Monthly Archives: November 2008

North Unitarian Church in New Bedford, Mass. part two

Second in an occasional series of posts about North Unitarian Church in New Bedford, Mass.

Samuel Louis Elberfeld was minister at North Unitarian Church in New Bedford from 1919-1923. The Web site of John Elberfeld, his grandson, has an abridged version of one of Samuel Elberfeld’s sermons. It is a pulpit-pounding, fire-breathing, Unitarian social justice sermon — one of those social justice sermons that is supposed to make you squirm and feel very uncomfortable. So of course I can’t resist posting the abridged version here… Continue reading

Site improvements

I’ve just finished a minor rebuild of the entire Web site, including improved navigation on the main site. I made minor design changes on the main site to improve legibility, and make it look more consistent with this blog and my sermon archives.

Most importantly, there’s now a Site Map to give an overview of the whole site.

Additionally, I added lots of new content here — songs and arrangements from our church’s Folk Choir.

A good day to stay home

We left Carol’s parents’ house quite late and headed down Interstate 495. It was ten thirty so traffic was light. We drove along smoothly, listening to the news from Mumbai. Suddenly brake lights flashed red in front of us. Cars around us began slowing down. Ahead of us I could see stopped traffic. “What is it?” Carol said. “Must be an accident,” I said, moving over to the middle lane of the highway. We could see blue lights of a police car. But when we got closer, we saw that it wasn’t an accident. Cars were waiting to get onto an exit ramp, and I remembered I had seen one of those flashing traffic signs with a message about parking for the outlet malls. “It’s people going to the outlet malls, the ones that are going to open at midnight,” I said. “That’s crazy,” said Carol, “and look at all the traffic jam on the other side of the highway!” It was even worse on the northbound side.

Starting at midnight (right about now) it’s Black Friday, the day when retail stores supposedly make enough money to finally put them in the black for the year, the day when millions of crazed Americans drive around spending lots of money to buy Christmas presents. As for me, I’ll be staying home.

Autumn watch

We got up early so we could take a walk before we started driving up to my sister’s house for Thanksgiving dinner. It was unusually calm; in places the water of the harbor was almost completely smooth, in other places it was barely riffled by the smallest breeze; the barges, cranes, fishing boats, and heavy machinery along the Fairhaven side of the harbor were beautifully reflected where the water was still. Some blue sky began to show in the west, and it grew bright enough to cast shadows. Carol decided to turn back about halfway to Fairhaven. A dozen or so Buffleheads bobbed in the water between Pope’s Island and Fairhaven, the black and white of the males showing brilliantly in the growing sunlight. A couple of roofers stood on the flat roof of the old motel on Route 6, ripping up the old roofing; supposedly the new owner of the building is going to renovate it, and reopen it. I kept walking, but by that point my mind settled down and stopped thinking.

North Unitarian Church in New Bedford, Mass. (part one)

North Unitarian Church was established in 1894 by First Unitarian Church as a Unitarian mission, or settlement house, in the North end of New Bedford. Operating in rented space at first, First Unitariana built a building to house this mission in 1903. Beginning in 1920, it became a separate and legally incorporated institution under the name “The Unity Home Church,” although First Unitarian continued to own the building. The Unity Home Church included large numbers of immigrants and children of immigrants in its membership. North Unitarian Church merged back into First Unitarian c. 1971.

I’ve been doing some research into this small Unitarian church of immigrants, and I’m going to include some of the results of my research here in a series of posts. This first installment is an incomplete list of ministers who served the church…. Continue reading

Miracle birth of Buddha

In an old Unitarian Universalist Sunday school curriculum called From Long Ago and Many Lands, religious educator Sophia Lyon Fahs wrote out three miracle birth stories for upper elementary children: the wonder stories of the birth of Buddha, Confucius, and Jesus. I like to present these stories during the worship services leading up to Christmas, during the “story for all ages” (or “children’s sermon” or whatever your church calls it). Each of these stories tells of miraculous events that happen before the birth of these three great religious teachers. Children pick up on the parallels between the stories — angels and prophecies and miraculous animals — and it helps them to better understand the wondrous aspects of the two familiar birth stories of Jesus from the books of Matthew and Luke.

