Guthrie Papers Now Available to Researchers

Maria Grossmann, former librarian of the Andover-Harvard Library, sometimes described the library's collection policy in the following way: "We collect the records of almost anyone who caused someone else very much trouble." In that spirit, Dr. Grossmann accepted the papers and books of William Norman Guthrie for the Andover-Harvard Theological Library. Guthrie, an Episcopalian clergyman, was rector of St. Mark's Church in the Bouwerie in New York from 1911 to 1937. For the last two years, the Manuscript and Archives Department of the library has been arranging and processing his papers.

When Guthrie became rector of St. Mark's, attendance at the church had fallen into decline, and the congregation was described as consisting of "some eighteen old ladies who came in Sunday mornings, out of sentiment." Guthrie strove to attract people to the church by creating a number of original liturgical services based on Hindu, Buddhist, and Baha'i traditions, as well as services in honor of George Washington, Joan of Arc, and the American Indian. As Guthrie explained it, "the services at St. Mark's began on the principle of special memorializings.... It is thus that a group of liturgical experiments is now at hand for our regular use which will never permit the clergy to become stale, or the congregation to be too sure it knows what is going to happen, so that it lapses into a beatific hypnoidal state, as is often the case in our churches."

One ritual that apparently left no one in such a state was a service that included a dance inspired by the Della Robbia plaque of The Annunciation performed by six young women. One journalist described it as a "bare-leg, bare-hip" affair, when in fact the dancers were barefoot but fully clad. The Episcopal bishop, William Manning, was very alarmed by this publicity, and exhorted Guthrie to stick to the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer for his worship services. Guthrie referred to this book as a "beautiful museum piece" and held that, in order to attract the unchurched to St. Mark's, the liturgical services should include experimentation and innovation.

The collection of Guthrie's papers at the Andover-Harvard Library is a rich resource for anyone interested in liturgical studies, modernism, the relationship between religion and the arts, New York history, and many other topics. It includes correspondence, photographs, newspaper clippings, sermons, orders of service, copies of Guthrie's lectures, plus his travel diaries and letters to his family. See the guide to the collection for more information.