Vermont Bar Journal, Vol. 40, No. 2 Vermont Bar Journal, Fall 2017, Vol. 48, No. 3 - Page 16

Ruminations membership in a small and select commu- nity. Zechariah Parker, Jr. The Ludlow Baptist Church dismissed and excommunicated James Coleman in 1830. Church elders appointed a commit- tee of three to investigate Coleman. They visited him at his home, and had a very pleasant conversation, not dealing with the accusations against him. The committee reported Coleman was “much better than expected.” The church then voted him out, without explaining why, but Zechariah Parker, Jr. thought he knew the real reason. James Coleman was a Mason, and in those days, when the Anti-Masonic Party wres- tled for power with the Whigs, being a Ma- son was regarded by some as the opposite of being a Christian. Parker’s letter to the church led to his own excommunication. 19 In his letter to the church, Parker con- demned how the church had done it all wrong. He turned to the Bible to illus- trate how the process of excommunica- tion should proceed. The first step should be confronting your accusers and learning what has moved them to act. He referred the church to these words attributed to Je- sus from the Book of Matthew: Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained your broth- er. But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witness- es every word may be established. And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican. 20 This is Biblical due process, and it ne- cessitates open confrontation of accusers by the accused, and the opportunity to be heard. There were other issues that separated Coleman from his church. He had doubts that baptism was the exclusive door into the visible church or a prerequisite to par- ticipating in the communion service, a be- lief that was directly contrary to the Baptist faith. But there was something going on here. The former Baptist pastor at Ludlow, Ruel Lathrop, made the separation even more painful when he said, “Those mem- bers who are excluded from the Baptist Church, whether guilty or not guilty of the charges preferred against them, will most certainly be damned.” 21 There is no due process in that attitude. Excommunication was not as smooth or deliberate a process in other towns. 16 Azariah Wright Azariah Wright was active in attempting to close the New York court at Westmin- ster in May of 1775, where one settler was killed. This incident was memorialized in Vermont history as the Westminster Mas- sacre, claimed by some as the first blood shed in the Revolution. That effort made him a patriot and a hero to many. In the Revolutionary War, he fought valiantly and then settled in Westminster after the war. He was a member of the Westminster Con- gregational Church. He was also a prob- lem. It was Wright who accused Thomas Chandler, Jr. of representing a black man in court, which Chandler strongly denied and triggered his suit against Wright for defa- mation. Chandler lost his position as Secre- tary of State and Speaker of the House as a consequence of the rumor. Then there was his attitude toward the clergy. In Westmin- ster, Wright used to tweak the nose of pas- tor Joseph Bullen, cuff his cheeks, and per- form other “enormities,” and one Sunday he shot a bear who was raiding his corn. To make it worse, his shot was heard by the congregation at Sunday service, a noise that was heard by everyone at the church. Charges were drawn, and a hearing held, where Wright argued strenuously that there were exceptions to the rule but Bul- len and the congregation rejected them. When services the next week began, Rev. Bullen started to read the order of excom- munication to the congregation, as they had decided in a previous meeting. Once the reading began, Azariah Wright en- tered, raised his rifle, and pointed it at the minister’s head, saying nothing. The minis- ter immediately handed the paper to Dea- con John Sessions, as Wright’s gun shifted toward a new head. Sessions is then reputed to have said, quoting St. Paul’s first letter to the Cor- inthians, “All things are lawful, but some things are not expedient,” and he handed the document back to Bullen, after which everyone fled the church. 22 Azariah Wright remained a member of the Westminster Congregational Church. 23 Deacon Sessions had an interesting ear- ly career in Vermont. In 1776, he was ap- pointed as a representative to the New York Assembly representing Westminster, which no doubt colored his relationship with Azariah Wright. E.P. 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