John Murray Spear, Universalist and Abolitionist

This sermon was preached by Rev. Dan Harper at First Unitarian Church in New Bedford. As usual, the sermon below is a reading text. The actual sermon as preached contained ad libs, interjections, and other improvisation. Sermon copyright (c) 2007 Daniel Harper.


The first reading is rather long, and is from a sermon preached in 1774 by Elhanan Winchester, one of the earliest Universalist preachers in this country — he was preaching Universalism before John Murray arrived from England.

“There is one abomination… that prevails in this country, that calls aloud not only for sighing and crying, but for a speedy reformation and turning therefrom, if we desire to prevent destruction from coming upon us; I mean, the SLAVE TRADE….

“The very principle upon which it is founded, from which it springs, and by which it is carried on, is one of the most base and ignoble that ever disgraced the human species:

“WHICH is, Avarice. This mean and unworthy passion certainly had has a principal hand in this disgraceful traffic; no one can pretend that benevolence ever had, or ever can have, a hand in such a most infamous commerce. Avarice tends to harden the heart, to render the mind callous to the feelings of humanity, indisposes the soul to every virtue, and renders it prey to every vice. Ought we not to be ashamed of such a commerce, that has it rise from no better principle than mere selfishness or covetousness?…

“HAVING considered the principle from whence it originated, and to which its existence is owing, I pass to mention the horrible manner in which it is carried on. And here almost every vice that blackens and degrades human nature is employed; such as, deceiving, perfidy, decoying, stealing, lying, fomenting feuds and discords among the nations of Africa, robbery, plunder, burning, murder, cruelty of all kinds, and the most savage and unexampled barbarism.

“BLUSH… to think that ye are the supporters of a commerce that employs these, and many other vices to carry it on! Could you but think seriously of the disgraceful and cruel manner in which slaves are obtained, methinks you could not attempt to justify the horrid practice. Numbers are stolen while going out on their lawful business, are never suffered to return home to take leave of their friends; but are gagged and bound, then carried on board the vessels which wait for them, never more to see their native land again, but to drag out a miserable existence in chains, hunger, thirst, cold, nakedness, hard labour, and perpetual slavery.

“THINK, O ye tender mothers, how you would feel, if, when ye should send your little boys or girls to fetch a pitcher, or calabash of water from the spring, you should never see them return again! if some barbarous kidnapper should watch the opportunity, and seize upon your darlings, as the eagle upon its prey! should gag your sweet prattling babes, and force them away! how would your souls refuse to be comforted! such is the pain that many mothers feel in Africa, and God can cause it to come home to yourselves, who contribute to such an abomination as this.”

[From Universalism in America: A Documentary History of a Liberal Faith, edited by Ernest Cassara. Capitalized words found in this edition.]


The second reading is quite short, and it comes from an address which John Murray Spear gave to the Universalist Anti-Slavery Convention in 1840. After summarizing Elhanan Winchester’s anti-slavery sermon, Spear said, “[Universalists should] oppose all monopolies, despise all partiality, break down all unnatural distinctions, elevate the despised classes, and introduce a system of perfect equality.”

[Quoted in Russell Miller, The Larger Hope: The First Century of the Universalist Church in America, 1770-1870, p. 594.]


This is the first in a series of occasional sermons about the history of our congregation. We are the direct institutional descendants of three congregations:– First Congregational Society (Unitarian) of New Bedford; First Universalist Church of New Bedford; and North Unitarian Church (Unitarian). 2008 will mark the three hundredth anniversary of the oldest of our three antecedent churches, First Congregational Society, later First Unitarian; in honor of that anniversary, this fall I plan to tell you about several unsung heroes and heroines from all three of our antecedent churches.

And I decided to start off with the most remarkable minister who ever was called to serve in one of those three churches. John Murray Spear was the first minister of First Universalist Church, when that congregation was formally incorporated in 1835. John Murray Spear was a remarkable man in many ways, both good and at times not-so-good. On the not-so-good side, later in his life he got so far into eccentric and far-out beliefs that he managed to alienate most of his old friends. But on the good side, he was a staunch Garrisonian abolitionist who advocated an immediate end to slavery as early as the 1830’s, when that was not a popular stance; he attracted African American members to First Universalist Church in a day when integrated churches were almost unimaginable, in a day when the Unitarian church in New Bedford kept a segregated pew for African Americans; and history indicates that he befriended and encouraged Frederick Douglass not long after Douglass escaped slavery and came to New Bedford, before Douglass become famous for his oratory.

