Soon after this appointment Calamy was taken by the moderate Calvinist Nicholas Felton, bishop of Ely, as his family chaplain, and was presented the vicarage of St Mary, Swaffham Prior, Cambridgeshire, on 6 March 1626. Living in Felton's household, where there were other puritans, Calamy was guided in his intensive biblical and theological studies by the bishop. Following Felton's death on 5 October 1626, the next year Calamy resigned the living at Swaffham Prior; he spent the next decade as lecturer at Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk, preaching three times a week. He was licensed to preach in the diocese of Norwich on 18 June 1629 and proceeded BD in 1632. By 1634 he had married Mary, daughter of Robert Snelling of Ipswich; their son, Edmund Calamy (bap. 1634, d. 1685) was born at Bury, and baptized there on 16 April that year; they also had a daughter, Mary. The register of St James, Bury, also records the baptism of a Jeremy Calamy, son of Edmund and Amy, on 1 November 1638, but nothing more is known of him or his mother.
Calamy's puritan leanings intensified. He later recalled that he had refused to bow to the altar or read the Book of Sports, and had preached against the Laudian innovations, although the conformist apologist Laurence Womock taunted him in Sober Sadness (1643) for his compliance with regulations on clerical dress and ceremony. Cited by Bishop Matthew Wren's commissioners and forced to read set prayers in 1636, Calamy resigned the lectureship at Bury St Edmunds and accepted the offer of the rectory of Rochford, Essex, from the prominent puritan peer Robert Rich, earl of Warwick, with whom he retained a long personal connection, often sharing his closet in private prayer, and whose funeral sermon he preached in 1658. At Rochford he suffered poor health, and surrendered to a dizziness that prevented him from ever again climbing up into a pulpit; thereafter he always preached from a reading desk.
On his arrival Calamy became embroiled in controversy over the episcopacy and resistance to the ‘etcetera oath’. Along with other puritan leaders he accompanied Sir Robert Harley in presenting to the Commons on 23 January 1641 the ‘Ministers' petition and remonstrance’ with nearly 1000 signatures advocating a root and branch reform of church government. His first entrance into print was a response to Bishop Joseph Hall, in the form of An Answer to a Booke Entituled an Humble Remonstrance … Written by Smectymnuus (1641). Authorship was shared between Stephen Marshall, Edmund Calamy, Thomas Young, Matthew Newcomen (who in 1640 had married Calamy's sister-in-law Hannah Snelling), and William Spurstowe, who had been meeting regularly at Calamy's house since the calling of parliament, and whose initials formed the acronym for the nom de plume [see Smectymnuus]. This controversial work, with its appeal for the primitive episcopacy of the early church, was defended in a sonnet as well as in five anti-episcopal tracts by John Milton.
Calamy had now become, by Anthony Wood's judgement, ‘a great evangelist of the new way, [who] encouraged the people to rebellion’ (Wood, Ath. Oxon., 3rd edn, 1813–20, 3.682). In March 1641 he and Marshall were invited by the Lords' committee for innovations to consider the possibility of comprehension, and in the course of discussions they met Hall, but Calamy was probably already then in collusion with Scottish presbyterian ministers. Irresolvable conflict was emerging between those who later became presbyterians and Independents, but in November 1641 clergy of both persuasions met at Calamy's house, a choice of rendezvous which signalled his prominence in the ministerial community, to work on a unified front in parliament's reform of episcopacy and treatment of the sectaries. The ensuing agreement, signed by Calamy (for the presbyterians) and Philip Nye (for the Independents), while it did not heal the real rifts that later emerged fully in the Westminster assembly, declared that neither side would dispute against the other. At a special fast on 22 December prompted by the Irish rising, Calamy and Marshall preached before the Commons. Calamy's sermon, Englands Looking-Glasse (1642), earned him the approbation of the Commons, who issued a massive almsdish, bearing his arms and the inscription, ‘This is the Gift of the House of Commons to Edmund Calamy, B.D., 1641’. The sermon was so popular it reached five editions, and it urged the burial of all superstitious ceremonies ‘in the grave of oblivion’, the calling of a national synod of ministers (a position that had been included in the grand remonstrance to the king in November 1641), and the sending of preachers into the dark corners of the land. When the Long Parliament instituted its programme of regular monthly preaching early in 1642, Calamy and Marshall gave the inaugural sermons on 23 February at St Margaret's, Westminster. Calamy was a friend to the parliamentarian diarist Sir Simonds D'Ewes. With the outbreak of the civil war in late 1642 Charles I had Calamy, Marshall, Hugh Peter, and Henry Burton indicted for high treason early in 1643. Calamy, favouring the war, was elected a London representative in the Westminster assembly on 25 April 1642.
