The church blogger: Who’s Responsible for First UU’s Message on Battlefield?

Published by Colleen Appel on

Have you ever driven into the church parking lot and wondered who does the work of maintaining the message board that greets travelers on Battlefield Road? How does it contribute to reinforcing our place in the community?

The message board has a name; it’s called a Wayside Pulpit, coming from a long tradition of religious institutions of all denominations posting inspirational messages on outdoor bulletin boards. It was first introduced to North American churches in 1919 by Henry Hallam Saunderson, minister of the First Parish Church (Unitarian) of Brighton, Massachusetts. Inspired by what he had seen in Europe, he decided to create “wayside sermons,” liberal messages designed to make people pause and search their conscience.

First UU street sign

Saunderson posted brief messages each Sunday night outside his own church. The popularity of the messages led to one hundred ministers agreeing to subscribe to his wayside sermons. These message boards became known as the Wayside Community Pulpit which reached as many as three million readers, according to a 1924 poll. Originally, Saunderson composed every message, but when the American Unitarian Association picked up the idea, it drew quotes from world literature and then expanded to include contributions from ministers and laypeople.

Beginning in 1963, the Wayside Community Pulpit struggled to survive. Many non-Unitarian Universalist churches liked the idea of the service, but didn’t always like the liberal content. By 1989, the service had gone from one quotation per week to twenty-six quotations sent out every two years. Quotations from past series can be found at uua.org where PDF files for the current series are also located.

Guy Pollard posted messages on First UU’s Wayside Pulpit for many years until November 2016 when Ross and Kay Bebout took over. They wanted to do their part to keep First UU growing and felt the wayside pulpit is an important part of showing our beliefs to the passing public, perhaps making them more curious about our church.

They thoughtfully select appropriate messages from the big paper rolls stored in our building and try to match the poster to our theme of the month, and sometimes current events guide their selection. The Bebouts are sustained by the many people who have said they were drawn to First UU by the messages they read as they passed by our building. (According to a 2021 report, an average of 26,000 vehicles pass by daily.)

Ross and Kay remain enthusiastic and will happily train the next poster hangers, but it will take additional people to keep the message board up-to-date. Who will be the members and friends of First UU to take up this responsibility? 

Spreading liberal thinking by publishing thoughtful messages that reflect universal truths–it’s the legacy of Henry Saunderson, and First UU is proud to carry it on.

Historical information is from https://www.uua.org/worship/lab/quotations-wayside

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