But let’s begin at the beginning, and our beginning is to understand a little bit about Universalism. As you probably know, or could figure out, Universalism originally was the belief that all souls get to go to heaven; it was the belief that a benevolent God would be too good to allow the existence of hell.

Once the early Universalists in North America reached that conclusion, they quickly went a step further. They pronounced themselves egalitarians, that is, they asserted their belief in the essential equality of all humankind. This radical egalitarianism has stuck in Universalism, and in Universalists, down to the present day. Those of us who call ourselves Universalists today may or may not believe in God, but we most certainly believe in the infinite value of every human being.

It comes as no surprise, then, that early Universalists became active in cause of liberty during the American Revolution. Caleb Rich, one of the earliest Universalist preachers, fought in the Battle of Bunker Hill. Benjamin Rush, one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, became a prominent Universalist. In 1791, Benjamin Rush wrote, “A belief in God’s universal love to all his creatures… leads to truths upon all subjects, but especially upon the subject of government. It establishes the equality of mankind.” Historian Ann Lee Bressler tells us that Benjamin Rush’s Universalism was “a rational and ultimately cheerful faith well-suited to a free and democratic society.” [Bressler, p. 19] What was true of Benjamin Rush was no less true of other early Universalists.

And those early Universalists were not afraid to apply their egalitarian principles to difficult subjects like slavery. As we heard in the first reading this morning, the Universalist preacher Elhanan Winchester spoke out against slavery in a strongly worded sermon as early as 1774. Along with John Murray, Winchester was one of the two towering figures of 18th C. Universalism; thus his sermon against slavery had a large influence. The sermon was widely distributed, influenced many of his contemporaries, and wound up influencing later generations as well.

Between the late 1700’s and the 1830’s, however, Universalism lost some of its early egalitarianism. By the mid-1830’s, a fair number of Universalists actively supported slavery. Not surprisingly, many of them lived in the Southern states, but there were plenty of northern Universalists who distanced themselves from applying egalitarian principles to enslaved Africans and African Americans. Even among the Universalists who did oppose slavery, many refused to take the hard-line stance of the abolitionists, saying that they didn’t want to anger the southern Universalists, didn’t want to promote divisiveness in the country or in the denomination. Maybe we can better understand this attitude if we remember that through much of late 18th C. and even into the 19th C., Universalists were reviled by the orthodox Christians; to proclaim yourself a Universalist was to risk being ostracized by friends, community, even your own family; to preach Universalism meant risking bodily harm, for there were orthodox Christians who physically assaulted Universalists to prevent the Universalist doctrine of love from being preached. I don’t mean to excuse them, but by the 1830’s, Universalists had begun to achieve a measure of respectability, and so perhaps some Universalists of that time preferred to avoid controversial topics like abolitionism.

Some Universalists may have preferred to avoid controversy, but not John Murray Spear. John Murray Spear was named after the great Universalist preacher John Murray. In fact, as a baby John Murray Spear was dedicated by no less a person than the great John Murray (remember that because of his Universalist beliefs, John Murray did not baptize children to cleanse them of original sin, instead he dedicated them to the highest purposes in life). The great John Murray was willing to take great risks to proclaim his Universalist faith; and perhaps some of that willingness rubbed off on the little baby John Murray Spear, because when that little baby grew up, he turned into a man who was willing to proclaim abolition of slavery at great risk to himself.

(Since this is the first day of Sunday school, I might add here that those of you who are raising your children in this church should be aware that even today Unitarian Universalist kids wind up being staunch egalitarians, who do things like pass up high-paying jobs in favor of work that pays far less but creates justice for all, and spreads good in the world. Consider yourself duly warned. But I digress….)

When John Murray Spear came to New Bedford in 1835, he discovered that New Bedford was notable for its racial tolerance. I will not say claim that it was a fully tolerant city; there was distinct legal and personal discrimination by white folks against people of color; but for its time, New Bedford was a remarkably tolerant place. People of color could earn a decent living in the whaling industry. People of color were accorded a higher level of freedom and respect by white people than in most other places in the United States. And fugitive slaves discovered that the city was a safe harbor for them, where they could blend in to a racially mixed populace, where they could find friendly help, and where they could find secure work.

