Deconstructing “covenant,” pt. 2

…My point in the previous post was to deconstruct “covenant.” But why do we need to deconstruct “covenant”?

Unitarian Universalists today love to talk about covenant as if it has a long history. I’m arguing that covenant was a mid-twentieth century invention by Conrad Wright and James Luther Adams. It does not have a long history. And that’s a good thing. The history that Conrad Wright invented for covenant has too many negatives for me to feel comfortable.

When we deconstruct in the Conrad Wright conception of covenant, here are some of the things that we begin to understand:
— Historically, covenant was designed to promote theocracy;
— it was dependent on patriarchy;
— it was rooted in enslavement of Africans and Natives;
— and it supported British imperialism and colonialism.
Plus the Wrightian history of covenant ignores our Universalist heritage.

These are some of the things that Wright either wasn’t aware of or ignored. I don’t think we can remain unaware of these things, or ignore them, any longer. We have to deconstruct “covenant” so we can reconstruct it without quite so many negative aspects.

Since the time of Wright and Adams, others have tried to articulate a vision for Unitarian Universalist covenant, most notably Alice Blair Wesley in her Minns Lectures from the year 2000. But all these visions for covenant start with the assumptions laid out by Conrad Wright and James Luther Adams, and don’t really question those assumptions. I feel that none of these new visions for covenant adequately addresses theocracy, patriarchy, enslavement, or colonialism. And in my opinion, none of the visions for covenant takes Universalism seriously enough. To put it succinctly — none of these new visions of covenant adequately deconstructs the underlying assumptions of “covenant.”

Deconstructing “covenant” in this way has helped me to understand why I’ve been feeling increasingly uncomfortable when Unitarian Universalists talk about “covenant.” When we talk about “being in covenant,” we have to start listening for echoes of patriarchy, colonialism, enslavement, and so on. When we accuse others of “breaking covenant,” we have to start have to listening for echoes of the old Puritan practice of public shaming of church members. When we think of covenant as an organizing principle, we have to ask ourselves why we are ignoring the Universalist tradition.

If we’re unwilling to deconstruct “covenant” — how are we going to reconstruct “covenant” to remove the lingering taint of sexism, enslavement, anti-democratic theocracy, and colonialism? Perhaps deconstructing and then reconstructing “covenant” would allow us to make some much-needed progress in our anti-racism work, our ongoing efforts to get rid of patriarchal structures, and our beginning efforts to understand the role of religion in colonialism

If we’re unwilling to deconstruct “covenant” — how are we going to include Universalism once again in our central organizing principles? I’m afraid the answer here might well be that most of us don’t care about Universalism any more. Perhaps it would be better if we’d openly acknowledge this, because we’re “sitting on the franchise,” getting in the way of other groups trying to spread the happy religion of universal salvation. Or perhaps it would be best if we re-engaged with our Universalist heritage, with its incredible diversity of belief and practice; perhaps that would help us more than an attempt to unify ourselves with a tainted vision of “covenant.”

Deconstructing “covenant,” pt. 1

Unitarian Universalists talk a lot about “covenant.” We didn’t used to talk about covenant. As near as I can tell, our mild obsession with covenant came about during the merger of the Unitarians and the Universalists, a process which began in the 1950s and continued for years after the legal consolidation of the two groups in 1961. We were thrashing about trying to find something that held us together. The Universalist professions of faith weren’t acceptable to the Unitarians, and the Unitarian affirmations of faith (like James Freeman Clarke’s Five Points of the New Theology) weren’t acceptable to the Universalists.

Two Unitarian scholars, James Luther Adams and Conrad Wright, had long been talking about the importance of covenant to their Unitarian tradition. Wright was a historian who interpreted the entire history of Unitarianism in the United States as centering around covenant. This was a problematic interpretation, since by the early twentieth century many Unitarian congregations didn’t have written covenants. I’m not sure, but Wright may have felt that the Unitarians kind of forgot covenant, and that forgetfulness led to the decline of Unitarianism in the 1930s. In any case, he saw the re-establishment of covenant as central to the revitalization of Unitarianism in the mid to late twentieth century.

Wright continued to trumpet covenant after consolidation with the Universalists. While his primary area of expertise was in Unitarian history, he dipped into Universalist history and claimed to find that the Universalists were pretty much like the Unitarians when it came to congregational polity and the centrality of covenant.

I don’t find Wright’s interpretation of the historical facts to be terribly convincing. Covenant was in fact central to most Unitarian congregations that began life as Puritan churches in New England. Covenant was also important to some nineteenth century Unitarian churches which had been founded by New England settlers moving west. But in my research in the archives of local congregations, covenant becomes less important as an organizing principle beginning in the nineteenth century and through the early to mid-twentieth century.

In many eighteenth century New England congregations, there were two parallel organizations, the church and the society. The society owned the real property and managed the finances; the church consisted of the people who signed the church covenant and stood up in front of the congregation and confessed their sins. Membership in the society was typically through buying a pew and contributing annual rental for your pew (often restricted to males, since there were legal limitations about females owning property), and generally speaking only males could take on leadership roles in the society. It appears that on average significantly more women than men signed the covenant to become a part of the church. People of African or Native descent could join the church, but may have been barred from owning pews or serving in leadership roles in the society.

Thus the entire system of covenant was bound up with discriminatory distinctions between males and females, and between persons of European descent as opposed to persons of African or Native descent. Nor is this an accident. Covenant in the New England Puritan tradition was a means for upholding a theocracy that placed white males at the top of the social hierarchy (note that I’m being sloppy here by including the Pilgrims in the umbrella term “Puritan”). Today, some might call this racism or white supremacy, though some historians would argue that these are anachronistic concepts when applied to the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries; a better way to put this is to simply say that the New England Puritan tradition was inextricably linked to enslaving people of African and Native descent. On the other hand, we can say with some certainty that this Puritan social hierarchy was patriarchal and sexist. In addition, Puritan theocracy was also tied in with the larger project of British colonialism; not quite as blatantly as in the resource-extraction economies of the southern plantation colonies, but the British empire clearly say the value of exporting religious dissidents to “tame the wilderness” thus opening up the area to somewhat “softer” economic exploitation by the empire.

