-interment confused the the Murray commemorations of 1870, the centennial of Murray landing in America. The General Convention was held that year in Gloucester, Massachusetts, and (at 12,000) was the largest religious gathering in America to date. (Or so it was claimed.) Murray’s grave was moved from the Granary Burying-ground, in the Sargent tomb, on June 8, 1837, almost twenty-two years after his death, on the occasion of the Massachustts state convention. (Imagine if we had district meetings like that today!) He was much a living and honored presence among Universalists. But his particular theology was then as dead as he, and at every turn one gets the impression that his younger contemporaries were embarrassed by the old man.
Thus even then, one gets the sense that Universalists knew neither what to make of their “founder” or his legacy so I can hardly judge the more recent lack of ceremony. (But I think there were tours of Mt. Auburn at the Boston GA.) The habilitation of his second wife, Judith Sargent, has given John a new aura of reflected light, but little more understanding. Consider how hard it is to find copies of his primary printed work, other than his autobiography, which Judith had to finish. (She remarried and is buried in Mississippi.)
A better memorial to John Murray than wreaths would be a serious review of his theology — its boundaries and limitations included — without trying to make him more like Ballou or Winchester or anyone else, and so he may be appreciated fairly, or laid to rest.