Spear was already an abolitionist when he came to New Bedford. But he went further than just being an abolitionist; he got to know prominent members of the African American community in New Bedford. For example, Spear got to know Nathan Johnson. Nathan Johnson was a prominent African American citizen of New Bedford who represented the city for a number of years at the annual convention for free people of color; and his house was a stop on the Underground Railroad. Indeed, Nathan Johnson is best known for his role in the Underground Railroad, because in 1838 he took in an escaped slave named Frederick Johnson, and it was Nathan Johnson who helped the now free man to decide to change his name to Frederick Douglass.

The historian John Buescher recently published a biography of John Murray Spear and his brother Charles, and Buescher tells us this about John Murray Spear’s time in New Bedford: “One of Spear’s church members in New Bedford was Nathan Johnson, the gentleman with whom Frederick Douglass lived when he settled in the city after his escape from slavery. In his church one day, Spear found Douglass debating with members of his congregation. They were arguing for universal salvation, and Douglass was arguing for the existence of eternal punishment. Spear was much impressed with Douglass’s abilities and encouraged him to become a public speaker.” [Buescher, p. 171]

This short little anecdote tells us three very important things about this history of our own First Universalist Church. First, we have an important connection to Frederick Douglass, because John Murray Spear was one of those who very early on encouraged Douglass to become a public speaker. Second, Douglass actually came to our First Universalist Church, and although he was misguided enough to insist on the existence of eternal punishment, it is of some interest that he came at all. Third — and this is the most interesting bit of information — Nathan Johnson was at that time a member of First Universalist Church. I’m quite impressed that our own First Universalist Church welcomed African American members that early; to the best of my knowledge, that didn’t happen in First Unitarian until much later.

All this tells us that those early New Bedford Universalists were people of whom we can be proud. They had a religious belief in egalitarianism, and they lived out that belief. Indeed, history tells us that they sometimes became frustrated with other Universalists. By autumn, 1841, the New Bedford church was one of only two Universalist churches in Massachusetts which had adopted official resolutions supporting the abolition of slavery. The New Bedford Universalists publicly expressed their frustration when the local association of Universalists refused to even consider the matter of abolition. And when the Universalist Anti-Slavery Convention, of which they were founding members, proceeded more slowly than they liked, they shrewdly invited Frederick Douglass to accompany them to a meeting of the convention in the fall of 1841. When the convention wavered at the thought of voting for a resolution aimed at the Southern Universalist congregations which supported slavery, Douglass spoke up, and the power of his oratory so convinced the delegates that the resolution passed unanimously.

We can only imagine what it must have been like to be a part of that congregation. Universalists in those days were still fairly pugnacious, still willing to speak out loudly and publicly against the doctrine of eternal punishment; and Universalists in New Bedford made no bones about wanting to abolish slavery. And even though First Universalist had a white minister and a majority of white church members, it appears certain the congregation welcomed both black and white people into their church. I think I would have liked to have been a part of that congregation; they sound like my kind of people.

Unfortunately, John Murray Spear was forced to leave New Bedford in 1841 as a direct result of his abolitionist activities. Sometime in the summer of 1841, a southern slave-holder traveled to New Bedford accompanied by an 18 year old slave named Lucy Faggins. Under an 1836 law, Lucy Faggins technically became free the moment she stepped onto Massachusetts soil. So Rev. Thomas James, minister of the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, and some other members of the New Bedford Anti-Slavery Society went and attempted to tell her that she was free. Then James and John Murray Spear took out a writ of habeus corpus, with the claim that Lucy Faggins was being unlawfully restrained by her master. The case ended well for Faggins, who achieved her freedom; but it ended badly for John Murray Spear. Susan Taber, who lived in New Bedford at that time, wrote about how once Lucy Faggins had been freed, the pro-slavery faction in New Bedford became determined to ruin John Murray Spear — they threatened Spear with arrest and prosecution, and made his life so difficult that he had to resign his pulpit here and move to the Universalist church in Weymouth. So ended a glorious ministry for First Universalist Church in New Bedford.

After he left New Bedford, Spear continued to work hard for the abolition of slavery. By 1844, Spear was sharing the lecture stage with Frederick Douglass in the “One Hundred Conventions” campaign of the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society. Spear also went on to work with his brother Charles for prison reform. His life embodied the Universalist principle of true egalitarianism.