Calamy was involved in the transformation of Sion College in London into a gathering place of presbyterian clergy during the Westminster assembly; he later served as junior dean of the college in 1644 and senior dean in 1649, and became its president in 1650. In April 1643, along with Henry Roborough, he was elected assistant to the newly elected president, Andrew Janaway of All Hallows. All the Smectymnuuans were nominated in the ordinance of 12 June 1643 as members of the Westminster assembly of divines, where Calamy took the solemn league and covenant together with the rest. In a sermon to the Lords three days later, published as The Noble-Mans Patterne (1643), he insisted that the attack on the prelates was not a prelude to abolishing the distinction between the nobility and the common people.
A leader in the assembly, Calamy participated in a number of its significant debates, including the discussion of marriage in 1644 where he categorized the rite as a civil ordinance; his committee work ranged from printing to the problem of absenteeism in the assembly. He served on committees dealing with fasting and, with Newcomen, William Seaman, Sedgwick, John Durie, Thomas Temple, and others, was appointed to a committee in February 1646 that examined the subject of Christian liberty. The chapter on the Lord's supper in the Westminster confession of faith was the responsibility of Calamy, Cornelius Burgess, and Jeremiah Whitaker; he also prepared the preface to the shorter catechism. He was appointed on 14 September 1643 to chair the committee concerned with antinomianism and in May 1645 to the committee to deal with the preaching of antinomians and other sectaries. He remained loyal to the solemn league, preaching for its renewal in a sermon to the lord mayor, aldermen, and common council in January 1646. When in the summer of 1647 turbulence erupted in London after the end of the first civil war, Calamy signed a petition urging London City leaders to negotiate with the New Model Army. With other presbyterian leaders he opposed Pride's Purge on 6 December 1648, preaching openly against it on 17 December. On 11 January 1649 he was dispatched, along with Marshall and others, to consult with Fairfax, critical of the army's actions. Regarding the trial of Charles as a violation of both scripture and constitution, Calamy was among fifty-eight ministers who signed A Vindication of the Ministers of the Gospel in, and about London, calling for the people to be loyal to the solemn league and covenant. Though this effort was a failure, Calamy was one of a group of ministers who went to St James's on 30 January to offer the king their services on his day of execution.
Deeply troubled by the regicide Calamy, however, continued his ministerial responsibilities, and his service to presbyterians was recognized when he was named president of Sion College, London, in 1650. He also continued to license books, with a higher number of titles than in any other period under his imprimatur in the years 1652–4. On 2 May 1651, following the discovery of a conspiracy in London that sought to restore the MPs secluded in Pride's Purge, as well as the monarchy, prominent presbyterian clergy including Christopher Love, Thomas Case, and William Jenkyn, Calamy's cosignatories of the Vindication, were arrested. Love was condemned to death and executed on 22 August and, although Calamy's involvement in the plot is not clear, with Simeon Ashe and Thomas Manton he attended Love on the scaffold and preached on Love's funeral (A Sermon Preached … at Aldermanbury, 1651). In the following years he edited several of Love's works for posthumous publication.
Two years later Calamy opposed the dissolution of the Rump, condemning Oliver Cromwell's action as unlawful, unpopular, and impractical. Although his grandsonEdmund Calamy (1671–1732), the famous biographical historian of nonconformity, insisted his grandfather ‘kept himself as private as he could’ (Calamy rev., 97), under the protectorate the elder Calamy was active in supporting John Durie's mission to the continent to promote an evangelical protestant alliance in April 1654, and was appointed by the council of state in May 1654, along with a multi-denominational group of ministers, including Independents, Baptists, and Fifth Monarchists, as a treasurer to receive funds to assist persecuted protestants in Piedmont. Calamy willingly co-operated with religious radicals in these ventures, and may have developed a more tolerant attitude towards sectaries at this time, even in 1655 interceding on behalf of the exiled Socinian John Biddle. In 1657 he was invited to consult with Cromwell concerning Cromwell's assumption of the crown, and reportedly replied to Cromwell's face that the proposal was illegal and impractical, ‘Oh it is against the Voice of the Nation; there will be Nine in Ten against you’, according to Henry Neville, a member of the council of state (Greaves & Zaller, BDBR, 38). The first edition of Calamy's very popular collection of five sermons, The Godly Mans Ark, appeared in 1657; by 1683 it had gone through eight editions.
