Thinking about Dr. Lyttle yesterday prompted me to glance through some of the old church newsletters he produced from 1949 through 1964. At the top of the March, 1962, issue of “The Geneva Unitarian Pioneer,” Dr. Lyttle included this quotation:
“That worshipper of mine who cherishes no hate against any human being, but is full only of friendliness and compassion; who is free from self-seeking and the illusions of the self; to whom sorrow and joy are the same; always patient and content; given to meditation; self-controlled, resolute — he [sic] is dear to me. He [sic] before whom none is disquieted and who is disquieted before none — he also is dear to me….” (The Lord Krishna to Arjuna in the Bhagavad Gita)
Further down the page, I find this announcement:
“‘The Ethical Teaching of the Major Oriental Religions’ has been chosen as the central theme of our pre-Easter sermon series. It will be interesting to note the ehtical unison amid the diversity of ideological counterpoint. The treatment of each ‘gospel’ will, however, be as realistic and practical as possible.”
What a religious inheritance we have been given in our church. What a privilege to be part of this historic church!
Today, I happened to be talking with Dave Johnson on denominational business. Like me, Dave is currently serving as an interim minister. The conversation meandered, as such conversations do, and we wound up talking about the congregations we’re currently serving.
When Dave found out where I’m serving, he said, “Geneva, Illinois? I spent some time out in the Geneva church.” Turns out he was a student at Meadville Lombard Theological School when Charles Lyttle was both a professor at Meadville Lombard and the minister out here in Geneva. And Dave was one of the student ministers Dr. Lyttle brought out to gain experience here in Geneva.
Needless to say, I asked Dave about Dr. Lyttle. Dave told me one story about Dr. Lyttle coming out from Chicago to do a child dedication. But when he got here, he realized he had forgotten to bring a flower. It was spring, so Dr. Lyttle went out the front door of the church and grabbed the nearest flower. The long stalk and the roots came with the pretty white flower, but that didn’t stop Dr. Lyttle. He marched into the church carrying the flower, roots and all, and the child dedication went on.
Dave added that photographs of Dr. Lyttle don’t adequately represent his sense of humor, and his sense of fun. Dr. Lyttle thought church should be fun, says Dave, and he made sure the Geneva church was a fun place. (I think you can see some of that in the portrait our church has of Dr. Lyttle — the artist has captured a definite twinkle in his eyes.)
Dr. Lyttle sounds like my kind of minister.
I’ve been looking through old copies of our church’s newsletter, The Pioneer, dating back into the 1950’s. In June, 1962, Rev. Charles Lyttle, then minister here in Geneva, printed part of an old letter from Rev. R. L. Herbert, who had been minister in Geneva from 1874 to 1880. Rev. Herbert went off to serve in the Denver, Colorado Unitarian church, and in 1881 he wrote this to his former church in Geneva:
“And to all of you in that dear congregation I write again to say: Do your best to banish superstition. Be brave for truth at any cost. Do not bow to any fashionable lie; and chiefly, in thought and life, teach the nobility and excellency of good character. Prove by these fruits that you believe in the best doctrines. Then, every day, winter and summer, you will make to be Flower Sunday and this earthly life heavenly!”
[If you’re a UU history nut like me, it’s clear that Rev. Herbert was moving into humanist beliefs even at this early date. Herbert was the one who got our congregation to substitute the phrase “practical goodness” in our covenant, in place of the original “practical Godliness.”]