And so I will end this sermon about John Murray Spear with a quizzical observation: here is a minister from one of our antecedent congregations, a minister who embodied our highest values, and yet his name appears nowhere in this building. We have on our walls here the names of many lesser ministers, and even the names of one or two forgettable ministers. But I would suggest that the story of John Murray Spear as I have told it this morning offers us at least two splendid opportunities as we approach the celebration of the 300th anniversary of the founding of First Unitarian. We could think about how we might celebrate John Murray Spear and the other ministers of First Universalist Church. And we could think about how we might celebrate the fact that Nathan Johnson was an early African American member of First Universalist. I don’t quite know how we will make use of these opportunities. Will we try to get the names of First Universalist’s ministers on the walls of this sanctuary? Will we name one of our rooms after Nathan Johnson? I don’t know how to answer that, but I do know that this congregation is able to come up with amazingly creative ways to take advantage of opportunities like these.

Flower Celebration

This worship service was conducted by Rev. Dan Harper at First Unitarian Church in New Bedford. As usual, the homily below is a reading text. The actual homily as preached contained ad libs, interjections, and other improvisation. Homily copyright (c) 2007 Daniel Harper.

Child dedication

This worship service included a child dedication ceremony for two children of the church.

Minister’s introduction to the child dedication

In just a moment, we’re going to celebrate the christening of two children. But before we do that, let me tell you a little bit about what a christening is, and how it differs from a child dedication.

You probably know that our church has Universalist roots — First Universalist merged with First Unitarian in 1930. The Universalists have long done child dedications instead of baptisms. By 1793, the celebrated Universalist minister John Murray was performing child-dedications rather than baptisms [Life of Murray, 1854 ed., pp. 243-244], since as a Universalist Murray did not believe in the necessity of washing away some mythical original sin through baptism.

Unitarians evolved somewhat differently. By the time I was christened in a Unitarian church, just before merger with the Universalists, a Unitarian christening welcomed the child into a church that recognized, as I was taught as a child, the spiritual leadership of Jesus. But in both ceremonies, the children were formally welcomed into the church family.

These days, during a child dedication we dedicate a child to the highest ideals of morality and ethics; while a Unitarian Universalist christening more specifically acknowledges our spiritual roots in the teachings of that great spiritual master, Jesus of Nazareth.

Gathering the flowers

83 years ago, Norbert and Maja Capek were ministers of a Unitarian congregation far away from here in Europe, in Prague, Czechoslovakia. Most members of their congregation had left other religions to become Unitarians, and many of these people did not want to be reminded of the religions they had left behind. So Norbert and Maja Capek decided to create a new ritual for their congregation — a Flower Celebration.

One Sunday in June, they asked everyone in the congregation to bring a flower to the worship service. When people arrived on Sunday morning, all the flowers were gathered together in vases, and Norbert Capek said a short blessing over the flowers. Thus the flowers became symbols of what it means to be a human being: every flower was different, every flower was beautiful in its own way. And at the end of the worship service, everyone went up and took a flower, a different flower from the one that they had brought, took that flower home with them as a symbol of their connection to everyone else in the congregation.

We are going to have our own Flower Celebration, or Flower Communion, right here in our own congregation. In just a moment, we will all have a chance to come forward and place a flower in the vases on the table here. If you forgot to bring a flower with you this morning, or if you didn’t know that you were supposed to bring a flower, you will find extra flowers on the table over there, and you can come up, pick a flower you like, and place it in one of the vases here.

Because we value our children highly — for our children represent new beginnings and new possibilities — I am going to let the children be the first ones to bring their flowers forward. I invite the children to come forward now, and you may bring an adult along if you wish….

[Children come forward]

And now I invite everyone to come forward and place a flower in the vase here.

[All come forward]

This short blessing was written by Norbert Capek:

“Infinite Spirit of Life, we ask your blessing on these [flowers], your messengers of fellowship and love. May they remind us, amid diversities of knowledge and of gifts, to be one in desire and affection, and in devotion to your will. May they also remind us of the value of comradeship, of doing and sharing alike. May we cherish friendship as one of your most precious gifts. May we not let awareness of another’s talents discourage us, or sully our relationship, but may we realize that, whatever we can do, great or small, the efforts of all of us are needed to do your work in this world.”


