Tag Archives: Eliza Tupper Wilkes

Unitarian Universalist Humanism: Introductory lecture

Introductory lecture delivered tonight, in a course in UU humanism:

In this introductory lecture, I’m going to attempt to outline Unitarian Universalist humanism for you. My primary approach in this lecture is going to be based on an approach used by the humanist theologian Anthony Pinn in his book Varieties of African American Religious Experience. After pointing out the inadequacies of theological traditions which merely point towards some ultimate revelation, something beyond what we see and hear and experience in this life, Pinn describes his approach as follows:

“I want to suggest that the task of … constructive theologies … is more in line with [Gordon] Kaufman’s ‘third-order theology’ and Charles Long’s reflections upon the theology of the opqaue. That is to say, theology is deliberate or self-conscious human construction focused upon uncovering and exploring the meaning and structures of religious experience within a larger body of cultural production. It is, by nature, comparative in a way that does not seek to denounce or destructively handle other traditions.”

I find Pinn’s approach to theology to be incredibly useful for at least four reasons. Continue reading

The story of the Christmas candles

Here’s the story I’ll be telling to start off our Christmas Eve candlelighting services this evening….

Each year on Christmas Eve, we come together as Unitarian Universalists to hear the old, familiar Christmas story through words and songs. We also light candles together. It’s pretty obvious why we tell the Christmas story — because it’s Christmas time! But why do we light candles? For one answer this question, I would like to tell you the story of the Christmas candles as I heard it from Dana Greeley in the Unitarian Universalist church of my childhood.

We begin with a single light. This single candle stands for the light of the ages. The light of the ages is the truth and the light that is known to all peoples, in all times and places. Unlike the candle that symbolizes it, the true light of the ages never dies out. The true light of the ages is everywhere, and can be found by anyone, if we would but seek it out.

From the light of the ages, I’ll now light these next two big candles. These represent the prophets and sages. Every culture and every generation has at least one prophet and sage, men and women of exceptional wisdom and insight who bring the light of the ages to their generation. Jesus of Nazareth was one of those prophets and sages, and tonight we remember his wisdom and insight.

After we sing the first carol, we’ll light the flame in the chalice, which has become a symbol of Unitarian Universalism. That small flame will represent the prophets and sages in our religious tradition, many of whom have been inspired by Jesus — people like Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Hosea Ballou, and Eliza Tupper Wilkes, the woman who was the very first Unitarian minister in Palo Alto.

A little later on, I will light these candles here in front from the candles representing the prophets and sages (see if you notice when I do). These smaller candles represent the teachers, those who pass on the light of the ages to the rest of us. These teachers might be schoolteachers, but they are also mentors and friends and parents and grandparents, everyone who teaches us.

And finally, at the end of this Christmas Eve service, when we each receive a lit candle, we will symbolize the way the light of the ages comes to us, passed on to us from our teachers, who in turned received it from prophets and sages. And when we get done here tonight, it will be up to us to take our own light out into the world, to make our world a better place.

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.

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Early documentary history of Palo Alto Unitarians and Eliza Tupper Wilkes

From The Unitarian, a periodical edited by Frederick B. Mott (Boston: George Ellis), Volume XI.

January, 1896, p. 48:

Woodland, Cal.— Rev. Mrs. E. T. Wilkes has been continuing her missionary work here and at Palo Alto, under the joint auspices of the American Unitarian Association and the Pacific Women’s Unitarian Conference. She has also visited Santa Cruz and Sacramento in the interests of our cause.

February, 1896, p. 95:

Palo Alto, Cal.—A correspondent writes: “There has recently been organized the Unity Society of Palo Alto, of which Prof. Hoskins of Stanford University is president. Meetings have been directed by Mrs. Wilkes for some time past, and it in sincerely hoped by all the members that she may remain here. A building lot will soon be owned by the society, and on it a suitable chapel will be erected. The society will surely prosper, and be a help and benefit, not only to its members, but also to all that come under its influence.”

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