Service for Second Unitarian Church of
February 11, 2018
the Rev. Jennie Barrington, Interim Minister
Story for All Ages “The Little Engine that Could”
First Reading: [read by Harris McKee]
Adapted from Deuteronomy 6:11:
“We build on foundations we did not lay
We warm ourselves by fires we did not light
We sit in the shade of trees we did not plant
We drink from wells we did not dig
We profit from persons we did not know.
This is as it should be.
Together we are more than any one person could be.
Together we can build across generations.
Together we can renew our hope and faith in the life that is yet to unfold.”
Second Reading: Adapted from, “A History of Church, Including Yours,”
By Sean Neil-Barron
One day, your church was born.
Maybe… a few brave souls answered a notice in the newspaper, curiosity piqued by the announcement of a religion where free-thinking and tolerance were bedrocks. No matter how it happened, your church was born. A gathering of people—humble, caring, anxious and quirky all at the same time—who covenanted, to be with one another on the journey of life, death and everything in-between—
And so it began. A faithful few. Beautifully imperfect, called to that central task— that human task—of connecting, loving, and serving.
It was just a baby, and yet it was thrust deep into the human condition. Tasked to hold minds and souls, bodies and hearts along the roller derby of disease and birth, infighting and joy, and Christmas pageants. Sometimes all of those at the same time.
They gathered to hear the world broken open, for insightful sermons, rejuvenating music, and a community whose fierce devotion to each other’s well-being rivaled a mama bear’s for her cubs.
But it wasn’t always like that of course. There were the trying times—and I don’t just mean Phyllis or Jack, those stubborn but loveably souls who inhabit the netherworld of committee meetings—no, I mean the trying times:
when the church almost split in half over the war or integration, or when the mill left the town vacant, or when the minister crossed that line, and the people couldn’t speak about it for [a long time].
But somehow you were still here.
still on the town common,
still the church that everyone recognizes,
still the ones that shows up every time you were called on,
still using the communion silver (until you voted to sell it).
New people came, and they changed things. Small things, big things. Things that nobody noticed as it happened, until suddenly it was hard to even recognize anything anymore. That was a hard moment, a tearful moment.
And other things changed too.
The proclamations about God, once heard loud from the pulpit softened:
Wrathful became loving.
Distant became intimate.
Mandatory became optional.
After the war, the nursery and RE classrooms were overflowing. Each baby dedicated reminded the church of the incredible beauty of life and the gift this community, all huddled around baby, would bestow upon this child.
The history of your church is more a story of the determination of love to break forth than it is a story of tie-dye, or chalices, sermon discussions or social justice committee meetings.
The history of the church is the history of human enterprise,
evolving in its sights and sounds, yet revolving always around its core.
The history of your church is the gift of potential and momentum, of baggage and personality. The history of your church is the launch pad from which you spring—into action or disarray.
Each day your church is born.
Musical Message “There is Love”
Sermon: “A History of 2U”
Each Sunday, before we receive the morning offering, we say, together, words that have become very meaningful to me, and which many of you know by heart. We say, “This church is the community of ourselves. Its energy and resources are our energy and resources. Its wealth is what we share. As we contribute to the life of this community, we affirm it and enable its participation in the larger world around us.” This morning we are looking at the history of our sweet church. So I have been reflecting on those very meaningful offertory words. To me, they sum up the fact that the church we affectionately call “2U” has always been, at heart, about the people– the members and friends and neighbors and supporters within and outside of these hallowed walls. This church has, in its long history, been through some very hard times– periods when the membership had dwindled such that those who were left wondered if the church could survive at all. And yet the people rallied– asking for, and receiving help, support, and encouragement from our larger denomination, and from neighboring individuals, congregations, and other groups. Again and again, this church rallied and became stronger and mightier because the people of the congregation themselves loved the church too much to let it die. This congregation, throughout its history, has had a strong motivation to sustain itself, and a strong and clear identity of itself, regardless of who its ministers were, or are, or will be in the future. And that’s a healthy thing. And it is a fitting and appropriate thing– because in a UU congregation, it is the members who have the decision-making power. UU congregations are governed by what is called congregational polity. It is not a minister, nor bishop, nor Pope, nor denominational president who tells a UU congregation what to do. That means that some things take longer to discuss, discern, and decide sometimes. But I still wouldn’t have it any other way. In our denomination, the power is in the people. And in this congregation, it has been the people who have preserved, sustained, and strengthened 2U– for one hundred and sixty years.