Not long before he was put to death by the Nazis, Dr. Capek wrote this prayer:

It is worthwhile to live and fight courageously for sacred ideals.
Oh blow ye evil winds into my body’s fire; my soul you’ll never unravel.
Even though disappointed a thousand times or fallen in the fight and everything would worthless seem,
I have lived amidst eternity.
Be grateful, my soul,
My life was worth living.
He who was pressed from all sides but remained victorious in spirit is welcomed into the choir of heroes.
He who overcame the fetters giving wing to the mind is entering into the golden age of the victorious.

The second reading comes from the book Norbert Fabian Capek: A Spiritual Journey, by Richard Henry. Henry quotes Maja Capek, Norbert’s husband, as saying:

“During all his years in America Capek never had an interest in finding out more about the Unitarian church. Why should he be interested in a church that had no missionary spirit, was not willing to give a hand to a groping soul?”

Homily — “Giving a Hand to a Groping Soul”

In June, 1914, a Baptist minister named Norbert Capek came to the United States from Bohemia and Moravia — what we now call the Czech Republic. In 1913, Austria had taken away Bohemia’s autonomy, and by April, 1914, the outspoken Capek was on a police blacklist. Nor was he any more welcome within the Baptist church; a friend told him politely that he sounded like a Unitarian, while others less politely called him a heretic. So he left his homeland with his family and came to New York.

Once in America, he served as minister to Slovak Baptist churches, though with increasing discomfort on his part. His new wife, Maja — his wife Marie had died not long after arriving in America — Maja encouraged his doubts, encouraged him to rethink his spiritual position. After the Baptists tried him for heresy twice, he finally resigned his ministry in 1919.

So there he was, without a church, without a denomination. And at the same time, he and Maja watched avidly as the new country, Czechoslovakia, was born. They wanted to go back and be part of their homeland’s liberation. Specifically, they wanted to be a part of their homeland’s spiritual liberation. What we now know as the Czech Republic had been a Protestant country until 1620 when the Hapsburg monarchy began oppressing Protestants, eventually forcing all Protestants to convert to Catholicism. After World War One, when the Hapsburg monarchy ended, Czechs began leaving the Catholic church by the thousands. Maja and Norbert Capek wanted to be in Czechoslovakia to found a liberal church for those thousands of people. But where could they get support for such a liberal church?

Ten years earlier, Norbert had approached the American Unitarian Association, asking them if they would support an earlier effort to found a liberal church in Czechoslovakia. But the American Unitarian Association had simply ignored Capek. It was as if someone came to our church, told us how they agreed with our religious values, felt in harmony with us — and in response we just ignored them and walked away. I feel ashamed at the way those Unitarians back in 1910 treated Norbert Capek. And so it was that Maja Capek later remembered, as we heard in the second reading: “During all his years in America Capek never had an interest in finding out more about the Unitarian church. Why should he be interested in a church that had no missionary spirit, was not willing to give a hand to a groping soul?”

However… by 1920 the Capek children wanted to go to Sunday school. The Capek family was living in East Orange, New Jersey then. One Sunday, the children went off to Sunday school at one church. When they came back, their father and mother quizzed them about what they had learned; but that church was teaching their children the old repressive dogmas, and Norbert said that he wished the children would go to a different Sunday school the next week.

Well, this went on for a few weeks. The children would go off to Sunday school, and their parents would quiz them when they got home. When Norbert and Maja heard the same old orthodox Christian doctrines, they asked their children if they would please try a new church the next week.

Until one Sunday, when things were different. Years later, Maja Capek recalled:

“One Sunday they came home and Capek was very much pleased with the lessons they had learned. He encouraged them to keep going there. And the, being curious about what this church had for adults, Capek and I went one Sunday. It was a small church, and we wanted to slip out unnoticed. But we could not get by the minister who stood at the entrance shaking hands and talking with everyone present. When our turn came, he said to us, ‘I believe you are new here. I have never seen you before.’ We said we were and then we confessed that we were the parents of three children in his Sunday school. And we told him how much we liked what the children were learning there.”

Do I need to tell you that it was the Unitarian church in East Orange that Maja and Norbert Capek liked so much? Even though the American Unitarian Association had ignored Norbert ten years earlier, the local Unitarian church held out a hand to him and to Maja. The minister of that church, Walter Reid Hunt, arranged to introduce the Capeks to the president of the American Unitarian Association, Samuel A. Eliot. And once Eliot actually met Norbert, he realized that this was an experienced, capable minister who deserved the full financial and moral support of the American Unitarian Association.

