William Sloane Coffin Sermon Archive Project
This website is the home of the William Sloane Coffin Sermon Archive Project. It is truly a labor of love (a lot of labor; a lot of love) to digitally “Save Bill’s Voice.” Delivered from the Riverside Church pulpit over his ten years as senior minister, there were over 300 sermons in need of archiving to a digital format. It was my intention to transfer all of the sermons (and any other sermons I could find from around the country) from the deteriorating cassette tapes that were their home, not only to make available on this website, but also to be stored with his papers at Yale University's Sterling Library. These digitized sermons could provide an enduring and invaluable resource for scholars, divinity school students, religious leaders and socially engaged activists around the world.
"I think this is a good investment for history, for culture, for religion, for the pure pleasure of hearing Bill's voice and his well chosen words. I think the idea of supporting David's initiative is terrific. I have contributed, and one doesn't have to be religious to enjoy and appreciate the content of the sermons, each of which usually contains a lesson in morality, or politics, or justice....." Cora Weiss
- David Coffin
Read the Latest Updates
The process required that each cassette be played in the studio (www.CedarHouseSound.com) in real-time and then processed through software called Pro-Tools, again in real-time. They were saved to a hard drive, transferred to my computer and uploaded to this website. All the while in the studio we were carefully repairing the broken cassettes, cataloguing and labeling the tapes, and brainstorming how to raise enough funds to finish what promised to be a lengthy, but necessary, project.
At home I took the finished sermons and copied the end-of-sermon prayers to create a separate collection of just prayers. I wanted to preserve the pastoral prayers from the service of worship. I am still hunting down these recordings from people who have saved them over the years.
The funds came from people who were specifically approached to help support this project and from a KickStarter campaign that ended on Feb. 14th. THANK YOU!!
Please join us and help spread the word! The best way to help is to write/email every like-minded thinker and let them know about this project.
Sermon Project finished and available (Jun 16, 2016)
While I may be a bit slow off the mark I'm proud to say the project is complete and available through this website. Under the photo of my Dad is button (Sermons & Prayers Download page). If you click that button it will take you to the sermons and prayers page where you can either "cherry pick" the sermons you'd like or just peruse the titles of sermons in general. The entire collection can be had on a a DVD Data Disc for the same price as downloading them all from the website without the hassle. Please feel free to contact me with any questions. If you are interested in hosting the project on your website let me know.
Letter from Riverside Parishioner (Oct 3, 2012)
I am pleased to learn of your project to preserve the dynamic voice of your father- and I am enclosing this check in memory of those years of his devotion and concern as Riverside's senior minister. Dr. Coffin came to Riverside when the congregation needed an activist national leader as well as a religious guide.
I thank you for asking Riversiders to assist you in preserving the spoken word in his own voice. You are actually correct in recognizing the dynamics of hearing your father's words as he spoke them. A member never wanted to miss the Sunday sermon- which was certain to be illustrated with memorable word combinations and word pictures-delicious to hear.
Congratulations for undertaking the enormous and important task of preserving your father's memory for future history. Much success as you labor towards it's conclusion. ~Riverside Parishioner~
Gearing up for the Finish? (Oct 3, 2012)
We're about to launch a KickStarter fund raising campaign to finish the project. Stay Tuned!! Also want to draw your attention to the whole collection DVD Data Disc option. No need to download full length "albums" of sermons. If you purchase the whole collection, for the same price I will put them all on one DVD Data Disc for easy transfer to your computer. Please email me for further information.
Wonderful Letter from a Yale Grad. (Sep 16, 2011)
Dear David, I am a YRC and Battell Chapel alumnus ('61-'64) and just heard of your project through the indefatigable Harold Hille. My wife, Viola, and I commend you for undertaking this daunting task and are pleased to contribute xxx to help defray your expenses. We are particularly pleased for this opportunity inasmuch as we feel that we owe your father some money which he wouldn't accept when we offered it years ago. Let me expand. We were both PhD candidates in Classics at Yale in the early sixties. In the summer of '63 we decided to get married. You father agreed to perform the ceremony and we went for the customary interview (at which, by the way, he assured my wife that he would not be in jail on the coming September 1st!). He knew that we had very little money and when I asked him what his fee would be, he answered: "Nothing, Yale pays me enough already." He did mention, however, that if we wanted some music (we were a small group and there were only seven in the wedding party), a lady was staying at his home who for $5 would play some music of our choice on her viola di gamba. This suited us fine, and the marriage took place in Harkness Tower Chapel with polished music and an even more polished pastor. At the end of the ceremony he said:"Congratulations, Mr and Mrs Stephens." Viola grinned and said: "Now for the rest of my life I shall have to tell people repeatedly that my surname is spelled with a ph." With a laugh he replied:
"I wish I could say the same!" He refused our invitation to join us for the meal, probably knowing that the budget was tight, and that is why we have this extra, personal, reason to support your project that is more than worthy in itself.
