Bill talks about two timely anniversaries, and shares more about the historical inspiration for his fireside chats.

Fireside Chats

Hi friends, my name is Bill Evertsberg and I’m one of the ministers at Kenilworth Union Church, and this is Doogie, my assistant minister. Today in this fireside chat I want to talk about fireside chats.

So Friday, March 12—we’ll post this on March 10—in two days, Friday March 12 it’s actually a significant anniversary in two separate ways. March 12, for one thing, marks the first anniversary of our lockdown at Kenilworth Union Church. I use March 12 as the anniversary day because that was the first Sunday when we suspended divine worship at Kenilworth Union.

Now, in the 129-year history of Kenilworth Union Church, there have probably been a few Sundays when we suspended divine worship, maybe for bad weather and things like that. But Kenilworth Union has been in business for 6,700 Sundays, and the times when we suspended worship are very rare indeed. In one way, March 12 is kind of a significant anniversary. And two weeks later on March 25, I started these little fireside chats as a way of connecting with you because I missed you.

So why do we call them fireside chats, right? Well, first of all, they’re fireside chats, obviously, or at least many of them are. I am literally next to my fireside. But you realize also that I’m borrowing a page from the playbook of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and that’s why March 12 is a big anniversary in a second way.

On March 12, 1933, President Roosevelt broadcast the first of his fireside chats. It was just eight days after his inauguration. Six days before his talk the president had shut down every bank in America and he wanted to tell the country why he’d done it. The banks ended up being closed for about a week, but when they reopened on that Monday morning, the president guaranteed every deposit in every bank in the land. If your bank went bust, the federal government would make you whole.

And so the president broadcast his chats from behind a bank of microphones in the diplomatic reception room at the White House. He wasn’t literally next to a fireside. He called them “fireside chats” because he wanted to talk to all Americans as if he were chatting with a couple of his best friends next to his fireplace on a winter evening. He was homey and folksy and down-to-earth. 80% of the words he used came from the 1,000 most frequently used words in the English language.

So you know of course that FDR was president for 12 years. 4,422 days to be precise. And yet in those 12 years, the president only broadcast 30 fireside chats, less than three a year. And he said that he kept them rare because he didn’t want them to be common and cheap, he was a little bit worried about overexposure, but also he said he didn’t have time to write these fireside chats. He told his staff that it took him four or five 12-hour days to compose a single fireside chat, and he didn’t have time to do any more.

The chats ranged in length from 13 minutes to 40 minutes. On December 9, 1941, two days after Pearl Harbor, 62 million Americans listened to the president tell them what was going to happen in the Atlantic and Pacific theaters of the war. Sometimes when the president was going to talk to America about the progress of the war, he would ask them to have an atlas or a world map open before them so that they could locate the places the president would be talking about in his fireside chat. Sales of atlases and globes and world maps skyrocketed.

Now, my little fireside chats are painting on a far smaller canvas than the president’s. He was saving the world for democracy and from a vicious tyranny; all I’m doing is trying to keep a single Christian congregation in business. So I hope they have helped you feel a little bit connected to the church. Maybe there’s some value in fireside chats; after all, they helped President Roosevelt save the world from tyranny. So God bless you, see you next time.