Monthly Archives: October 2009

More on Eliza Tupper Wilkes

In the 2/9 June 1888 issue of Unity, a Unitarian newspaper, reported that Eliza Tupper Wilkes was the pastor of the Sioux Falls Circuit in Dakota Territory (p. 197). C[aroline]. J. Bartlett (later Caroline Bartlett Crane) was pastor of All Souls Church in Sioux Falls. Wilkes had founded the church in Sioux Falls, and Bartlett joined her there in 1887; by 1888, Bartlett had become sole pastor (Standing before us: Unitarian Universalist women and social reform, 1776-1936, by Dorothy May Emerson, June Edwards, Helene Knox, p. 128).

The following biographical notices from History of Minnehaha county, South Dakota, by Dana Reed Bailey (Brown & Saenger, ptrs., 1899, p. 740) tell about Eliza and her husband William. Note that William and Eliza lived apart for three years while Eliza was in California:

Wilkes, William A., was born in Fremont, Ohio, in 1845. He was educated in Marion, Ohio, and at the age of eighteen years removed to Dodge county, Wisconsin. He studied law, and was admitted to the bar in 1871: then practiced law at Rochester, Minnesota, and at Colorado Springs, Colorado, and was elected prosecuting attorney of El Paso county two years. In 1878 he removed to Sioux Falls, where he has since resided. In connection with his professional work he engaged in the real estate business for some years. In 1893, and again in 1897, he was nominated judge of the Circuit Court of the Second Judicial Circuit by the Populist party, but was defeated by Judge J. W. Jones, the Republican nominee. At the general election in 1896 he was elected judge of the County Court of Minnehaha county, and re-elected in 1898. While at the bar he was engaged in some of the leading cases before the state tribunals, has always taken an active part in public affairs, and is a good citizen.

Wilkes, Rev. Eliza Tupper, was born at Houlton, Maine; was fitted for college in New England, and graduated from the State University of Iowa; was educated for foreign mission work; entered the Unitarian ministry in 1868, and took charge of the Universalist church at Neenah, Wis., the same year; in 1869, was married to William A. Wilkes at the last mentioned place; moved from there to Rochester, Minn., where she had charge of a Universalist church; in 1872, removed to Colorado Springs, Col., where they resided six years, and during part of that time she preached in the Unitarian church at that place; came to Sioux Falls in 1878; was one of the foremost workers in the establishment of the Sioux Falls Public Library and the Ladies History Club; started the project of building All Souls church, and labored zealously until the work was accomplished; has been pastor of the Unity church at Luverne, Minn., for the last twelve years, except three years, when she was assistant pastor of the Unitarian church at Oakland, Cal. With such a record of good works, comments would be superfluous.

Continue reading

“Fundamentalists in reverse”

Currently, I’m reading Sacred Song in America by Stephen Marini (Urbana/Chicago: University of Illinois, 2003). Marini is a religious historian who is probably best known for his studies of Revolutionary-era religion in North America (Marini has also founded a well-respected group that sings 18th century American choral music and Sacred Harp music, has composed music in the singing school tradition, and has edited a collection of such music).

One of the chapters in Sacred Song in America covers the conservatory tradition of sacred music. Half of this chapter consists of an interview with Daniel Pinkham (1923-2006), long-time music director and composer-in-residence at King’s Chapel, a Unitarian Universalist church in Boston. There are many delightful moments in the interview, inculding Pinkham’s revelation that he was an atheist, and his story about how he got the New England Conservatory to stop having a prayer at commencement, and his comments on the singability of choral music, but I found this exchange particularly delightful:

Stephen Marini: The Unitarian tradition seem especially right for you, given your sense of things, because they are not going to push you on beliefs and doctrines and dogmas.

Daniel Pinkham: But Unitarian churches, they are fundamentalists in reverse!

Number 163 at the bottom

So on Sunday, a personal problem came up that made me cranky and upset — enough so that I had lots of crazy dreams and didn’t sleep well that night. To make it worse, Carol is back east right now, so I couldn’t talk with her about it. I woke up with a bit of a sore throat, feeling as if I was starting to come down with a cold. I called Carol and she calmed me down. But I still felt as if I were coming down with a cold — headache, aches and pains, sore throat, tired. The problem still loomed large in my thoughts.

I almost didn’t go to my Monday evening Sacred Harp singing group, but finally I decided I would go anyway. Sacred Harp singing carries on a long tradition of unaccompanied hymn singing that has been practiced in North America continuously since the 1720s. This is not whitebread church hymn singing, this is full-throated white spiritual singing, maybe not quite the thing you want to sing when you’ve got a bit of a sore throat. But I thought I would go, and leave when I started to feel tired.

You never know who’s going to show up at a Sacred Harp singing. We usually get 15 or so people on Monday evenings, but this week maybe 25 people showed up. A woman with the reputation of being a strong alto singer was visiting from Portland, and all the better regular singers seemed to show up this week. There were only four basses, two of whom were good strong experienced Sacred Harp singers, and two of us who most definitely were not. There I was, sitting on the front bench, where I didn’t belong, sitting there only because there weren’t enough experienced basses; there I was, feeling ill and tired, thinking that I would sing two or three songs and then go home.

