A son preserves sermons of famous father: "William Sloane Coffin Sermon Archive Project"


The William Sloane Coffin Sermon Archive Project, which chronicles sermons of former Yale University Chaplain William Sloane Coffin '49 B.A., '56 B.D., is nearing completion after almost three years of work. 

Coffin, who died in 2006, was senior minister at Riverside Church in New York City from 1977-87 after leaving Yale, and the archives project contains recordings of several hundred sermons he preached from the Riverside Church pulpit.

Made possible largely through the efforts of Coffin's son, David, a Boston-based musician, the archived sermons are available for download on the project web site.

Coffin"I began this project in the hopes of preserving my father's voice," Coffin said.  "While it's one thing to read a Bill Coffin sermon, it's quite another to listen to the sermon in his own voice. "

At Yale, where he served as chaplain from 1958-1975, Coffin gained a national reputation for his outspoken opposition to the Vietnam War.  Later, at Riverside Church, he was known as a staunch advocate for gay and lesbian rights and a strong opponent of nuclear armament.  After leaving Riverside Church, he served as president of the anti-nuclear group SANE/FREEZE, later known as "Peace Action."

Most of Coffin's Riverside sermons were recorded—there are cassette tapes of 334 of them—and David Coffin has spent countless hours in a recording studio transferring them to digital formats.  He listened to each sermon a total of three times during the digitizing process, following text from the book The Collected Sermons of William Sloane Coffin: The Riverside Years (Westminster John Knox Press, 2008).

According to Coffin, printed sermons were available to members of the Riverside congregation in case they were unable to attend a particular service. But in the recording studio it soon became clear, Coffin said, that all of the sermons had been heavily edited to read better in print form. On average there are about 50-100 edits to each sermon.

Sermons from 1977 through 1986 have all been digitized and are available on the website, but Coffin is still raising funds to complete the final year, 1987.

The primary source for the cassettes was Randy Coffin, David Coffin's stepmother and the last of William Sloane Coffin's three wives.  Riverside Church archivist Victor Jordan also participated in the project, as did two close friends of the Coffin family, Ron Evans '70 B.D. and his wife, Janet.

While audios of the sermons are available for purchase individually on the project website, it is also possible to purchase sermon albums.  All proceeds go directly to the support of William Sloane Coffin scholarships at Yale Divinity School and Union Theological Seminary.

Project contact information and instructions on how to make donations toward completion of the project are available on the project web site at http://www.williamsloanecoffin.org/

 


Date Posted: Thursday, June 28, 2012 - 2:14pm