In short, covenant was bound up with patriarchy, colonialism, and slavery. This is not to say that covenant is forever tainted by its origins. But these are parts of the story that Conrad Wright passes over. If we’re going to put covenant at the center of our religious tradition, at the very least we need to acknowledge that covenants were part of a theocratic political structure that was rooted in the oppression of the majority of people in the society.

During the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the distinction between society and church seems to have slowly been forgotten; along the way, covenants often seem to have disappeared as well. So, for example, when I was doing research for the 300th anniversary of the Unitarian church in New Bedford, Mass., I found evidence for the existence of a covenant in the congregation’s eighteenth century archives, now stored at the New Bedford Whaling Museum. By the late nineteenth century, during the long ministry of William Potter, one of the leaders of the Free Religious Association, I found no evidence for the existence of a covenant. The distinction between society and church continued into the 1940s, since the ministers were not allowed to attend the annual meeting of the congregation — it appears that in the eighteenth century the minister was charged with oversight of the church, the lay leaders with oversight of the society — but with the end of pew ownership in the 1940s, that distinction finally dissolved. By the early twenty-first century, there was no distinction between church and society, or more precisely the church withered away leaving only the society.

In another congregation I researched, the Unitarian church in Palo Alto, Calif., which existed from 1905 to 1934, I found no evidence at all for the existence of a covenant. From the research I’ve done in local congregational archives, I’ve mostly found no evidence for a covenant in the early twentieth century. The only exception is the Unitarian Society of Geneva, Ill., which still maintains the covenant originally written and signed by the founders of that church — who were all emigrants from New England to what was then the frontier. That covenant was substantially revised circa 1900, to shorten it, and to remove all mentions of God or the Bible. The church almost went moribund in the early twentieth century, until Charles Lyttle, professor of church history at Meadville Lombard Theological School, stepped in to rebuild the church for use as a training congregation for his Unitarian theological students. Perhaps it is due in part to Lyttle’s academic influence that the Geneva covenant remained active (and one wonders if the historian Charles Lyttle helped draw the attention of the later historian Conrad Wright to covenant).

Thus covenant appears to have mostly disappeared from Unitarian congregations in the nineteenth century. But Conrad Wright also argued that Unitarian churches were bound to each other through congregational polity, which was another sort of covenant. The most important document here was the Cambridge Platform, a seventeenth century Puritan document that outlined how Puritan churches were supposed to relate to one another. The Cambridge Platform looked to the Bible as revealed scripture (the Word of God) to determine how churches related one to another. The Cambridge Platform was outdated almost as soon as it was written — it called for every church to support both a preaching minister and a teaching minister, which proved to be economically impossible — but it also simply didn’t apply to some Unitarian congregations.

Take, for example, King’s Chapel in Boston, which became Unitarian in 1785. It was originally affiliated with the Church of England, but became independent during the American Revolution; at which point, it removed all references to the trinity from its Book of Common Prayer, and became Unitarian in theology. King’s Chapel came from a tradition of episcopal polity, and the Cambridge Platform formed no part of its history until, at the earliest, it affiliated with the American Unitarian Association sometime after 1825. Or take the Icelandic Unitarian churches of Canada, which came out of Lutheranism, another religious tradition based on episcopal polity. Perhaps we could argue that the Unitarian tradition of covenant in North America is syncretic, taking in various influences, and transmogrifying them.

But I think it’s more accurate to say that twentieth century Unitarian covenant was something that Conrad Wright made up, using historical materials. Covenant is not an old tradition among us, it’s a newly made-up tradition. That being the case, I’m not sure I want to use a made-up kind of covenant based on Puritan theocratic patriarchal concepts rooted in colonialism and slavery.

Furthermore, as someone who thinks of myself as more of a Universalist than a Unitarian, I’m trying to figure out why we should use a made-up kind of covenant that pretty much ignores Universalism. Conrad Wright did extensive research in Unitarian covenant, but it’s clear from his writings that his knowledge of Universalist history was not very deep. James Luther Adams, the other co-creator of twentieth century Unitarian covenant, knew his Unitarian tradition quite well but did not know Universalism nearly as well.

Whether or not the Unitarians were always actually unified by covenant (or if it was something that Adams and Wright invented in the mid-twentieth century), it’s quite obvious that the Universalists were not unified by covenant. The Universalists were unified by a common theology of universal salvation, which was expressed in affirmations of faith. Because the Universalists differed so radically in the details of their universalist theologies, their affirmations of faith had to be very broad, and mostly were quite brief. Unitarian documents, such as church covenants and the Cambridge Platform, tended to be quite wordy — the Cambridge Platform fills up a small book — but the Universalists’ “Winchester Profession” of 1803 comes in at fewer than 100 words. Not that the Winchester Profession, or any later profession of faith, actually served to unify the Universalists; they’ve been an almost anarchistic group from the start; the point is that they did not have covenants in the way Unitarians had covenants. Thus the concept of covenant, as promoted by Adams and Wright, was a Unitarian thing, but it was not important to Universalism.

My point here is to deconstruct “covenant.” More on this tomorrow….

    More Palo Alto Unitarian Universalist time lines and lists

    For the 75th anniversary of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Palo Alto

    Religious professionals


    1947-49 — Rev. Nat Lauriat*, minister of First Unitarian Church in San Jose, spends a few hours each week in Palo Alto
    April-June, 1949 — Rev. Lon Ray Call*, extension minister from the American Unitarian Association
    1949-72 — Rev. Felix Danford “Dan” Lion*, minister
    1961-1962 — Rev. Darrall Roen “Bud” Repp*, assistant minister
    1965-1968 — Rev. Mike Young, assistant minister
    1971-1977 — Rev. Dr. Ron Hargis*, minister of religious education
    1972-1973 — Rev. Sidney Peterman*, interim minister
    1973-1990 — Rev. William R. “BJ” Jacobsen*, parish minister
    1990-1991 — Rev. Sam Wright,* interim minister
    1991-2001 — Rev. Ken Collier, minister
    1998-2000 — Rev. Dr. Til Evans*, interim minister of religious education
    2000-2007 — Rev. Darcey Laine, minister of religious education
    2001-2003 — Rev. Kurt Kuhwald, interim minister
    2003-present — Rev. Amy Zucker Morgenstern
    2007-2009 — Rev. Eva Ceskava, interim minister of religious education
    2009-present — Rev. Dan Harper, assistant/associate minister of religious education

