New Memorial for the Victims of the Salem Witch Trials is dedicated

A group of approximately 175 people gathered at the site of the new memorial to those hanged during the Salem Witch Trials 325 years ago this year.  Jeff Barz-Snell delivered the Opening Words for the Ceremony and the offered a concluding Prayer of Committal.  His remarks are pasted below:

Proctor’s Ledge Memorial Dedication

Remarks and Prayer Prepared by the Rev. Jeffrey Barz-Snell,

31st Pastor and Teacher of the First Church in Salem

Wednesday, July 19, 2017, 12 Noon


Opening Benediction:

We shouldn’t be here today.  These five innocent women should not have been executed on this day three and ¼ centuries ago. 

We shouldn’t be here today.  We should not be here dedicating this memorial and setting aside this small patch of rocky earth as a memorial for these 13 women and 5 men. 

We shouldn’t be here today.  We should not be here commemorating the heartbreaking and tragic loss of life, people who were falsely and unjustly accused of being in the “Snare of the Devil.” 

We shouldn’t be here today.  It did not need to happen.  It should not have happened.  And yet it did.  And so we are – here – to remember, to resolve, and to rededicate, so that the evils perpetrated against these people never happen again. 

We here in Salem know what can happen when we let our pride and petty grievances get the better of us. 

We here in Salem know what can happen when our resentments and hatreds manifest themselves in our religious beliefs and practices and our social life and community.

We here in Salem know what can happen when our unconscious biases against women or men, when our prejudices against people and cultures different from our own, are allowed to inform and distort our spiritual lives without reflection and humility.

We here in Salem know that the doorway to human evil lies in people being given permission to unfairly accuse and scapegoat others. 

Petty grudges and class anxieties; resentments based on gender or ethnicity, fear and anxiety about our larger world – it’s far too easy to let these fallacies of the human mind and soul rule our lives and our decisions.

And so we endeavor to chart another course in our lives, in our communities and in our faith traditions.  We chart a new course based on the values of thoughtfulness, humility, curiosity, and charity.  We chart a new course guided by the principles of compassion, freedom and tolerance.  And we resolve to cultivate our best selves.

Good afternoon.  On behalf of the Community of Salem I welcome you to this solemn dedication of Proctor’s Ledge.  My name is the Rev.  Jeffrey Barz-Snell and I am the current and 31st Minister of the First Church in Salem.  Rebecca Nurse was a full member of my congregation, as was Giles Corey. 

325 years ago today, (give or take a few days given alterations to the calendar over the centuries), 5 innocent and very frightened women were executed for the crime of witchcraft.  My predecessor, the Rev. Nicholas Noyes, who held the same office as I do, was party to the events this day and helped fan the flames of hatred and hysteria that engulfed this region during that tragic summer. 

I like to tell people that the real history of Salem is not embodied in the tragic and terrifying events of 1692 but rather in how Salem evolved and developed in the ensuing decades and centuries.  We would like to think we learned from the evil and traumatic choices made 325 years ago.  We would like to think we became better people.  The truth is that the lessons from Salem are not just learned once but must be learned and re-learned by each generation.

Salem has come a long way over the centuries and I am proud to call this community and city my home.  But we must never forget what happened and what can happen.  That is what today’s dedication is all about.  Thank you for attending on this hot summer day.


Prayer of Committal Offered at the Conclusion of the Ceremony:

There are many different ways to remember the past: we can analyze events from different perspectives and angles.  We can chart out events by time or by geography.  We can explore larger contexts and recognize the subtle and intricate connections and concatenation of events that form any historic incident.  But in the end, all of our research and analyses of the past are meaningless unless it informs the present.   The lives that were falsely accused and unjustly executed at this place 325 years ago are best honored when we as individuals, as a community as a region resolve to make different choices.  

As we conclude this Dedication, there is one final action needed to be taken: in the traditions handed down to us, we know there were prayers said upon the passing of a member of the community.  These are traditionally referred to as Prayer of Committal often said at funerals and when committing a loved one’s body to the earth.  Recognizing this probably did not happen here at this site when these five innocent women were executed, we now offer a prayer of committal for them, and for us:

Go forth Faithful Servants

In the name of God who created you.

IN the name of your Saviour who died for you,

In the name of the Spirit which was given unto you.

Go forth upon your journey from this world

May you live in peace this day. 

May you dwelling be in endless light.

And may you - and all of us - find our place, our true place, in God’s Kingdom.

 (Adapted from the King’s Chapel Prayer Book)

 May their lives never be forgotten, and may what happened here serve as a powerful reminder of the importance of compassion, reason and tolerance in all our lives. 

Let the people say Amen.