Thou Shalt Not Play Sports Nor Smoke Tobacco

The Great Pastoral Coup d’Etat of 1903

Every once in a while I come across something in the archives that reminds me how very different life used to be. Take the example of the Rev. Frank Estabrook who was ousted in May 1903 after a long and contentious spiritual battle with church members.

In a blistering six-page resignation letter, Rev. Estabrook recommends that the congregation take a hard look at its By-laws for:

only a broad and liberal platform of faith, an immediate and radical revision of your By-laws, and the utmost consecration and devotion on the part of all your members can make you even moderately successful. I see no good ground to hope for any of these things.

Several pages of the letter are devoted to describing an intolerable situation in which the Rev. Estabrook was subjected to a

season of exaggeration whispered in dark places… and tale-bearing which it is revolting to recall.

If he were to stay on as pastor, he writes, he could

neither forget these things nor repair the damage that has been done.

What on earth could have caused this rift?

I frankly admit that I do not agree with many members of this church in matters of faith and personal practice. Indulgence within the limits of temperance in all sport and games I consider not only harmless but sane, wholesome and beneficial. The horror with which many of you regard the use of tobacco finds no sympathetic response in me.

That’s right. The Reverend Frank P. Estabrook was forced to resign because he liked to play sports and smoke tobacco.

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