    Religious Educators

    1948-1949 — Religious Education Committee run program in cooperation with Palo Alto Friends Meeting
    1950/51 — John Durr, Superintendent of Religious Education
    1951/52 — Robert Harrison
    1952/53 — Evelyn Borthwick, Supervisor of Church School
    1953-1955 — Religious Education Committee is in charge of the Sunday school
    1955/56 — Eve Wilder volunteers as Superintendent of Religious Education
    1956/57 — Religious Education Committee is in charge of the Sunday school (no one volunteers to be Superintendent)
    1957/58 — Marion Murphy, Superintendent of Religious Education (first paid religious educator, part-time)
    1959/59 — C. Sargent Hearn, Director of Religious Education (DRE) (first F/T paid religious educator)
    1959-1965 — Florence Sund, DRE
    1965/66 — Meredith Whitaker, Acting DRE
    1966-1969 — Clarice Gault, DRE
    1969-1971 — Virginia Stephens and Ellen Thacher, Co-DREs
    1971-1977 — Rev. Dr. Ron Hargis, Minister of Religious Education (MRE)
    1977-1979 — Dr. Robert Donmoyer and June Yennie-Donmoyer, Co-DREs
    1979-1983 — Mary Brau, DRE
    1982/1983 — Sandy Price, (Interim) DRE
    1983-1985 — Mary Katherine Haynes, DRE
    1985 — Donna Bookbinder, “temporary DRE”
    1985-1988 — Jean Blackburn Conner, DRE
    1988-1998 — Edith Parker, DRE
    1998-2000 — Rev. Dr. Til Evans, Interim MRE
    2000-2007 — Rev. Darcey Laine, MRE
    2007-2009 — Rev. Eva Ceskava, Interim MRE
    2009-present — Rev. Dan Harper, Assistant/Associate MRE

    Music Directors

    1951 — “Mrs. Harry Lewis” is choir director
    1952 — Marion Conley is choir director
    1955 — In December, Emma Lou “Timmy” Allen becomes choir director
    1963 — Stanford professor Dr. Arthur P. Barnes becomes choir director
    1965 — Miriam Wain is choir director
    1966 — Arthur P. Barnes returns as choir director
    1976 — Colleen Magee Snyder become choir director
    1982 — Joan McMillen becomes choir director
    1985 — Karl R. Schmidt becomes choir director
    1989 — Sheridan Schroeter becomes music director
    1992 — Alva Henderson becomes music director
    2001 — Michael Gibson becomes music director
    2004/05 — Choir members Kathy Parmentier and Mayo Tsuzuki direct the choir
    2005 — Henry Mollicone becomes choir director
    2011 — Bruce Olstad becomes music director

    Children and Youth Religious Education Programs


    1947 — In April, congregation begins holding Sunday evening meetings

    1948 — Congregation moves meeting time to Sunday mornings
    1948 — In the spring, “Mrs. Cleaveland provided child care for the very young in her yard and different mothers took turns as sitters.”
    1948 — In the fall, first Sunday school classes held jointly with the Friends (Quakers). “There are three Friends and three Unitarians, all mothers of the children, who take turns [as teachers] for a month at a time. The children range in age from two and a half to ten and are divided into three groups for instruction.”

    1949 — Religious education (RE) enrollment is 25 children

    1950 — Services are held at the Palo Alto Community Center
    1950 — RE enrollment is 40
    1950/51 — John Durr is Superintendent of Religious Education; he volunteers while in his last year of theological school

    1951/52 — Robert Harrison runs the Sunday school as a volunteer

    1952 — Due to growth there are two sessions of Sunday school
    1952/53 — Evelyn Borthwick is volunteer Supervisor of Church School; Marion Conley is Superintendent of the 11:00 a.m. church school
    1952 — RE enrollment is 150

    1953/54 — Religious Education Committee is in charge of the Sunday school
    1953 — RE enrollment is 180

    1954/55 — Religious Education Committee is in charge of the Sunday school
    1954 — RE enrollment is 215

    1955/56 — Eve Wilder volunteers as Superintendent of Religious Education
    1955 — RE enrollment is 310

    1956/57 — Religious Education Committee is in charge of the Sunday school
    1956 — RE enrollment is 400+, with waiting lists for gr. 6 and under
    1956 — 7th, 8th, and 9th grade classes meet in five nearby homes

    1957/58 — Marion Murphy is part-time paid Superintendent of Religious Education
    1957 — RE enrollment is 530
    1957 — Rae Bell begins serving as children’s choir director

    1958 — C. Sargent Hearn becomes the first full-time paid religious educator, assisted by his wife Virginia
    1958 — RE enrollment is 461
    1958 — First Sunday services are held in new building

    1959 — Florence Sund becomes the Director of Religious Education; from 1955-1959 she was DRE in Rockford, Ill.
    1959 — RE enrollment is 500+
    1959 — A spin-off group from PAUC becomes the Unitarian Fellowship of Redwood City


    1960 — RE enrollment is 561
    1960 — “Attendance has dropped off a bit, partially because of the Redwood City Fellowship exodus”; 25 PAUC members plus a number of PAUC children transferred to Redwood City
    1960 — The Student Council, elected from the Sunday school, disburses $1,100 [$9,750 in 2020 dollars] collected from the Sunday school collection, including funding for the patio installation

    1961 — RE enrollment is 600

    1962 — RE enrollment peaks at over 600
    1962 — There are three Sunday sessions to accommodate the Sunday school — the 8:45 early morning forum, and the regular 10:00 and 11:30 services — plus a Wednesday evening session with a family service
    1962 — Sunnyvale UU Fellowship is spun off from PAUC

    1963 — This year and next, some children transfer to the Sunnyvale Fellowship, relieving some pressure on PAUC’s Sunday school
    1963 — Due to lack of classroom space, 5 classes are held in nearby homes
    1963 — For the second straight year, PAUC membership “is at a standstill”
    1963 — Programs for children and teens include 3 sessions of Sunday school, midweek family service, Junior Unitarian Youth (gr. 7-9), Liberal Religious Youth (gr. 10-12), children’s choir, youth choir; committees and staff include DRE, Youth Director, Religious Education Committee, Youth Activities Committee, and Student Council

