“Stand by this faith. Work for it and sacrifice for it. There is nothing in all the world so important as to be loyal to this faith which has placed before us the loftiest ideals, which has comforted us in sorrow, strengthened us for noble duty and made the world beautiful.”
– Olympia Brown, Universalist and the country’s first woman ordained to ministry
What is UU faith, and how did it help shape U.S. history, from the foundational ideas laid down in the Constitution, to social movements, to public discourse today? Youth and adults explored historic UU sites during our trip to Boston. We also practiced being together in covenant and mutual support, knowing that working to be in right relationship is itself an expression of our values.
We worshiped and had Easter brunch with the congregation at Arlington Street Church, admiring the Tiffany windows and magnificent organ, where the Rev. William Ellery Channing outlined Unitarian faith. Saw Kings Chapel, which struck Trinitarian references from the Book of Common Prayer, influenced public leaders, and started conversation that led to the founding of the American Unitarian Association.
We toured UU sites and stood in the Harvard Divinity School pulpit where Ralph Waldo Emerson gave his iconoclastic speech that encouraged young ministers to “refuse the good models, even those which are sacred in the imagination… and dare to love God without mediator or veil.”
We shared a meal and spent an hour singing with young people who are doing just that at Lucy Stone Cooperative. We engaged in advocacy and service work with staff of the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee and hand-delivered UU Mass Action’s legislative request to the Governor’s office in the State House. We visited the African Meeting House, a Baptist church where Frederick Douglas spoke and which was visited by abolitionists such as Harriet Tubman and Lucy Stone.
We steeped ourselves in stories of our forebearers:
Frances Ellen Watkins Harper – African American “mother of American journalism” who wrote, “we are all bound up together in one great bundle of humanity”;
Henry David Thoreau – transcendentalist writer who said, “under a government which imprisons any unjustly, the true place for a just man is also a prison”;
Julia Ward Howe – creator of Mother’s Day as an anti-war protest, peacemaker, and founder of a school for the blind, who wrote, “while your life is the true expression of your faith, whom can you fear?”;
Thomas Jefferson – U.S. President who wrote, “no one sees with greater pleasure than myself the progress of reason in its advances toward rational Christianity, when we shall have done away with the incomprehensible jargon of Trinitarian arithmetic… and got back to the pure and simple doctrines [Jesus] inculcated, we shall then be truly and worthily his disciples”;
Theodore Parker – One of our most influential ministers, he rejected supernatural elements of religion. His words of a “government of all the people, by all the people, for all the people” were later adapted and used by Abraham Lincoln. Martin Luther King’s famous quote built upon Parker’s words, which were: “I do not pretend to understand the moral universe; the arc is a long one…. From what I see I am sure it bends towards justice.”
While in Boston, we proudly and gratefully remembered White Bear UU Church. Thank you to everyone who lent a hand in sending our young people on this pilgrimage. We are blessed, both travelers and our denomination as a whole, by deepening experiences such as this.
Photos above: The WBUUC youth at the State House, which was built on Paul Revere’s property and is next door to the long-time office of the UUA; trying out the organ at Arlington Street Church; close-up of a window there by Louis Comfort Tiffany; teens at the statue of William Ellery Channing; young people in the pulpit at the African Meeting House.