Friday, July 9, 2010

Sarah Coakley & a makeshift letterpress cross

With Ben working on next week's Sarah Coakley Symposium and Anna discussing the importance of beauty in books, this seemed an appropriate discovery to mention for an end-of-the-week post.

I was listening to a short documentary on Firefly Press of Massachusetts, a printer that has been a part of the recent American craft revival of letterpress. 

About three quarters of the way through the film, there is mention of the centrality of type over image engravings for the work that the Press does... as the narrator says, "typography is always trump."  In one instance, the printer needed a Maltese cross and came up with an appropriately typographical (if cannibalistic) solution.  Four "I" blocks were cut, beveled, and joined to form a makeshift cross.

The film then went on to show what the cross was for; it was a print announcing an upcoming ordination.  I was surprised to see the name of the ordinand as none other than Sarah Coakley.

Poking around to confirm that this was the same Sarah Coakley, I found mention of a 2000 ordination in her T&T Clark author profile, rather than the July 1, 2001 date mentioned on the Firefly print.  I was undeterred, however, suspecting that the ordination of 2000 was to the diaconate rather than the priesthood.  It seemed a bit too much of a coincidence that two Sarah Coakley's would be ordained over such a small span of time as two years (although it is a bit confusing that there is a Dorchester, Massachusetts and a Dorchester in England, each close to where Coakley apparently assists in parish ministry in either country.  Coakley's Dorchester is presumably the one in England, however, as it is a separate diocese and has a Bishop Colin as mentioned in the print.  The prints must have been made in Massachusetts before shipping out across the Atlantic).

In any case, I went on to look for proof of a 2001 ordination to the priesthood and found a brief mention of it by Coakley herself in a 2006 essay on "Theological Scholarship as Religious Vocation".  An excerpt is worth including here at length:

"[...] in practice we all tend to lead schizoid lives of some sort or another: we “perform” here together, for instance (in the relatively protected realm of the Association of Theological Schools), with one set of semiotics that conform to the theology/ministry pole (using relatively pietistic language, or appealing to church experience without further methodological explication, for instance); and we “perform” somewhat differently, in the more critically hostile, or secularized, realms of the guilds of the SBL, AAR, American Historical Association or American Philosophical Association. We are all to some degree intellectual chameleons. But I have come to question, especially since my own recent ordination to the priesthood in 2001 (and my transition thereby into the public celebration of the sacraments at Harvard Divinity School), whether this accustomed schizoid dance of the church-scholar will any longer do [...]"
Someone at the symposium will have to speak with Professor Coakley during a break and ask whether she has seen the film and noticed her brief appearance.


  1. Wonderful documentary! thank you!

  2. Dorchester isn't a separate diocese: it is a titular see within the diocese of Oxford. The Bishop of Dorchester, Colin Fletcher, is a suffragan bishop of the diocese of Oxford, and Sarah Coakley was ordained deacon in the cathedral of the diocese, Christ Church, in July 2000 by the Bishop of Oxford (I know, I was there!)

  3. A friend who is doing doctoral research under Professor Coakley happened to mention the other day that she and her husband are printing aficionados, and even have a small old printing press in their home. Perhaps they even printed it themselves!