With that moral and financial backing, Norbert and Maja went back to Czechoslovakia. Before he left, on June 5, 1921, Norbert gave a farewell talk to his friends in the Unitarian church in East Orange New Jersey. He told them how they had restored his faith in Unitarians, after having been snubbed earlier. He told them what he liked about that Unitarian church:

“…I found not only clear heads but warm hearts, too. I liked the deep and inspiring sermons of Mr. Hunt, I enjoyed the sweet music of Mr. Decker, I loved to join in the bouyant, light-winged singing of the congregation, and especially I was enthusiastic about my [children], what they told me about their Sunday school and their teachers. It is certainly the best Sunday school I ever saw.

“But above all I liked what is so difficult to describe, what is more than a friendly smile, more than a kind word of greeting — it is that personal touch of a soul that has vision, it is the heart of religion in the heart of this congregation.”

My friends, Norbert Capek could have been describing this very congregation, First Unitarian in New Bedford. I cannot claim to preach deep and inspiring sermons, but at least they’re religiously liberal. But Randy’s sweet music, the good singing of this congregation (when you like the hymns you are asked to sing, that is), the non-dogmatic teaching of our Sunday school, the friendly smiles, the kind words of greeting — we here have that personal touch of a soul that has vision. That is the heart of religion, which is the heart of this congregation.

Not that we make a big deal out of ourselves. We are not like the hypocrites who have those television shows, the ones praying and wailing and asking for money, and putting on a grand show. That’s all you get from them, a grand show, but there’s no real religion at the heart of all that preaching and praying and weeping and wailing. We are quieter, and not so showy. But when you head out to social hour and start talking with the members and friends of this church, you realize that these are souls with vision.

For many of us, our souls have visions of an earth made fair with all her people free; that is to say, we will not rest until we have instituted heaven here on earth. For others of us, our souls have intellectual and spiritual and artistic visions that extend beyond mere transient dogmas to that which is permanent in religion. Our souls have visions of personal integrity, where we try to treat each person as having that of the divine within. Our souls have visions of a universe in which love is the most powerful force. Go out into social hour, and in those ordinary-looking people I see souls of vision. Go out into social hour, and underneath the ordinary conversations, I hear souls with depth and intensity sounding forth.

Each member and friend of this church is on his or her own spiritual journey, and most of us — maybe even all of us — take this pretty seriously. And I see individuals in this church reaching out to each other, and reaching out to visitors and newcomers, extending a hand to a groping soul. So it is that the strength of this church lies in the individual characters of each of us, its members and friends.

Let me get back to Norbert and Maja Capek before I end. By 1922, they had begun a new liberal congregation in Prague. Soon, they realized the need for new religious ceremonies, and so on June 24, 1923, Norbert Capek organized the first flower celebration. He described that first flower celebration to Samuel Eliot:

“…in my sermon I put emphasis on the individual character of each ‘member-flower,’ on our liberty as a foundation of our fellowship. Then I emphasized our common cause, our belonging together as one spiritual community…. And when we go home, each takes one flower just as it comes without making any distinction where it came from and who it represents, to confess that we accept each other as brothers and sisters without regard to race, class, or other distinction, acknowledging everybody is our friend who is a human and who wants to be good.”

So it is that in just a moment, we will come forward and take a flower from the communal vase, take a flower without regard to race, class, or any other distinction. So it is that we recognize that we are all connected to one another, all humanity is connected, and in that connection lies whatever salvation we shall find. How could it be otherwise? –for whenever we extend our hand to a groping soul, to another human being — whenever we take a hand that has been extended to us — there is hope; there is true salvation; there is the power of love.

The exchange of flowers

The poet William Blake wrote:

    To see a World in a grain of Sand
    And a heaven in a Wild Flower,
    Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
    And Eternity in an hour.

Please come forward now, and take one flower, a flower different from the one you put into the vase, without regard to where it came from, without regard to the race, class, sexual orientation, age, gender, or national origin of the person who put it there.

[All come forward to take flower.]

We have each taken a flower, a blossom unique and like no other. So we affirm that we are all brothers and sisters. This flower in your hand may fade, but every spring flowers bloom; nor will they ever stop. Everett Hoagland sent me a poem by the poet Bassho that tells us why:

    the temple bell stops
    but the sound keeps coming
    out of the flowers

— trans. Robert Bly