In the period following Oliver Cromwell's death on 3 September 1658, Calamy and other presbyterian ministers gave their support to Richard Cromwell and the restored Long Parliament, preaching before the House of Commons in January 1658, and urging congregationalists and presbyterians to unify. However, Calamy soon began to turn his mind toward the return of monarchy, seeking accommodation with royalists, and in January 1660 he was courted both by representatives of Sir Edward Hyde and by General George Monck's emissaries. Monck announced support for a presbyterian polity, and subsequently appointed Calamy as one of his chaplains; he received the Lord's supper at Calamy's hands. Edmund Ludlow recalls seeing Calamy and others conferring with Monck at his home on 13 February 1660. Following the return of secluded members of parliament on 21 February, Calamy and Manton were selected to preach a thanksgiving celebrating their return. When the newly elected Convention Parliament met on 25 April 1660, Calamy, John Gauden, and Richard Baxter were selected to preach to the Commons on the next fast, 30 April, the day before the king was voted home. On 11 May Calamy, with John Reynolds, Manton, Thomas Case, Spurstowe, and others, left England for the Netherlands to consult with Charles II, presenting a letter signed by more than eighty ministers at Sion College, expressing a willingness to accept a modified episcopacy. They left apparently satisfied that Charles intended presbyterian comprehension in a national church.
Upon Charles's arrival in England, he appointed ten presbyterians, among them Calamy, as his chaplains-in-ordinary. Calamy and others also met the king in June at the earl of Manchester's house. However, Henry Sampson, historian of dissent, was told an anecdote that revealed Calamy's uneasiness, and disapproval of Monck's dissolving parliament before a church settlement had been achieved. Having Monck as his auditor on a sacrament day shortly after the Restoration, Calamy made the remark, ‘Some men will betray three kingdoms for filthy lucre's sake’, adding emphasis by flinging ‘his handkerchiefe (as he was wont to move it up & down) towards the Generals pew’ (BL, Add. MS 4460, fols. 59v–60). In July 1660 trouble erupted in his parish as nine parishioners refused to pay Calamy for his services, and one Mrs Gilburd, widow, had the lock on her pew door removed. Calamy only preached once in his royal position, on 12 August at Whitehall on the text ‘To whom much is given, of him much is required’, and Samuel Pepys reported that Calamy ‘was very officious with his three reverences [sic] to the King, as others do’ (Pepys, 1.220). Calamy worked with presbyterian leaders to urge the king towards greater accommodation and to procure parliamentary legislation, efforts rewarded when Charles offered him the bishopric of Coventry and Lichfield, which he took some time in considering, and, as John Tillotson recounted to Thomas Birch, declined because of his wife's insistence. At the Savoy conference (April–July 1661), convened to revise the liturgy in such a way as to satisfy both presbyterians and advocates of episcopacy, Calamy drafted major proposals for reform, but the conference broke up without having achieved its goals. Although on 2 May 1661 he was elected by the London clergy to sit in convocation, Bishop Gilbert Sheldon rejected him.
Calamy's public role did not end with the Act of Uniformity. Subsequently he reputedly preached every Sunday after evening service in his home, where he was also reported to hold fasts, and he also participated in conventicles which met at the house of Samuel Bayly, who had married his eldest daughter, Mary, in 1657. He was also involved in channelling money to support needy ejected nonconformist ministers, and maintained links with exiles in the Netherlands. After the great fire Calamy was driven through the City of London in a coach; this reportedly broke his heart:
Calamy's will, dated 4 October 1666, and proved on 14 November, reveals that he owned property in Kent and Suffolk as well as his house in St Nicholas Lane, London. He was survived by his wife, whose will was proved in 1675, and by most of his children. Of the three sons who followed him into the ministry, Edmund was ejected in 1662 but Benjamin and James, who had a Bedfordshire living, conformed. Of his daughters, Anne Calamy married Henry Asgill at St Mary Aldermanbury on 4 February 1663, Susanna married Francis Ives at Hackney in 1670, Elizabeth married John Reynolds of St Giles Cripplegate, merchant, in 1673, and Rebecca (whose baptism record seems lost) married John Marryon on 4 October 1677 at St Mary Aldermanbury. A minister whose commitment to national reform was lifelong, Calamy is an emblem for the old dissenting presbyterianism which sought political solutions to national religious problems. His sermons and other works continued to be published long after his death.
Wealth at death: property in Kent and Suffolk; house in St Nicholas Lane, London; also silver basin and wer: Calamy rev., 97–8