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The Pastor Poet

Little Stories from a Small Town
by Mabel Hoyle Knipe


Fairhaven has been fortunate in the caliber of men called to fill her pulpits. They have been learned, sensitive and greatly giving of talent and of compassion. In 1897, the Rev. William Brunton came here to serve the difficult transition pastorate when the members of the old Unitarian edifice on Washington Street were moving to the spectacular house of worship presented by H.H. Rogers in 19014903.

The young minister was of English birth – a Yorkshireman from Sheffield – and had abandoned the profession of school teacher to train for the ministry. He had taken his theological training in Manchester, England, where a Unitarian College had been established since Unitarianism was very popular in that area. Coming to America, he entered Harvard Divinity School, and upon graduation, held pastorates in Brighton, Yarmouth and Castine, Maine before coming to Fairhaven.

The transition pastorate in this town was a difficult one. Facing the move, the parishioners were unsure and a bit frightened. They were delighted to see the beautiful edifice of worship take form – but disturbed by nostalgic memories of the old place, and awed by the responsibilities of assuming tenancy in the elaborate new complex. Then, there were things to sell and to give away. There were legalities and deeds to attend to. In all this, the Rev. Brunton was a tower of strength. There is no doubt that he was pleased and challenged by the beauty of the great new church, the pastorate of which he was to assume – but his burdens were tripled by the unique type of leadership he was expected to deliver as the move was effected.

He was greatly beloved by his people for his goodness and for his rich literary gifts – for he was a poet of talent, and used the gift freely in his pastoral duties. For galas, birthdays, weddings and funerals – gentle, original verse, warmly significant to the occasion, interspersed his remarks, and the town newspaper printed scores of his cheerful and comforting poems.

He wrote:

“Troubles come and troubles go –
Like the melting flakes of snow;
Pleasures come and then abide,
Like the flowers of sweet springtide.”
– and –
“That we dream of noble men,
Worthy men of praise,
Brings their beauty here again
Blessing for our days;
‘Tis a grand and glorious thing,
Just to think of them,
And their worth a while to sing –
Is our diadem.”

The Rev. Brunton served barely two years in his “new” pulpit, and his resignation in 1905 was mandated by pernicious ill health. In his final sermon, he said: “My heart is warm to every one of you, and I shall often recall the good I have experienced here; but with every tone of grace my voice has – do I bless the names of Edmund Anthony Jr. and Mrs. Mary F. Rogers.”

He died a year later in 1907, after experiencing gradually worsening health. He was fifty-seven, and a little before this time, he had written:

“Today I launch my boat upon the tide,
To sail in gladness on the ocean wide;
I see in distance far and far agleam.
An Island beautiful as poet’s dream.
It is so rich in treasure and delight,
Why should there fall on it the shades of night?
Why should it be forever far away,
The sweet allurement of another day?
Oh, well, tomorrow I shall reach the strand,
And be at peace in that delightful land.”

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These pages and their contents are the property of the Millicent Library, Fairhaven, Massachusetts U. S. A.
Created by Carolyn Longworth, Library Director
Monday November 11, 1996