Many of the words I’ll say this morning are taken directly from printed histories of this church. Some of them were given to me by our long-time member, and chair of the Membership committee, Judy Corbeille. And this history of the church was written by former member Sarah Gibbard Cook. Printed copies of these histories are available, and I encourage you to read them for a more in-depth view than I can present on any one Sunday morning. Members of this congregation have written its history in their own words. And now is a good and important time for you to talk about 2U’s history, in your own words– especially since we are in an interim period. My original plan for today was to present and talk through 2U’s history with you after the worship service. But because of some scheduling quirks, we are postponing that exercise for a few weeks. In the meantime, I hope that you will talk with each other, and listen to each other, about this church’s long and stalwart history. Most importantly, I hope that lifting up that history will prompt you to envision an even better future for 2U– including another long and satisfying relationship with a new settled minister, to begin in August of 2019.
Some of 2U’s history is hard to look at. As I mentioned, there were several times when the church fell on hard times and wondered if it could continue. But the members did take those opportunities to let their current situation prompt them to envision an even better future for this church. That ability to envision a positive transformation for 2U is symbolized by our Anvil. It belonged to this church’s first minister, the Rev. Robert Collyer who had been a blacksmith in England. After the Great Chicago Fire in October of 1871, Rev. Collyer’s anvil was sent to him from England, as a gift. It remains in our sanctuary today, as a symbol of the truth that growth and prosperity can arise again, even from tragedy and loss. The Chicago Fire destroyed this congregation’s building. Only the outer walls and tower remained. On the Sunday after the fire, the members stood in the ashes for a worship service, beside the remains of their church building.
Rev. Collyer was known as an abolitionist, and for his work during the Civil War for the Sanitary Commission, which later became the Red Cross. He was a popular lecturer and preacher, and the sanctuary was filled to capacity. He served here for more than twenty years, leaving to take a position in New York.
The congregation had some struggles after that. But when they called the Rev. Fred V. Hawley, membership, and hopes, increased. In 1904, the congregation purchased our current lot and built this church building, which was then on the corner of Barry and Orchard.
Some of why 2U’s history is hard to look at is the way some of its ministries ended. Some of them ended tragically. The Rev. Hawley served here for twenty-three years. But, shockingly, he was hit by a truck and killed. “He is remembered as a good-natured, idealistic, and eloquent man who had a wonderful philosophy of life.”
The ministry of the Rev. John Rushton Heyworth also ended in a sad and difficult way. He became physically less able. He and his wife moved up into the church’s loft. He was “carried downstairs each Sunday in his wheelchair and preached to a handful of people in a deteriorating building.” “In 1965, [the Unitarian Universalist seminary] Meadville Lombard sent two of its faculty members, Ron Engel and Neil Shadle, to organize Sunday services, as Rev. Heyworth had become too ill to preach.”
Though Unitarian Universalists are not inclined to worship any human being, Lyda Palmer could be called a savior of this church. In January of 1968, she gathered twenty people (including Seymour and Esther Fleishman, Maryann and Richard Brandon, Virginia and Tom Green, Ingrid Key, and Dave Ferguson) “to make plans for reviving the church. The group later became known as the “Ground Floor Renewal Group.”
In April of 1969, the members renamed the congregation, which had been called Unity Church, Second Unitarian Church, to claim that beginning of its renewal as a fresh start.
In 1971, the church called as its minister Bart Gould. In 1976, this church and seventeen other congregations, concerned about the impact of isolation, depression, and substance abuse on people who are homeless, began The Northside Ecumenical Night Ministry. This church still takes part in the Night Ministry.