    1964 — Ernee Chester becomes Youth Choir Director
    1964 — Continued growth of Sunnyvale and Redwood City UU Fellowships means no waiting list to get into PAUC’s Sunday school
    1964 — Liberal Religious Youth stage “Our Town,” give $50 of the proceeds [$425 in 2020 dollars] to oppose California Proposition 14, which would legalize racial discrimination in housing

    1965/66 — PAUC member Meredith Whitaker is “acting DRE”
    1965 — In addition to fun activities, Junior Unitarian Youth (gr. 7-9) have discussions on “Death and the Hereafter” and “Does Unitarianism Promote High Moral Standards?” 
    1965 — Nationwide, Unitarian Universalism stops growing and begins declining around about 1965

    1966 — RE enrollment is 480
    1966 — Junior Unitarian Youth (gr. 7-9) sell UNICEF cards, raising $1,000 [$8,900 in 2020 dollars] for UNICEF
    1966 — Clarice Gault hired as new Director of Religious Education, indicates she will stay no more than 3 years

    1967 — RE enrollment is 575
    1967 — Former DRE Meredith Whitaker is chair of RE Committee
    1967 — RE committee and the DRE see “a need for in our church educational programing”
    1967 — An experimental Thursday night mid-week service provides innovative programming for children

    1968 — RE enrollment is 409
    1968 — Liberal Religious Youth or LRY (gr. 10-12) stage Jean-Paul Sartre’s play “No Exit”
    1968 — “LRY membership has soared” up to 80 people on the mailing list, up to 35 attending meetings

    1969 — RE enrollment is 260
    1969 — Due to falling adult attendance and religious education enrollment, congregation goes down to two services per Sunday
    1969 — Clarice Gault resigns, indicates she sees problems withe PAUC
    1969 — Virginia Stephens and Ellen Thacher become co-DREs

    Sunday school class c. 1968


    1970 — PAUC hosts an alternative high school, called “Lothlorien High School”
    1970 — Congregation votes to form a nonprofit corporation to run Lothlorien; in the mean time, Lothlorien is run by PAUC
    1970 — Ron Garrison, a Stanford student, hired as “Youth Minister”
    1970 — Rae Bell resigns as children’s choir director, after 13 years
    1970 — Room 8 is a ceramics room, with potter’s wheels
    1970 — Program is “based on a freer, experience-centered situation” which children and teachers like, but parents want more”content”

    1971 — Congregation establishes Ellen Thacher Children’s Center, a day care center for ages 2.9 to 7 years, named after the recently deceased Ellen Thacher; 1/4 of the children receive financial assistance
    1971 — Congregation hires Rev. Dr. Ron Hargis as minister of religious education, on a two-year contract basis
    1971 — Two types of Sunday school programs are offered, “one experience-oriented, one subject-oriented”
    1971? — Nonprofit corporation to run Lothlorien is formed

    1972 — Playground built for Thacher Center, with help from PAUC members, Lothlorien students, and Thacher parents
    1972 — Dan Lion resigns; Ron Hargis becomes sole minister until Rev. Sidney Peterman arrives in the fall as interim minister
    1972 — Ron Garrison resigns after congregation declines to make his position full time, with youth and community education responsiblities
    1972 — RE enrollment is 250

    1973 — The RE Committee brings in Til Evans of the Starr King School for the Ministry to lead an all-day workshop
    1973 — PAUC offers About Your Sexuality course (precursor to the current Our Whole Lives comprehensive sexuality education course for gr. 7-9)
    1973 — A grant from Samuel Untermeyer makes it possible for 6th and 7th graders to talk with astronaut Edgar Mitchell

    1974 — “Baby Bust” means fewer children, and RE enrollment continues to drop
    1974 — A grant from Samuel Untermeyer makes it possible for 6th and 7th graders to participate in an art project for an afternoon with innovative artist Ruth Asawa
    1974 — “Nursery leader Cindy Cray noted that the decline in the birth rate has certainly affected the number of children in the nursery”

    1975 — Ernee Chester, Youth Choir Director, resigns
    1975 — Sargent Hearn, former DRE, is serving on the Religious Education Committee

    1976 — A Junior High class is reactivated this year
    1976 — Monthly intergenerational potlucks are held

    1977 — Ron Hargis resigns at the end of the year
    1977 — RE enrollment drops to about 50
    1977 — Children are in the Main Hall service several times this year
    1977 — June Yennie-Donmoyer and Bob Donmoyer become co-DREs in September

    1978 — Religious education enrollment rises to 100
    1978 — LRY (the youth group) has 30 members
    1978 — First annual “mini-vacation” at Bass Lake
    1978 — Monthly “All Church Community Activities” include a square dance, a picnic, and a dinner with Mexican cuisine

    1979 — PAUC again offers a preschool class in Sunday school
    1979 — Mary Brau becomes DRE
    1979 — RE enrollment is 92, with 70 in Sunday school, and 12 in LRY (Liberal Religious Youth, the youth group)
    1979 — For the hour before Sunday school, children may go to the Clay Room, the Reading Room, or the Games and Crafts Room

    Sunday school class, 1978


    1980 — DRE Mary Brau adds “executive officer” of the entire church to her duties
    1980 — Nationwide, after a decade and a half of decline, Unitarian Universalism begins to grow at about 1% per year
    1980 — RE enrollment drops to 75

    1981 — An intergenerational breakfast is held on Easter Sunday

    1982 — Sandy Price, an experienced DRE from Oak Park, Ill., becomes DRE for one school year while temporarily living in the area
    1982 — Clay room activities at 10:00 a.m. (before Sunday school and the service) continue to be popular
    1982 — Junior Choir is revived, sings once a month when children are in the first part of the service

    1983 — Mary Katherine Haynes becomes DRE
    1983 — Small but active youth group with paid part-time youth advisor

    1984 — Intergenerational activities include two family potluck breakfasts, “Trick or Treat for UNICEF,” and Christmas carol party 

    1985 — Donna Bookbinder is temporary DRE
    1985 — Jean Blackburn Conner becomes DRE in November
    1985 — No program for teens this year

