Church Sparks Controversy After Deciding to Sell 372-Year Old Christian Hymn Book — One of the 1st Books Ever Printed in America

BOSTON (TheBlaze/AP) — Congregants of one of the nation’s oldest churches have voted to auction off a 372-year-old hymn book that’s expect to fetch $10 million to $20 million at auction.

Members of the Old South Church in Boston authorized the sale of one of its two copies of the “Bay Psalm Book,” which was published in 1640. It is among the first books ever published in North America, and only 11 copies remain. Not everyone at the church is contended with the decision.

“The vote itself is painful. It’s bringing out passions and divisions in the church that have never been seen before,” church historian Jeff Makholm told The Boston Herald, going on to call the book “a priceless piece of Puritan history.” “For us to sell it, it’s bordering on preposterous and irresponsible. It would be like the state of Israel selling the Dead Sea Scrolls to build highways.”

The inside of one of the remaining copies of the “Bay Psalm Book” (Photo Credit: Library of Congress)

The book is so historically-important, in fact, that the Library of Congress has documented its existence in detail. The government provides more background about the fascinating work:

This humble and well-worn hymnal was printed in 1640 in Cambridge, Massachusetts, by Stephen Daye, first printer of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. It is the very first book printed in what is now the United States.

Known as The Bay Psalm Book, but really titled The Whole Booke of Psalmes Faithfully Translated into English Metre, it represents what was most sacred to the Puritans–a faithful translation of God’s Word, to be sung in worship by the entire congregation. Other Protestant denominations relied on selected paraphrases of the Scripture, but the Puritans believed this could compromise their salvation. The same faith that compelled them to leave England and strike out for the New World prompted them to commit this text to print before all others.

Board of Trustees Chairman Phil Stern says the church wants to continue growing its endowment and take care of some “critical capital needs.”

The front cover of one of the remaining copies of the “Bay Psalm Book” (Photo Credit: Library of Congress)

He says although there was loud opposition to the sale, the vote wasn’t close, with 271 votes cast in favor and 34 against.

Members also authorized the sale of 19 pieces of Colonial-era silver.