In 1984, the congregation had grown to 200 members [the same number it is today]. After thirteen years, Bart Gould resigned to take a position with a church in Louisiana. The church then called the Rev. Charlie Kast. He was “an ex-engineer who had come into UU ministry as a second career… a man of clear convictions, and a plain, honest, forthright preaching style. He lived his convictions, becoming a full-time foster parent, being quietly active for social causes, and galvanizing 2U’s enthusiasm for the Chicago Cubs.”
In 1987, the congregation voted to make major renovations to the building. They raised the floor of the sanctuary and excavated what had been the crawl space below it (mostly by hand). They added children’s classrooms and offices. During the construction, worship services were held at the Jane Addams facility.
High-quality music has always been very important to this congregation. Its Music Director in the late 1980s was Mary Allen Walden. In 1989, this church ordained Ms. Walden as its Minister of Music.
In the early 1990s, UU Religious Education for children and youth became a strong area of focus. That programming was revitalized by a student minister named Greg Stewart. He helped raise the members’ consciousness about youth who are homeless through his innovative, “Way Cool Sunday School.”
In 1993 and 1994, Mary Allen Walden, Greg Stewart, and Charlie Kast moved away, “leaving the congregation feeling uncertain.”
In 1996, the Rev. Lynn Ungar was called as minister of 2U. She served here until the year 2000.
2U was then served by two interim ministers, each for one year: the Revs. Nannene Gowdy and Jeanne Mills. That was a time of examination and assessment for the congregation.
In 2002, the Rev. Jennifer Owen-O’Quill was called as minister of 2U. The printed history I was given says that, “Her ministry brought new congregational commitments to the Lakeview Action Coalition, the Night Ministry, and the Lakeview Pantry, as well as a new relationship with the Community Renewal Society. During that time, the congregation raised a banner in support of same sex marriage and began the practice of sharing the plate from the morning offering with non-profit groups.”
Those are laudable accomplishments. But it is also true that the ministries of Lynn Ungar and Jennifer Owen-O’Quill ended as difficult and troubling partings. There are still some conversations about, and some processing of, what those ministerial relationships were like, and how they ended. These are things that you can always talk with me about. And we will talk about them more when we do the History Timeline exercise a few weeks from now. We can have those conversations in ways that are factual, honest, and attempting to understand that people were doing the best they could do, at that time, considering what they were in the midst of. Our hope is that, when we talk through and process difficult endings of ministries in the past, we can then move on, so that the congregation is more readied to be in a happy, fruitful relationship with a new settled minister.
After the Rev. Jennifer Owen-O’Quill’s ministry here ended in 2009, there was division in the congregation and membership had dropped. In January of 2010, 2U engaged the Rev. Adam Robersmith as its half-time contract minister. Within two years, he was called as its full-time settled minister.
I am happy to say that the end of Rev. Adam’s ministry was a parting that was very well-done. He left 2U to take a position with a larger UU church in West Hartford, Connecticut. The outdoor reception to send him off was hugely well-attended and affectionate. We continue to wish him well!
When you look at the history of this church, what do you see? You will each see the history of this adorable amalgamation of ages, interests, endeavors, and theologies somewhat distinctly. Yet, together, we can clarify this church’s narrative at this time in its history, and clarify our vision for its future. I want to hear from you what resonates with you from 2U’s history, and in our current offerings and accomplishments. And I want you to talk with each other about these things, especially when we re-schedule the History Timeline exercise. 2U’s history will be important to talk about and process that day. But even more important will be for us to write, on a clean sheet of newsprint, your hopes for 2U in the years to come.
When I look at the history of this church, I see determination, collaboration, asking for, and receiving help, care for others when tragedy strikes, care for this sweet building, commitment to social justice causes, and celebration of religious education and music that are high-quality and innovative. But most of all I see an engine that, though at times it was little, kept saying, to itself and the world, “I think I can, I think I can, I think I can, I think I can.”
Bless its heart.
*Hymn # 118 This Little Light of Mine
*Benediction [“We invite you to join hands.”] [Michael A. Schuler]:
If you are proud of this church, become its advocate.
If you are concerned for its future, share its message.
If its values resonate deep within you, give it a measure of your devotion.
This church cannot survive without your faith, your confidence, your enthusiasm.
Its destiny, the larger hope, rests in your hands.