    1986 — RE enrollment is 54
    1986 — Child care is available year-round on Sundays; one paid staffer assisted by teen and parent volunteers

    1987 — Educational goals developed in a fall retreat: increase involvement of kids in church, religious literacy, plant the seed of lifelong UUs
    1987 — Easter breakfast and egg hunt

    1988 — RE enrollment is 80
    1988 — Edith Parker becomes Director of Religious Education
    1988 — RE Committee seeks ways to encourage more participation by high school aged teens

    1989 — Senior High teens host an all-church supper and some after-church lunches
    1989 — RE brochure lists the Halloween Parade

    Halloween party, 1986


    1990 — RE enrollment is 125
    1990 — Children continue to attend the first part of the worship service once a month before leaving for their classes
    1990 — Both the senior high group and the junior high group are active

    1991 — RE enrollment is 90
    1991 — Main Hall is often 80-90% full on Sunday mornings; Ken Collier first proposes double sessions

    1992 — Three paid child care workers provide care each Sunday
    1992 — Intergenerational activities include a Seder Summer Solstice sunrise celebration, and a Winter Solstice celebration

    1993 — Enrollment is 120, classrooms are crowded
    1993 — After a hiatus, a Junior Choir starts up again
    1993 — DRE Edith Parker serves as resource person for the new UU congregation forming in Fremont

    1994 — The Religious Education Committee for children and youth, and the Adult Religious Education Committee merge to form a Lifespan Religious Education Committe

    1995 — RE enrollment is 140, with growth in youngest ages, infants through preschoolers: the peak of the Millennial generation
    1995 — UUCPA provides financial and moral support to the new UU congregation in Fremont, with no apparent effect on RE enrollment

    1996 — Intergenerational events include folk singer Jim Stevens, 4:30 p.m. Christmas Eve service, Easter egg hunt for gr. preK-2 
    1996 — RE enrollment is 147

    1997 — RE enrollment drops to 125
    1997 — Congregation sees enough growth in adult membership to consider adding a second minister
    1997 — New safety policy requires two adults in each classroom, though implementation was difficult at first

    1998 — Edith Parker completes ministerial training, under UUA rules is not allowed to continue serving as inister at UUCPA, and so resigns
    1998 — UUCPA hires Rev. Til Evans as interim minister of religious education, to serve with Ken Collier
    1998 — Ellen Thacher Preschool is now part of Palo Alto Community Child Care
    1998 — Intergenerational events include a games program in September
    1998 — Til Evans reports that the lack of dependable and consistent space for religious education programs is the greatest lack facing the program

    1999 — RE enrollment is 135
    1999 — Behavioral problems in classrooms lead to the development of a behavioral covenant
    1999 — Inspired by Til Evans, the Lifespan RE Committee marshals support in the congregation for adding a second permanent minister

    Senior high youth on a ski trip, 1997


    2000 — In January, UUCPA adds a second worship service on Sunday morning
    2000 — Rev. Darcey Laine is called as minister of religious education; Rev. Ken Collier announces his resignation a few months later
    2000 — RE enrollment is 64

    2001 — Sunday school begins to include regular social justice projects
    2001 — Rev. Darcey Laine spends significant time “supporting the parish ministry transition”

    2002 — Capital campaign includes renovation of classrooms

    2003 — Board of Trustees implements a child protection policy

    2004 — The Senior High Youth Group and Rev. Darcey Laine, along with youth from the Redwood City UU Fellowship, install the first labyrinth at UUCPA

    2005 — Time of children’s classes is changed from 11:00 to 9:30 a.m.
    2005 — With Rev. Amy Zucker settled in as the new parish minister, Rev. Darcey Laine is able to re-focus her attention on children and youth

    2006 — Family Chapel Services are held, led by volunteers

    2007 — Darcey Laine resigns, as her family wants to relocate to upstate New York
    2007 — Rev. Eva Ceskava becomes interim minister of religious education

    2008 — 

    2009 — Congregation hires Rev. Dan Harper as assistant minister of religious education
    2009 — Joe Chee, doctoral candidate in educational technology, starts CYRE blog for teacher engagement and training
    2009 — Children and Youth Religious Education Committee moves key documents to the cloud
    2009 — Nationwide, Unitarian Universalism begins small annual decline that continues to the present


    2010 — With the help of church consultant Alice Mann, UUCPA sets goal of “adding the next 50 people” as measured by average annual attendance
    2010 — Second Sunday Lunch begins, children and teens welcomed from the beginning
    2010 — Joe Chee produces Sunday school teacher podcasts
    2010 — Youth group makes a service trip to New Orleans

    2011 — New fenced-in play area installed in front of Thacher School’s playground
    2011 — Coming of Age class cooks, serves, and eats dinner with Hotel de Zink for the first time

    2012 — UUCPA’s “OWL” comprehensive sexuality education program welcomes non-UU families, as a community outreach program
    2012 — Navigators program is organized at UUCPA, a scouting program welcoming all genders and LGBTQIA+ persons
    2012 — UUCPA begins publishing Sunday school curriculums online

    2013 — Children are invited to participate in planning the new front garden

    Children helping to plan the front garden, 2013 (faces blurred to preserve privacy)

    2014 — Religious education enrollment peaks at 135 (highest since 1999)
    2014 — Sunday school “Ecojustice class” installs first rain barrel at UUCPA

    2015 — First year of Ecojustice Camp day camp
    2015 — Youth group makes a service trip to Belize, under the direction of Anne Frahn

    2016 — RE enrollment is 116
    2016 — Membership and Growth Committee reports that UUCPA is halfway to the goal of adding 50 people, as measured by average annual attendance

    2017 — RE enrollment is 105

    2018 — RE enrollment is 105
    2018 — Congregation considers removing the word “Church” from its name, with strong support from high school students who become members so they can vote on this issue
    2018 — Mr. Barb Greve becomes religious educator while Dan Harper is on sabbatical; Greve is also volunteering as co-moderator of the UUA

    2019 — About 30% of enrolled children and youth are non-white


    2020 — COVID cause state-wide shutdown, on March 15 youth group and all classes move online
    2020 — In September, two small in-person classes begin (Ecojustice class and OWL gr. 7-9), outdoors, masked, and physically distanced
    2020 — In late November, another lockdown closes in-person classes

    2021 — In February, the two in-person classes are able to resume once again
    2021 — In June, three-week COVID-safe Ecojustice Camp welcomes 16 campers, makes $12,000 for the congregation
    2021 — In September, in-person classes resume for preschool and up, with online options available

    UUCPA Social Justice Timeline

    For the 75th anniversary of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Palo Alto

    1949 — Our congregation protests “the assumption that war is inevitable and an A-bomb justified…. We urge positive program negotiations to avoid war.”

