Category Archives: Liminal places

A visit — heck, let’s call it a pilgrimage — to Mt. Auburn Cemetery

Mt. Auburn Cemetery is well known as the nation’s first “garden cemetery” which, though now the norm, contrasted with the gloomy church yard or burial ground. But Mt. Auburn does it better than any I’ve seen and there lies the mortal remains of many a famous Universalist and Unitarian.

I joined dear friends, also Unitarian Universalist ministers, Hank Peirce and Adam Tierney-Eliot, there on March 17 to visit a just a couple of luminaries and brave the late-winter ice.

Hosea Ballou’s grave

Hosea Ballou's grave, side view

2014-03-17 10.30.18

Fanny Farmer is buried here with family.

John Murray’s grave, protected by ice.

Adam Tierney-Eliot (left) and Hank Peirce with token Unitarian, William Ellery Channing

Adam Tierney-Eliot (left) and Hank Peirce with token Unitarian, William Ellery Channing

Crazy snow coming? Download Pocket

To my dear Southern friends, family and readers:

A once-in-a-generation snow and ice storm is coming in on you. You have plenty of bread and milk (right?) but now face Internet-free boredom.

My suggestion? Put the Pocket app on every mobile device you have. Then add the plug-in for your browser and store as many interesting webpages — might I suggest this blog? — you can. You’ll have them even when the Internet goes down. More entertainment value than the weather-band radio. (Which you should have, too.)

I also use Pocket as a scrapbook to come back to stories I want learn more about, or write on. I also use it for in-flight (and on-train) entertainment.

Also, are your power lines prone to come down? Stay off your laptop. Save the battery to charge your phone instead. Stay safe.

Any Hungarian Unitarian activity in the UK?

Those who follow international news know that Romanians and Bulgarians are now able to enter the United Kingdom legally.

Hateful and xenophobic screeds notwithstanding, little has changed no far, except those who have taken advantage of undocumented labor can no longer abuse workers with impunity. London is not swimming in people from southeastern Europe. But that’s not to say there’s not a critical mass.

Surely my dear readers know that most of the Unitarians in Europe are Hungarian-speaking Transylvanians; that is, Romanian citizens.

So I wonder has there ever been, or has anyone ever intend to (or hoped to) create a ministry to accommodate our religious kindred, should they come to the United Kingdom? And if so is there any plan for the larger community to help?

These are honest questions. I would love to hear from someone who knows.

Sandy Day blogging

I’ve not bothered to see if Hurricane Sandy has degraded to a tropical storm (or been upgraded in colliding with that winter storm) because all evidence is that it’s terribly fierce. I hear the wind, rain and sirens of emergency vehicles.

But we’re better off than the Jersey Shore; remember its people and our beloved Murray Grove in prayer.

I wrote about hurricanes in 2003 and you can find some resources there.

A sad look into a Pacific Congregationalist Church

Please remember in prayer Charles Jessop, who died of hemorrhagic dengue fever, on the island of Niue leaving behind a wife and small daughter. This is the first death there (at least in recent years) from the disease; pray for the people, too. Here is a news clip, beginning with Mr. Jessop’s funeral in a congregation of the there-dominant Eklesia Niue, or the Congregational Christian Church of Niue.

Niue, an isolated island country in free association with New Zealand, has about 1,400 residents. These news casts are in interesting window into this community, and this clip a rare look into one of its churches.

A short film of hope for dying congregations

I was searching online, clicking links and reading tonight when I found this charming, touching and pleasingly funny film short. It’s about a Jewish congregation in the East End of London trying to keep a minyan on Yom Kippur. Spend ten minutes and — if your congregation is in peril — hope.


“The Tenth Man”

And the punchline, for this blog? The Sandys Row Synagogue, where it was filmed, is a real place. And this is the actual building, in another age then known as the Parliament Court Chapel, where a spiritually-conflicted John Murray and his first wife, Eliza, heard the Universal Gospel from James Relly. In other words, this is where the “father of American Universalism” became a Universalist. It makes me think, and tremble a little.

Who’s really central in the UUA?