That alto from from Portland was a powerful singer, and some of the regular singers were in fine voice, and the emotional temperature of the room kept rising. I got carried along. One of the experienced basses stood up and said he’d like to lead number 236; this is a long complicated anthem composed by William Billings in 1787, with several solos by the bass section; I had never sung it before; yet somehow I managed to sight-read the whole thing and never get lost and only hit one or two wrong notes; not due to any great musical skill on my part, but just getting carried along by the other singers. The emotional temperature kept rising. Someone stood up to lead number 365, a complicated lengthy song dating from 1765, with repeated chords based on open fifths, what rock guitarists call power chords, and with fuguing sections and polyphony, and somehow I managed to keep my place all the way through. I had to keep my place and keep singing; there was no choice not to; I had forgotten about going home early.

The other experienced bass stood up to lead number 163b, a slow, short, simple song. It was simple, but the trebles would hit some high notes in the sixth bar, and then the altos, especially that alto from Portland, would bend some long notes on a little descending run, and those altos would drive the tenors and us basses to blow out some high notes in the tenth and twelth bars — the only thing I can compare it to is when good jazz or blues musicians get going, and the different musicians keep pushing each other to get more intense with every repeating chorus — except this wasn’t jazz, and this wasn’t professional musicians, this was just us sitting around and hitting these emotional climaxes. And there was no one to hear us singing but us, and maybe God if you believe in a God who bothers to listen to us humans singing.

By this time, I was sweating with the effort of singing with such intensity, and my shirt was sticking to the back of the bench. We got done singing number 163b, and the leader paused for a moment in the sudden silence, looking a little stunned. He said quietly, “Wow. Thank you.” I thought maybe his legs were shaking just a little.

That was the high point. The rest was pretty good, too. By the time we got done, I was no longer cranky and upset, and I no longer felt the least bit ill. My problem was still there, it was still serious, but it no longer loomed large. It would be a good idea always to remember that singing, even amateur singing done not for performance but for the sheer joy of it, can heal you.

AM talk radio does a show on Unitarian Universalism

Did I scare you with that headline? Don’t worry, the talk radio station in question is KGO in San Francisco, and since it’s a San Francisco radio station, we’re not talking about Rush Limbaugh and other right wing commentators. If there’s such a thing as left-of-center AM talk radio, KGO is it.

On Sundays, KGO has a weekly radio show called “God Talk,” hosted by Brent Walters, who actually has a post-grad degree in religious studies. Yesterday, Walters did a three-hour show on Unitarian Universalism, which you can find online here. Thanks to Richard, a member of the Palo Alto church, who found this online. However, as Richard points out, “be aware that this is a rolling weekly archive, and if you wait a week it will be gone.” [Update: Victor has now put an audio file of this radio program up on his Web site (with commercials and news edited out) at: Thank you, Victor!]

Brent Walters had posted an advance summary of the show online, and I’ll include it below the fold… Continue reading

Two new children join our class, and we play some games

Series of entries in my teaching diary about an experimental Sunday school class. First entry.

Earlier this week, Amy, our parish minister, said she wanted to talk with me about the worship service. “We’re going to have some dancers, and I’d like the children to see them,” Amy said, “but we’re also welcoming newcomers, too.” “Why can’t the children stay in for both?” I said. I thought it would be good for them to see the newest members of the church sign the membership book and be recognized, and I also thought they’d like to see the dancers. We both knew that the children would be getting religious education whether they were in Sunday school or in the worship service, and I assured Amy that those of us who were teaching wouldn’t mind — if we needed more time we’d run late, or some teachers might just as soon have a little less time to fill.

As it happened, the worship service started late to begin with, at about seven minutes past eleven. I always like to sit in the very back during worship services so I can observe how the children respond. The prelude, “Calm As The Night (Still Wie Die Nacht)” by composer Carl Bohm, played on cello and piano, lived up to its name: it was calming. Worship associate Wynne Furth opening the service with a very short poem “written a thousand years ago by Ono no Komachi, and translated by Jane Hirschfield who lives near here.” When she lit the flaming chalice, Wynne said she remembered the very first time she lit a match; she had waited after her parents said she was ready, until she herself felt she was ready to light a match. I thought what she said was short, matter-of-fact, and charming, and I wondered how the children perceived it.

When the new members were welcomed, I noticed that one boy in the very back row was busy coloring and one girl in the second to last row did not seem to be paying attention. This was not surprising: these were younger children, so most of what they could see was the back of the chair in front of them. I often think how much of what children see in church is the back of the chair in front of them. (a) Fortunately, the dancers made a point of extending their dance down the length of the center aisle; the boy who was coloring looked up as the dancers got closer to him, and once he looked up he didn’t go back to his coloring. Continue reading

MySpace vs. Facebook

Reader Joe sent me a link to a fascinating story on NPR’s Website — Facebook skews towards white people; MySpace skews towards non-white people:

“I have friends who are white,” says 19-year-old Diego Luna. “They are my white people friends and they are mostly on Facebook. That’s why I use Facebook. My brown people are on MySpace.”

The class laughs nervously at his description, and then they agree. Benito Rodriguez, 16, adds, “Not to be racist or anything, but there’s more white kids on Facebook.”

Furthermore, Facebook skews towards more affluent people. MySpace, on the other hand, attracts more artists and lots more musicians.

Anybody want to guess how many Unitarian Universalist churches have MySpace pages?