    1950 — Congregation gives sizable contributions to help Spanish refugees who had been living in France since 1938
    1950 — Congregation sponsors and settles a Displaced Persons family from Latvia

    1952 — Congregation refuses to sign California’s “Loyalty Oath,” and has to pay state tax even though it’s a nonprofit
    1952 — Congregation collects 155 pounds of clothing for Spanish refugee children

    1953 — Our congregation, the San Jose Unitarian church, and the Los Gatos Unitarian Fellowship form a dental loan fund to aid children of migrant workers

    1956 — Congregation assists a displaced persons family from East Germany

    1958-66 — With a group of 5 Bay Area Unitarian churches, our congregation helps found Stevenson House, Palo Alto’s first nonprofit housing for low-income seniors

    1958 — Over 200 members sign a pledge of open housing, agreeing to welcome all persons to their neighborhood regardless of race, creed, or national origin

    1959 — Congregation supports a Displaced Persons family from East Germany

    1960 — Congregation assists a displaced persons family, plus four children from Indonesia
    1960 — Congregation approves a resolution calling for the dissolution of the House Un-American Activities Commission

    1962 — The Women’s Alliance sends six cartons of clothing to Spanish refugees in Toulouse, France
    1962 — The Sunday school packs food baskets for prisoner’s families at Christmas

    1964 — Rev. Dan Lion participates in the Mississippi Summer Project (a.k.a. Freedom Summer), and is supported by our congregation
    1964 — Congregation votes overwhelmingly to oppose the Becker Amendment, Resolution 693, that would allow prayer in public schools
    1964 — Congregation votes to oppose California Proposition 14, which would allow open racial discrimination when selling or renting housing

    1965 — Congregation supports Rev. Dan Lion’s trip to Selma, Ala.
    1965 — Sunday school students give $90 [$800 in 2020 dollars] to sponsor a foster child in Greece

    1966 — Activism against the Vietnam War
    1966 — Congregation sells 2.2 acres to Stevenson House elderly housing community at $30,000 below market rates [$240,000 in 202 dollars], then gives Stevenson House a $5,000 donation [$405,000 in 2020 dollars]

    1967 — The congregation’s newsletter carries a series of letters over several months from congregation members both opposing and supporting the Vietnam War
    1967 — Senior minister Rev. Dan Lion and Assistant Minister Rev. Mike Young provide counseling to conscientious objectors

    1968 — Congregation votes to not build a new church building, and instead votes to spend the money raised on “human rights” programs

    1969 — Rev. Dan Lion and other Unitarians participate in anti-war march in downtown Palo Alto

    1970 — Congregation forms a nonprofit corporation to start an alternative high school, called “Lothlorien High School”

    1971 — Congregation establishes Ellen Thacher Children’s Center, a day care center named after the recently deceased Ellen Thacher; 1/4 of the children receive scholarships

    1972 — Congregation grants the use of the church as sanctuary for those “acting according to the dictates of their conscience in opposition to civil or military actions” [i.e., for conscientious objectors]

    1975 — The Social Concerns Committee supports the United Farm Workers boycott of Gallo
    1975 — After its sixth year, Lothlorien High School ceases operations

    1977 — Gail Hamaker and other women from our congregation are active in getting the Unitarian Universalist Association General Assembly to adopt the groundbreaking Women and Religion resolution

    1981 — The World Concerns Committee presented non-partisan lectures on various topics of social concern

    1982 — Congregation votes in December to join South Bay Sanctuary Covenant to provide protection and advocacy for Central American refugees

    1984 — The Sanctuary Committee raises $100 a month to support South Bay Sanctuary Covenant [$250 in 2020 dollars]
    1984 — The Stevenson House Committee helps raise funds to renovate Stevenson House, arranges activities to “enliven the environment” of residents

    1987 — Congregation votes to join the Mid-Peninsula Peace Center
    1987 — Congregation votes to make our congregation a Nuclear Weapons Free Zone
    1987 — Congregation votes to join the Urban Ministry of Palo Alto, to address homelessness

    1988 — Congregation is a founding member of Hotel de Zink, a short-term homeless shelter

    1989 — 1st annual Undie Sunday collection of donations of new underwear for unhoused people

    1992 — Congregation gives over 3% of its annual budget to the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee

    1994 — Congregations begins Welcoming Congregation process, to become more welcoming to LGBTQIA+ people

    1997 — Congregation joins with other churches to form Peninsula Interfaith Action; began work on education and housing

    1999 — UUA recognizes UUCPA as a Welcoming Congregation,welcoming to LGBTQIA+ people

    2002 — Congregation adopts Statement of Conscience opposing the Iraq war
    2002 — Marriage equality activism against the Knight Initiative (Prop 22)

    2003 — Congregation raises more than $50,000 for construction of the Opportunity Center to provide services to unhoused people
    2003 — Founding member of Multifaith Voices for Peace & Justice

    2005 — Antiwar activism against second Iraq war

    2007 — Green Sanctuary Committee is formed

    2008 — Task force on ridding the world of nuclear weapons is formed
    2008 — Welcoming Congregation Committee organizes congregation to attempt to defeat Prop 8, a ballot measure to ban same-sex marriage

    2009 — Congregation receives Green Sanctuary Congregation certification from the Unitarian Universalist Association for good congregational environmental practices

    2010 — 1st annual sale of fair trade chocolate for Halloween
    2010 — Fair Elections task force is formed

    2011 — Congregation works on the California DISCLOSE Act with California Clean Money Campaign
    2011 — Solar panels installed on the roof of the Main Hall, providing about half of UUCPA’s energy needs

    2012 — Congregation endorses SB 52, the California Clean Money Act, to require financial disclosure of campaign contributions; holds CA DISCLOSE Act rally at the church
    2012 — Our Whole Lives comprehensive sexuality education classes are open to the wider community