After a quarter-century as a Unitarian Universalist, I can say with conviction that our largest problems have little to do with money or even membership, but with deep unresolved issue of identity. The continual plaints — and curiously distributed — circle about who is or is not welcome, with tones more fitting for a Dickensian workhouse door. Mewing and poormouthing is sure to bring a comfort SWAT team — which even more obvious online — which soothes the complaint but (1) doesn’t discover if it was based in fact nor (2) does it resolve the underlying tension.

Nor do I intend to; indeed, I think the Ship of Simple Solutions sailed a long time ago.

The question I ask above — Who’s really central in the UUA? — is quite literal and is a response to calls for selling the UUA’s historic and central properties and finding other accommodation. One failed idea would have kept the offices in metro Boston, but other calls would have ’25′ move to the less-expensive middle of the country. I don’t advocate for this, considering the disruption to staff and their experience, the doubtful cost savings and the loss of morale from a move (however framed) made from lack.

But I also like to fiddle with UUA data and want learn more about optimization and mapping. So using this method, I figured out the geographic center of the UUA membership. That optimal point, as the crow flies, for all UUA congregation members to meet up. Well, not all. I’ve only included the North American congregations and have excluded the non-local Church of the Larger Fellowship for obvious reasons. And the data’s a year old. But that shouldn’t put us too far off.

So where? A field outside of St. Anne, Illinois, about 75 miles due south of Chicago. (But I suppose Gary and South Bend are more economical options.)

Western Conference Unitarians are entitled to say “I told you so.”

And that then would make the congregation at the center of the UUA the Unitarian Universalist Community Church, Park Forest, Illinois. Congratulations! (But is there room for 160,000-odd people for coffee?)

Worship: once a year (or as needed)

Please excuse a moment of somewhat-silly ecclesiastic conjecture. Regular readers know I am considering working with a congregation that will meet for worship once a month. I know what you’re thinking: Once a month! Why so much? Geez. Slow down! Don’t you have anything else to do?

Well, I do know of some churches that meet once or twice a year. Why?

  • It’s a associated with a legal membership meeting or other requirement of an otherwise dormant church. (I know of a Universalist church in Canada that meets four times a year for this reason.)
  • It’s a religious observance associated with a family reunion. (I know of and have preached to a dormant Universalist church like this; the church has a cemetery, which I suspect is the compelling reason for this annual service.)
  • It’s an extended ministry — perhaps to a small expat or linguistic community — and is dependent on overstretched clergy support.

This last case seems to be the case of some non-English-speaking Lutherans in the United Kingdom. (Don’t ask what got me reading about these.)  Consider the Icelandic Lutherans in Hull, who only worship in Advent and early June. Or the Latvian Lutherans in Swansea, seen twice a year. Or the Icelanders in Edinburgh who only meet (once) in Advent.  Likewise the Norwegian Lutherans in Cardiff and Bristol, who also get a tree-trimming party as a part of the package.

There are two other once-a-year worship services I can think of: the Unitarian Universalist Christian Fellowship communion service at General Assembly and the Sunday morning ecumenical Christian service at the U.S. Esperanto Landa Kongreso.

These two in particular make me think of how a once-yearly service might be helpful, say for Unitarian Universalist Christians and Esperanto-speaking Christians (and others of course): to start a religious presence, rather than wind one down. One, of course, can lead to more and little is better than none. But there’s something to be said for a yearly service here, and one a couple of towns over, and so forth until a network is created.  And unlike a more frequent service, a yearly (or twice- or thrice-) service can also be the basis of a regional invitation. A weekend or even longer: a conference rather than a single Sunday morning.

Now, if once a year, when? The Advent dates above suggest a pre-Christmas — so as not to conflict with more regular congregation — observance, but All Souls or Rally Sunday (first Sunday in September) have their appeals. So also the last Sunday in May, to take advantange of the Memorial Day weekend, especially if the intent is to restart a church with a graveyard. Week of Christian Unity (in January) or World Communion Sunday (in October) might be better for the Esperantists, especially since December is already in play for the language’s founder’s December 15 birthday.