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Nathaniel Takes a Ride
Hundreds of years ago, when America was still a very new country, Unitarianism and Universalism were also very new. They were actually two separate religions. By itself, Universalism was a loving and accepting religion. Universalists believed that God loved everyone and did not punish people. In some places, Universalists gathered in church buildings. In some places, people would gather in someone's barn, or house, or yard for a church service.
The Stacy family went to a church building on Sundays. Their church was the first Universalist church established in America. It was in Massachusetts. A few years later, the family moved to a small farming village in New York where there was no Universalist church nearby. They could no longer go to church every Sunday, but sometimes, Universalist preachers would visit them in New York. In those days, Universalist preachers would travel to places where there were no churches and have gatherings for people interested in hearing about Universalism.
One of the Stacy children, Nathaniel, grew up listening to these traveling preachers on his family's farm. Eventually, Nathaniel was old enough to decide what he wanted to do when he grew up. He was interested in Universalism but not really that excited about riding a horse all around and then standing on a tree stump to preach to small crowds. It turned out, though, that Nathaniel was really good at public speaking. A Universalist minister friend of his encouraged him to be a preacher. So in 1803, Nathaniel became a Universalist preacher. He hopped on a horse and travelled around the country, preaching to those who would invite him to their farms.
After each sermon, people would pass around a hat and put money into it to pay the preacher. Sometimes the preacher and his horse were invited to stay in someone's house or barn. Sometimes Nathaniel slept outside with a blanket. Sometimes people fed the horse and the preacher and sometimes Nathaniel would find things to eat out in the wild forests.
Nathaniel travelled through New York, Pennsylvania, and Michigan. At times, he would have to travel two hundred miles to speak to people. When he was much older, Nathaniel would remember his time travelling with his horse. He told stories about not getting enough money to feed both him and his horse, so what do you think he would do then? Sometimes he would feed the horse, and go hungry.
Nathaniel wrote his stories down and tried to explain why he continued to lead such a hard life as a minister who never got to sleep at home, never got enough to eat, and had to be out in bad weather. He explained that he did it because someone had to. He felt it was so important for the Universalist ideas about love and acceptance to be spread in the new country of America, that he was willing to give up his comfort to make sure there would always be a religion called Universalism. He thought preaching Universalism was like "planting a seed" and the Universalist churches that were built were the "crops."
In those long ago days, many other Universalists and Unitarians lived like Nathaniel did to spread their religion. Aren't we lucky they did—or we might not have our church today!