    2013 — Immigration Task Force is formed; adult class is offered on “Immigration as A Moral Issue”
    2013 — Music Director Bruce Olstad launches Bodhi Tree North concert series to raise money for charitable causes

    2014 — Installation of native plant garden in front of the church is completed

    2015 — “Drone quilts” are displayed in the Main Hall, sponsored by Multifaith Voices for Peace & Justice
    2015 — Ecojustice Camp day camp is launched to teach kids about environmental justice

    2015 — Congregation gives authority to the Green Sanctuary Committee to advocate on behalf of UUCPA for environmental issues

    2016 — Rev. Amy Zucker Morgenstern leads first Beloved Conversations anti-racism class

    2017 — Congregation endorses SB 31, California Religious Freedom Act
    2017 — Congregation co-sponsors Unity Rally to counter rally by Anti-Sharia proponents
    2017 — More solar panels added to Main Hall roof, which now satisfy all the congregation’s electrical needs

    2018 — Congregation approves fast-track process for endorsements on behalf of the congregation, and for approvals to carry a UUCPA banner in public rallies and vigils
    2018 — Parking lot solar panels, erected by a solar energy company leasing from the congregation, begin operation
    2018 — Congregation becomes a host of the year-old Heart & Home Collaborative women’s homeless shelter
    2018 —Native plant garden in front of the church is expanded

    2019 — Signed a Statement of Support for people arrested and charged for leaving food and water in the desert for immigrants
    2019 — Congregation organizes phone banks for Reclaim our Vote, reaching out to voters of color
    2019 — Rev. Amy Zucker Morgenstern begins “White Folks Dismantling White Supremacy” anti-racism class
    2019 — In cooperation with Grassroots Ecology, congregation becomes a rain barrel demonstration site, with over 500 gallon capacity 

    2020 — Congregation participates in the Unitarian Universalist Association’s UU the Vote campaign
    2020 — Members of the congregation write thousands of postcards and made hundreds of phone calls to encourage people of color in southern states to register and vote in the 2020 election
    2020 — Due to COVID lockdown, Heart & Home Collaborative homeless shelter remains at UUCPA for 3 months, 24/7
    2020 — Board approves carbon-neutral policy
    2020 — “White Folks Dismantling White Supremacy” class expanded to twice monthly

    2021 — Congregation endorses the California Ballot DISCLOSE Act
    2021 — Congregation receives final approval and launches UUCPA Safe Parking Program, hosting four passenger vehicles in our parking lot, in conjunction with Move Mountain View
    2021 — Board approves plastics reduction policy
    2021 — First all-electric heat pump HVAC system is installed in church office
    2021 — Congregation begins work on proposed 8th Principle on addressing racism and other oppressions
    2021 — Core group takes online Beloved Conversations class from Meadville Lombard Theological School
    2021 — Congregation renews their commitment to being a Welcoming Congregation
    2021 — Congregation adds Showing Up for Racial Justice at Sacred Heart as a monthly Justice Partner

    Update, 11/18/21: Errors corrected, new items added

    Timeline of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Palo Alto

    The seventy-fifth anniversary of the organization of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Palo Alto is in 2022. So I’ve been working on the history of the congregation, starting with a basic timeline.

    Sources for this timeline: Rae Bell’s timeline for the 60th anniversary of the congregation; Annual Reports from 2009-2020; documents in the UUCPA archives; personal reminiscences; denominational sources.

    See the corrected version here, which includes vintage photos.

    Continue reading “Timeline of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Palo Alto”

    A history of UU clergy sexual misconduct

    Loré Stevens won the Unitarian Universalist History and Heritage Society’s History Research Prize for Future Leaders this year. The title of her paper was “‘Strong at the Broken Places’: A History of the First Unitarian Universalist Church of Nashville, 1992-2019.” Some of my readers will remember that during the time from 1992 to 2019, instances of clergy misconduct were uncovered at the Nashville UU congregation.

    Now Deborah Pope-Lance has gotten permission to host this paper on her Web site, here — you’ll have to scroll down past some other papers and essays on clergy sexual misconduct to find the link.

    Highly recommended reading for anyone who wants to know more about the history of U.S. Unitarian Universalism in the past 25 years, or for anyone interested in the recent history of feminism in religion. If you think Unitarian Universalism has made lots of progress in becoming a feminist movement, you’ll be depressed by this paper. On the other hand, if you’re one of those who (like me) has been incredibly frustrated at how little attention has been paid to the intertwined issues of sexism, patriarchy, and clergy misconduct with Unitarian Universalism, you’ll be relieved to read this exposé of the abuse of power by male clergy and how influential and powerful people within Unitarian Universalism have covered it up.

    I’d even say I was delighted to read this paper, not because I’m delighted by clergy misconduct, but because I’m delighted that this subject is finally getting the attention it deserves from historians and others. Thank you, Loré Stevens. Thank you, UUHHS. Thank you, Deborah Pope-Lance for hosting this paper online.

    UU views on christening and dedication, 20th C.

    Amy Morgenstern, the senior minister, and I have been talking about child dedications recently. As we talked, I realized that one of the results of the social process known as “secularization” (which in the U.S. is more of an adjustment away from communal religious organizations to individualized religious practices) is that fewer and fewer people know that there are established communal practices to welcome babies. Even if they do know about such practices as Unitarian Universalist child dedications, they may find it difficult to understand why they would want to have a communal ceremony, within a religious community, rather than something more individualistic.

    This realization has led me to rethink the entire concept of child dedications. After I was born in 1960, I was christened (not dedicated) in a Unitarian church — but what was a Unitarian christening, and was there then a distinctive way of thinking about this naming ceremony? What about Universalist understandings of naming ceremonies? How have Unitarian and Universalist naming ceremonies combined and evolved into Unitarian Universalist naming ceremonies?

    I don’t yet have answers to these questions, but I’ve been collecting relevant historical documents. Without further ado, here are documents from the 20th century that relate to Universalist, Unitarian, and Unitarian Universalist naming ceremonies.

    1903: Unitarian naming ceremony
    1922: Universalist naming ceremony
    1966: Description of Unitarian naming ceremonies
    1999: Description of Unitarian Universalist naming ceremonies

    (Updated 28 Feb 2020: corrections and revisions, added another document)

    Continue reading “UU views on christening and dedication, 20th C.”

