A few weeks ago Dean Terry DeLisio and I had the privilege of visiting the Newberry Library in Chicago to view the Bexley Hall Rare Book Collection, which had just arrived from Columbus. Although I knew what the inventory looked like on paper, it was a moving experience to examine some of these extraordinary holdings in person: an edition of a work by Erasmus published in his lifetime, with a woodcut by Hans Holbein’s father gracing its opening page; a brilliantly hand-illuminated Muslim prayer book; hundreds and hundreds of mid-nineteenth-century American pamphlets and sermons published by small town presses throughout the Midwest; presentation copies of nineteenth-century tracts signed by Hannah More, the distinguished evangelical English poet and pamphleteer; a multi-volume travel diary in an exquisite hand, written by an early twentieth-century Bexley alumnus.
All these precious volumes had been in storage and inaccessible in Columbus for almost 20 years. They have now become part of one of the finest independent research institutions in the United States, to be permanently catalogued as “the Bexley Hall Collection—a gift of Bexley Seabury Seminary” as funds become available, and featured in an important exhibition on Religious Change that will open at the Newberry in the fall. (Bexley and Seabury alums know a lot about religious change!)
As our Board of Directors well understood in arranging this gift, making such resources as the Bexley Hall Collection available on a global scale is deeply appropriate for a unique institution like ours—a seminary “beyond walls” dedicated to widening the circle of theological scholarship and inter-religious understanding.
We are in good company. Since its founding in the late nineteenth century as an independent research library, the Newberry has had a policy of open public access—where the public high school junior writing a term paper on Native American history is as welcome as a seasoned university scholar researching her next ground-breaking monograph. Our own Bexley Seabury Board member, Canon Diane Porter, who grew up in Chicago’s Hyde Park, remembers with fondness a formative trip to the Newberry as a young girl, the reward for her first-prize participation in a summer reading club. I would like to think that Philander Chase, our irascible founding bishop and the initial collector of these volumes, would have been one of the first readers to show up at the Newberry, no doubt loudly taking credit for his foresight in creating this world-class collection.
Next time you are in Chicago, make a visit to the Newberry, and ask them to show you that Erasmus volume. Our friends there will be happy to welcome you to this new way-station of our seminary beyond walls.