About this project
In My Father’s Voice: The William Sloane Coffin Sermon Archive Project
"It is one thing to read a Bill Coffin Sermon, and quite another to hear it in my father's voice!"
We did it! Together we reached our goal in just 14 days! Now we're adding a stretch goal of an additional $15K (for a new total goal of $50K), so keep those pledges coming in.
The real treasure this Kickstarter project brought in are the stories, the community connection, and... more tapes.
Now that the Riverside Church Sermon project is funded thanks to all of you, any and all additional funds we raise will enable more studio time to digitize the cassettes in this photo, more searching for the Yale sermons and Civil Rights speeches, and uploading video to the williamsloanecoffin.org website.
Our deadline is February 14th. Let's see how far we can take this.
With lots of hope, David
And here's a new reward
Rev. William Sloane Coffin was a commanding public presence during a particularly conflicted time in our nation’s history from the 1960s through the 1980s.
During the 1960s while chaplain at Yale, his was a leading voice of conscience in support of the Civil Rights Movement and in opposition to the Vietnam War. He marched with Martin Luther King Jr., he was arrested with Dr. Benjamin Spock, he was immortalized by Garry Trudeau as the Reverend Scot Sloan in “Doonesbury”.
In the 1970s and 80's, as senior minister at the famed Riverside Church in New York, his leadership in matters of national moral conscience didn’t miss a beat.
Coffin was a force of nature, deeply committed to his faith and spiritual leadership, unswerving in his challenge to the abuse of power, and outspoken in his call for moral clarity.
He was also my father.
As I was growing up I knew my father’s voice was important to people even before I fully understood what he was talking about. Aside from the passion in his speech, it was the way people listened to him that registered to me that he was saying something significant.
The issues my father addressed from the pulpit of Riverside Church moved from racial inequality and civil rights to gay rights and the AIDs epidemic, from the antiwar movement to the urgency of nuclear disarmament. “That voice” persisted in getting people involved in social justice and pacifist movements.
Many of these sermons have been collected in a two volume book, and to read them is to realize how pertinent they are still, how strongly they resonate in the times we are currently living - and struggling - in.
But a distinction has to be made. It’s one thing to read a Bill Coffin sermon, and quite another to hear it in my father’s voice!
The William Sloane Coffin Sermon Archive Project is an effort to preserve a unique audio archive by digitizing all the Riverside Church sermons.
There is however an urgency to this project.
Bill Coffin's sermons are priceless: words from an American icon framing a rich, fiery and intense period of our history. The medium that his words were captured on was NOT priceless. The recordings are in a precarious state and unless they are soon converted to digital format, the timbre and resonance and power of my father’s vocal delivery of this body of work will be forever lost.
Here are a few short clips to give you a sense of the power of his oratory, his love of language and word play, and his ability to connect the richness of biblical text and teachings to the complexities of contemporary life.
If You Choose
Pray for Schools
Hearing his delivery, rich with musicality and underscored with a moral passion, is to be taken on a journey of rich discovery. Quite simply, there is nothing like that auditory experience.
And fortunately it’s a journey we can still experience.
The archivist at Riverside, bless him, recorded all 330 sermons my father gave during the ten years he was senior minister of the Riverside Church. A few years ago my step-mother, Randy Coffin, bless her, was able to give me almost the entire collection of recorded sermons she had saved. I was able to retrieve some of the missing cassettes from Riverside and also begin the hunt for the missing tapes. Ron and Janet Evans had left me with a fair number as well. There are over 33 sermons on cassette that were not published in the two volume book.
Preserving this archive is a tricky endeavor. I am fortunate to have been working with an experienced audio engineer, Gerry Putnam at CedarHouse Sound Studios, using the finest hardware and software available today.
We have begun the process and are well under way. So far it has been truly a labor of love (a lot of labor, a lot of love). But to cross the finish line of this project by digitizing the remaining Riverside Church sermons, and also to search for other recorded speeches that may be available but are as yet unknown to me, there is now need for the almighty dollar. Studio time, equipment, materials, and expertise must be paid for. Design and production of the DVDs, filing for Freedom of Information, community outreach - all necessary to ensure the accessibility of this resource, do not, alas, materialize with love and labor alone.
This is where you, via Kickstarter, come in as essential collaborators.
We have one short month to reach our goal. Any amount you can donate in addition to sending out the word of this project to your network will make all the difference in making this last stage, this push to the finish line, possible.
We have 45 sermons of the total 330 left to restore, convert and publish to a currently accessible format.
The money raised through this Kickstarter project will go directly toward the cost of repairing, digitizing, producing, publishing, and making available these sermons. Any funds raised above our stated goal (should we be so lucky) will go back into the project to support, for example, searching for more audio to convert and make available (ie, we’ll be initiating a FOI request for audio files the FBI gathered during those decades, and continuing the search for any recordings of sermons preached while he was chaplain at Yale), and to distribution efforts to ensure accessibility of this archive.
This archive will provide an enduring and invaluable resource for scholars, divinity school students, religious leaders, and socially engaged activists around the world. In digital format they will be easily available for teaching purposes to seminaries and for inspiration to all those who need a spiritual lift in these troubled times. A full digital set will also be stored with his papers at Yale University's Sterling Library. Once the project is finished, the sermons will be available at the William Sloane Coffin Sermon Archive Project website.
A few afterwords...
"God blessed Bill Coffin with a golden tongue. His words tumbled out in insightful cascades of eloquence that mesmerized, galvanized and inspired. I’m very grateful to his son David for keeping his vibrant calls for justice and peace alive and available to us in a world still teetering on the edge of nuclear destruction, plagued by wars and poisoned by rampant gross and immoral poverty." --Marian Wright Edelman, President, Children’s Defense Fund
"To hear Bill's voice again will bring back the hope, the love of life, of people, of our precious planet he espoused. To hear Bill's voice is to be reminded of our responsibilities to protect that life and our world which we must hand over to our children and their children in good condition. There are no voices like Bill's today. We are so lucky to have David Coffin's recordings to keep us inspired and motivated to keep active for peace, for justice, for decency for everyone." --Cora Weiss, former director, the Riverside Church Disarmament Program
"Between the 1950s and the 1980s Bill was one of the greatest preachers in America, but he was also one of the few people who could claim the title of ‘prophet’. Whether it was the Civil Rights Movement, the movement against the war in Vietnam, work against nuclear weapons proliferation, US policy in Central America, or issues around gay and lesbian inclusivity, Bill was always on time and frequently ahead of his time on the great social issues of the day. Bill was there when people needed him to be there, and his body of work in the Riverside years touches on every personal and social question that any of us ever have to deal with in life." --Mike Clark, Methodist pastor and former co-director, the Riverside Church Disarmament Program.
Risks and challenges
The greatest risk to this project's completion is the fragility of the cassette tapes that these sermons were recorded on. The greatest challenge to our successful completion of the project is time (and time is money, or vice versa). That said, I have every confidence that we will complete the digital preservation and archiving of this rich resource. We are, after all, in the home stretch.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
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