Friday, August 26, 2011

I am Beginning to Suspect that Morton Smith's Family Were Members of the Convention Church of the Swedenborgian Faith

I have talked to twelve experts from Bryn Athyn - there is simply no way that Morton Smith could have gained admittance into the Academy of the New Church without being a member of the Swedenborgian faith. Yet neither of his parents nor his grandparents appear on the rolls of the New Church of Bryn Athyn. I just heard a story from a seventy something elder of the church who knew of a conversation between Smith and Reverend Odhner where supposedly Smith said he was resigning from the New Church to join the Convention church. To put some of this in perspective, here is the history of the Swedenborgian Church in America:

In 1784 James Glen, the English owner of a South American plantation, came across Heaven and Hell, one of Swedenborg's Theological Writings, on shipboard. He was fascinated and continued his studies of the Theological Writings, and while visiting in the States he introduced some of Swedenborg's teachings at a series of lectures in a Philadelphia bookstore, inspiring several new readers who later became leaders in the American Swedenborgian movement. By the early 1800's there were several Swedenborgian societies; President Jefferson invited John Hargrove, of the Baltimore congregation, to preach on the Capital rotunda before Congress. In 1817 the General Convention of the New Church was organized in Boston, the first formal New Church establishment in America. Both the General Convention (in America) and the General Conference (in England) are governed in a congregational style. Today the General Convention has approximately 2,000 active members, in New England and in several large cities in the United States. It now also has some societies in Canada, and has been renamed the Swedenborgian Church of North America.

One remarkable missionary for the New Church, John Chapman, better known as Johnny Appleseed, sowed both natural and spiritual seeds in his travels through the Midwest. He sowed nurseries of fruit trees, and where the opportunity presented itself, distributed Swedenborgian publications. Helen Keller was also a Swedenborgian, although she never became a member of a New Church organization; in her book My Religion she describes her love for the Writings of Swedenborg. Prominent 19th century literary artists who acknowledged Swedenborg's influence include Ralph Waldo Emerson, William Blake, Edgar Allen Poe, Honore de Balzac, Charles Baudelaire, Elizabeth and Robert Browning, Henry Ward Beecher, Thomas Carlyle, Samuel Coleridge Taylor and Walt Whitman.

In the America of the 19th century there was an acknowledged religious awakening, and for a time interest in these new Theological Writings flourished. But various New Churchmen and unaffiliated Swedenborgians had various degrees of appreciation for these Theological Writings. Some regarded them as merely wise books, and others came to see that they are indeed Divinely inspired. Toward the end of the 19th century a group of New Churchmen, centered in Ohio, became increasingly disaffected with the Convention position, wanted to have more emphasis on education, and wanted to have a more hierachical form of government. They founded the Academy of the New Church, chartered in the State of Pennsylvania in 1876, and in 1890 established the General Church of the Advent, which became the General Church of the New Jerusalem in 1897. Unlike the Convention Church, the General Church regards the Theological Writings of Emanuel Swedenborg as a Divinely inspired means for illustrating the inner sense of the Bible. They call them "the Writings", and have come to regard them as the Word of the Lord in His Second Coming. The General Church has an episcopal style of government. They have approximately 5,000 members worldwide, mainly in and around Bryn Athyn, Pennsylvania, a suburb of Philadelphia, and Glenview, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago, but also in smaller societies in most large cities around the country. They are an international organization, and have at least one society in every inhabited continent, with locations in England, Canada, Australia, Japan, Korea, New Zealand, Brazil, France, Netherlands, Sweden, Russia and the Ukraine. They have many people in South Africa, and are growing rapidly in Ghana, Togo, and Ivory Coast.

I didn't know Johnny Appleseed was a Swedenborgian ...

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