Today we honor two prophetic witnesses: Roger Williams and Anne Hutchinson. Born in London in 1603, Roger Williams was a priest in the Church of England. He found that he could not abide by the rigorous, high-church policies of Archbishop William Laud, and in 1630 he sailed to New England in search of religious liberty. Once he arrived in Boston, life did not go as expected. The civil authorities were punishing people for religious offenses. Because Williams felt church and state powers should be separate and that individuals should be able to follow their consciences in matters of religious belief, he left Massachusetts and founded a settlement in Providence and formed the colony of Rhode Island. Rhode Island formed a new constitution that granted wide religious latitude and freedom of practice. Though he founded the first Baptist church in Providence, Williams refused to be tied to an established church.
Anne Hutchinson also immigrated to Massachusetts in hope of finding religious freedom. She was an outspoken advocate of the rights and equality of women, challenging the dominant views of Puritan leadership. Hutchinson held women’s Bible studies, where she welcomed critical examination of the faith. In 1638, she was tried by the General Court of Massachusetts and branded a dangerous dissenter and banished from the colony. She eventually relocated to the Bronx, where she and members of her family were killed by Siwanoy Indians in 1643. Both Roger Williams and Anne Hutchinson are remembered as early champions of religious liberty and prophets of individual freedom.
What I like about Williams’ and Hutchinson’s stories is that their lives did not end up how they expected. Both Williams and Hutchinson came to Massachusetts with the expectation of finding their ideal freedom – and while both were disappointed, both kept at it, continuing to seek where the Spirit was moving and revealing truth. Their spiritual journeys remind me of Elijah’s journey. When Elijah flees to the wilderness, the LORD sends ravens to provide sustenance. When the water dried up, Elijah could have felt defeated, but he kept on going and then has an profound experience with the widow in Zarephath. In the face of impossibility, of failure, of abandonment, God keeps showing up.
I think that is what Williams, Hutchinson and Elijah remind us of today – to never give up. The journey will likely not look how you expect, but God will be with you, making a way. And it may be that in that scary in-between, God finds new and fresh ways to reveal God’s self. The trick is to hang with God in the meantime. Amen.