Issue 1
Survival of the Fittest

Survival of the Fittest

– Rev. Davis Smith Brainard, First Congregational Church, Lyme, CT, ca. 1860

New churches grow like an infestation.
They challenge tradition, cause rivalries.
It’s rather like that man Darwin’s theory:
the strongest church survives. Pitted against
Methodists, Baptists, and a few Catholics,
First Congregational has held its own,
even as our members are tempted to err,
to worship incorrectly, even to join
the Abolitionists.

I have been forced
to excommunicate several of our
company: young, energetic members
of our own family, who had turned away
from the path of quiet sobriety.

Despite that drain of hope, our spiritual life
stretches the rafters of the meeting-house
when our voices rise together in a hymn.
Are not the deep questions of ship-builders,
venerable captains of packet-ships,
captains of whaling vessels, and their wives
equally needful of our Father’s grace
as those whom slavery has civilized?
Yet our grown children join other churches.

A church needs baptisms, not funerals!
So our council plans to build a horse-shed
for use on inclement Sabbath mornings.
We will win back the imaginative
and energetic. We’ll make people seek
the privilege of worship in our church!

Marilyn Nelson is the author or translator of twenty-four poetry books, among them The Fields Of Praise: New And Selected PoemsCarver: A Life In PoemsFortune’s Bones, and A Wreath for Emmett Till. Other books are the recently published How I Discovered Poetry and My Seneca Village. Nelson’s honors include two NEA creative writing fellowships, the 1990 Connecticut Arts Award, a Fulbright Teaching Fellowship, a fellowship from the J.S. Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, the Frost Medal, the NSK Neustadt Award, and the NCTE Award for Excellence in Poetry for Children. She was the Poet Laureate of the State of Connecticut from 2001-2006.