Problem is that Sophia Fahs’s stories are really too long to tell in a worship service — as written, they can last a good ten minutes. Each year, I edit them down by sticking little bits of Post-It notes over the parts I don’t want to read, and then I take the bits of Post-It notes out and forget about it until next Advent season, until I have to do it all over again. This year, I got smart and decided to write out a condensed version of Fahs’s “Birth of Buddha” story and keep it in my files. Then I also took out my copy of The Story of Gotama Buddha: Jataka-nidana, and from that I pieced together a short and fairly coherent narrative of Buddha’s birth.

And as long as I had done all this work, I figured I’d post both stories here, in case someone else might find them useful. Both stories should last a little over five minutes when read aloud. You’ll find the condensed Fahs story at the very end of this post, and my own version immediately below…. Continue reading

Department of Cool UU Kids

Saba, my first-cousin-once-removed, goes to Sunday school at Unviersity Unitarian Church in Seattle. Except not this year, because her mom, Nancy (my cousin) is a Fulbright Fellow in Nairobi, Kenya. After the U.S. presidential elections, we got an email message from nancy which read in part: “Dr. Wangari Maathai, Nobel Laureate and founder of the Green Belt Movement, invited Saba to plan a tree with her, for President-elect Obama!”

How cool is that?

Hymn by Hosea Ballou

Hosea Ballou is one of the theological giants of my religious tradition, Unitarian Universalism. Back in 1805, Ballou wrote A Treatise on Atonement, still the major exposition of North American Universalism (you can read it online here). Unfortunately, Ballou was not what you’d call a great writer. When trying to describe his writing style, the adjective “clunky” comes immediately to mind.

Because he was a mediocre writer, hardly anyone reads his Treatise any more, and hardly anyone bothers to sing any of the hundreds of hymns he wrote. This is unfortunate, because buried in Ballou’s clunky prose is a vision of a universe run by Love, where someday the power of Love is going to make everything turn out well.

I recently discovered that one of Ballou’s hymns is still in print — not in the current Unitarian Universalist hymnal, but in The Sacred Harp, a songbook widely used by shape-note singers. It’s number 411 in The Sacred Harp, and it goes like this:

1. Come, let us raise our voices high,
And from a sacred song,
To him who rules the earth and sky,
And does our days prolong.
Who through the night gave us to rest,
This morning cheered our eyes;
And with the thousands of the blest,
In health made us to rise.

2. Early to God we’ll send our prayer,
Make hast to pray and praise,
That he may make our good his care,
And guide us all our days.
And when the night of death comes on,
And we shall end our days,
May his rich grace the theme prolong,
Of his eternal praise.

Hosea Ballou, 1808 (C.M.D.)

No, I’m not proposing that we include this hymn in the next edition of the Unitarian Universalist hymnal. In The Sacred Harp book, Ballou’s hymn is set to a fuguing tune, fairly complex music that is far beyond the singing ability of the average American congregation (though it might be fun for a church choir), and the hymn itself is not quite good enough for me to want to go to the trouble of finding another, easier, tune for it. But it’s nice to know that people still do sing this old Universalist hymn, even though most of those who sing it probably have no idea who Hosea Ballou was, or what Universalism might be.

“Palin pardon amid turkey butchery”

…is the headline of this BBC news story. I think the Brits obsess on Sarah Palin because she’s got the same last name as Michael Palin of Monty Python fame, and having two adbsurdist public figures (one intentionally absurd, the other not) is too good a coincidence for them to waste. Speaking of absurd, click the link above to see a photo of Sarah Palin smiling vapidly while behind her stands a man holding a bloody turkey carcass. There’s something almost metaphorical about that image… if I could just figure out the metaphor….