We never did get a chance to meet him again, but heard of his inspired work at Riverside in New York and, with sadness, of his death a few years ago.
From a Riverside parishioner (Sep 7, 2011)
I am so happy to have found this site. One Sunday many years ago I came into Riverside Church in a drug induced fog. Over many subsequent Sundays Bill's sermons changed the direction of my life. Of course when he left it was a personal challenge, but I realized that Bill was not trying to create a "cult", so I continued on.... thinking for myself, and traveling this journey. But... his sermons mean so much to me that I have many cassettes in a box in my car, which I intended to convert to digital. Thanks to you... I need not do that, so I think that I will leave my cassettes on the doorsteps of some seminary here in Los Angeles.
Prayers (Jan 17, 2011)
It has been suggested to me by many people who are aware of this project that I make the prayers available separately from the sermons. For the past two weeks I have been editing the prayers into mp3's as separate tracks. Fortunately I can take the finished sermon mp3 from the studio and do the edits on my home computer which cuts down on studio time. I believe I can finish the whole project by the end of 2011. More funds still need to be raised to reach completion.
All for now.
Alex's Death 28 Years Ago Today. (Jan 11, 2011)
I was in the studio all day yesterday working on the sermon project and Randy (Bill's wife) came down late afternoon and then we went to dinner. The last sermon we did was marked "Untitled" and I had marked it as Not in the Book. Randy happened to be there for this one. The reason it wasn't in the book is because it was a sermon he preached at Riverside from the piano, talking about the text and chord progressions and melody writing. It's a great sermon. Lots of fun, humor, and spontaneity. In the middle of it, of course, he turns to Abide With Me, everyone has their hymnals out and after being told to "mind the commas" he launches into the first verse. Having told John Walker to join him on the last verse, "It needs a crescendo you can only get from an organ", the organ gracefully comes in and reduces Randy and me to tears on the couch in the studio. My father singing will do that, let alone the organ. Then he starts talking about Alex's death, noting "I see his mother is here today", and how he had to go into the church in Strafford and play that hymn over and over again as part of his grieving process.
At dinner Randy produced a bunch of photos of Bill preaching which I had asked her to look for. Included in the pile was a photo of my father at the piano in the church in Strafford.
Alex was well thought of yesterday, as he is most days.
The whole point of my doing this digitizing of the sermons is that it's a completely different experience to hear his sermon than to read it. That point was made abundantly clear to me when I digitized the sermon on Alex's death. I had read it any number of times but until a few weeks ago I had never actually listened to it. I've had the cassette in my desk for 28 years.
Love to all.
Time to get back to the studio (Sep 11, 2010)
I'm looking forward to heading back into the studio after a very busy summer. There just wasn't time to make the weekly trips up to New London, N.H. I have received some generous donations, and some small ones too, and every bit helps. It generally costs about $100 per sermon just to process them through the studio. I am totally committed to seeing this project through to completion and have every reason to believe it's possible.
Still want to see what the Freedom of Information Act will yield. If anyone has the wherewithall to follow up on this please don't hesitate to let me know.
All for now.
More Sermons received from Riverside (May 28, 2010)
Just went to NYC last week and was able to retrieve almost 30 more sermons from Victor Jordan, the volunteer archivist at Riverside. He has been very helpful and I'm grateful for his support. He tells me he's been a member of RIverside since 1958.
I continue to spend about one day a week in the studio and we're making good progress. We're talking about the possibility of publishing a book of his prayers so now we're marking all the sermons that end with a prayer. Not all of them do but most.
Project Update (Mar 2, 2010)
As of March 1st I have 30 sermons preserved to digital. I am still hunting down the missing 42 sermons, mostly from 1986-87. So far we have had to repair roughly half of the finished sermons. I am also starting the process of going through the Freedom of Information Act to see what speeches and sermons may have been recorded by the F.B.I during the 1960's. I certainly know they had our phone tapped. If anyone is interested in joining me for a day in the studio just let me know.
PayPal Donate Button Now Active (Feb 26, 2010)
The PayPal Donate button is now active. This will make it easier to make a contribution in this age of internet transactions. Please be advised that Paypal takes 2.9% + .30 cents from each donation. Despite this I still thought it would make donations easier for some. And I thank you.
Looking for All Recorded Speeches and Sermons (Feb 18, 2010)
I am expanding this project to include any and all recorded speeches and sermons I can find. If you have any old cassettes of his public speaking, or know of any in existence, besides the Riverside Sermons, please let me know. Thank you.
"Click and Give" (Feb 16, 2010)
I'm working on creating a PayPal account so people can "click and give". All proceeds still go directly to St. John's Church and will still be tax-deductible. Hopefully this will make the donation process easier.
News Module Installed (Feb 9, 2010)
Check back here for News and Updates.