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Rabbi Deborah R. Prinz Headshot

Church and Chocolate in Tough Times

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Tight finances and challenging personal situations have sent many of us to the sweets and chocolate shelves for comfort in these years since the Global Financial Crisis. This was true as well during the Colonial Period in North America when pastoral habits and ministrations included drinking chocolate.

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In the pioneering days of chocolate in our country, religious leaders utilized chocolate in their routines. Judge Samuel Sewall, (March 28, 1652 - January 1, 1730) a Massachusetts judge involved in the Salem witch trials, (he later apologized) recorded in his diary that he bundled his sick visits and sermons with gifts of chocolate. Among several examples: "Monday, October 26, 1702, Visited languishing Mr. Sam Whiting, I gave him two balls of chockalett and a pound of figs, which very kindly accepted." Sewall himself drank chocolate on occasion. Sewall's informal chocolate ministry comforted his friends and neighbors, a model that today's clergy might emulate.

2013-09-29-page71image17232.pngChocolate bolstered the disciplined mornings of Reverend Thomas Prince (1687-1758) of Boston's Old South Church and a historian of New England. Following his graduation from Harvard and his marriage, the reverend rose at 5:00 a.m., read the Bible in his study, woke the rest of the family at 6:30 a.m., gathered all for family prayers and enjoyed, "only the Porringer [pewter dish] of chocolate for breakfast."

Another minister complained, as so many clergy might today, that he could not maintain his standard of living. His negotiating strategy uniquely included a claim about his customary chocolate drinking in a protest published in the Boston Evening Post. "Your humble Servant, T.W.," lamented:

Upwards of 40 years ago I was ordained pastor of a church in... and by the unanimous vote of my people had settled on me... with which I could buy... chocolate. You will readily perceive by comparing these accounts together that the same articles one with another have risen more than seven and a half for one since my first settlement with my people, whereas they could never yet be prevailed on to raise my salary more than three for one. And I may venture to say, this is the truth of the case with respect to most of the ministers throughout the province.

I hope that Minister T.W.'s letter convinced his church to pay him fairly for his chocolate and other needs. Chocolate nourished these men of God, enhancing their ministries. As their parishioners found consolation and sustenance in their chocolate cups, perhaps we might as well.