    Pete Seeger

    Yesterday would have been Pete Seeger’s one hundredth birthday, had he not died in 2014. In preparation for a Pete Seeger sing-along at church tomorrow, I’ve been reading through the songs in his books “The Bells of Rhymney” and “Where Have All the Flowers Gone, listening to some of his recordings, and reflecting on his legacy.

    He is often remembered as a songwriter, but as a song writer he was at his best when he collaborated with others. “The Hammer Song,” one of his most notable songs, was co-written with Lee Hays, who recalled that the song was written “in the course of a long executive committee meeting of People’s Songs” during which “Pete and I passed manuscript notes back and forth until I finally nodded at him and agreed that we had the thing down” (quoted in Doris Willens, Lonesome Traveler: The Life of Lee Hays [New York: W. W. Norton, 1988], p. 88) — then several years later, the melody of “The Hammer Song” was modified to its most recognizable version when it was recorded by Peter, Paul, and Mary. “Where Have All the Flowers Gone,” while it was written solely by Seeger, has lyrics which are derived from a Cossack folk song. “The Bells of Rhymney” gets lyrics from a poem by Idris Davies. “Turn, Turn, Turn” takes its lyrics from the Biblical book of Ecclesiastes.

    Of the songs which Seeger wrote entirely by himself, both words and music, the best is “Waist Deep in the Big Muddy”; though written about the Vietnam War, the song holds up today (especially if you leave out the sixth verse in which Seeger claims he’s “not going to point any moral,” then does so with a heavy hand). Most of the rest of Seeger’s songs are either forgettable, like “Maple Syrup Time,” a folk music pastorale with sentiments as sickly sweet as the title suggests — or hard to sing, like “Precious Friend” with its awkward rhythm and high notes reachable only by tenors and sopranos.

    Seeger was better as an interpreter and transmitter of traditional songs, as well as songs written in a folk style. He was not impressed by the tradition of Western classical music, and instead dedicated himself to the folk tradition, the tradition of “people’s songs.” As he recalled in his memoir Where Have All the Flowers Gone: A Singalong Memoir:

    “My violinist mother once said, ‘The three Bs are Bach, Beethoven, and Brahms.’ I retorted, ‘For me, they are ballads, blues, and breakdowns.'” (p. 205)

    He loved the folk tradition, and had an encyclopedic knowledge of traditional and traditional-sounding songs — mostly from the Anglo-American and African-American folk song traditions, but he also knew a lot of songs from other traditions. There are many instances where he helped transmit an obscure song into wide popularity. “Wimoweh” is a perfect example of this. In 1948, Alan Lomax gave Seeger a hit record from South Africa titled “Mbube,” written by a Zulu sheepherder named Solomon Linda. Seeger transcribed the music from the recording, misunderstanding the Zulu word “mbube” as “Hey yup boy,” taught it to a newly-formed quartet called The Weavers, and their recording of it hit no 6 on the Hit Parade. Then in 1958, another group, The Tokens, adapted the song further, calling it “The Lion Sleeps Tonight.”

    Seeger particularly liked folk songs, or folk-like songs, with a political message. The one solo recording of his that made it onto the charts was his version of his friend Malvina Reynolds’ song “Little Boxes,” a song that protested the conformity of suburbia. Reynolds included the song in her collection of children’s songs, and for me “Little Boxes” is at its best as a silly sing-along kids’ song. Seeger’s interpretation of the song has a harsher bite to it. I suspect Tom Lehrer had Seeger’s interpretation of the song in mind when Lehrer called “Little Boxes” “the most sanctimonious song ever written” (quoted in Christopher Hitchens, “Suburbs of Our Discontent,” The Atlantic, December, 2008). Seeger was an angry man: angry as the way the Hudson River had been polluted and exploited, angry at the way workers and union members were exploited, angry at the way Congressman Joe McCarthy used red-baiting to silence leftists, angry at the maltreatment of African Americans, angry at all kinds of injustice. He sang songs that helped channel his anger into changing the world for the better. Seeger identified with the poor and down-trodden; yet at the same time he never managed to lose his upper-class accent, though he tried to obscure it by pronouncing “-ing” as “-in,” and frequently dropping the first-person singular pronoun.

    That combination of affected upper-class accent and an identification with the working class still grates on me, and sometimes makes me want to call Seeger sanctimonious. He was a little too sure of his ethical stands, and a little too quick to condemn others. A perfect example of this is when he quit the Weavers. Lee Hays recalled:

    “It came out in the guise of going ahead to do something pure and noble, which had the effect of making the rest of us feel guilty as hell for going on, as if we were doing something wrong…. He just walked out on us, and it was a terrible blow.” (quoted in Doris Willens, Lonesome Traveler: The Life of Lee Hays [New York: W. W. Norton, 1988], p. 182)

    Hays went on to acknowledge Seeger’s “fantastic accumulation of songs”; when Hays first met him, Seeger knew more than 300 songs, ready to sing and play. Seeger’s political activism, coupled with his extremely high moral standards, are an important part of his legacy, but his true genius lies in his passion for song.

    And crucial to Seeger’s genius was his dedication to getting groups of people to sing. Seeger was moderately good performer (though he abused his voice and don’t imitate his vocal style unless you want to ruin your voice), but his talent was small compared to someone like Leadbelly or Woody Guthrie — but he was a genius as a songleader. Seeger didn’t just sing his songs and get off stage; he wanted you to sing along with him, so the song became a part of you. Listen to his concert recordings, and you will hear how he got people to sing freely and unselfconcisously. I heard him sing at several political rallies and demonstrations during the 1980s, and he was brilliant at energizing the crowd by getting us singing; this was a distinct contrast with other singers who treated those political rallies as performances.

    But Seeger’s dedication to getting people to sing for themselves is best exemplified, not in his live performances — which were performances after all — but in his tireless dedication to giving people the tools to sing and play for themselves. His modest 1948 booklet “How To Play the Five-String Banjo” popularized that instrument to an entire generation. He was the guiding genius behind “Sing Out” magazine, a magazine which each month contained a few songs that you could learn to sing and play yourself. And it was his encouragement that got the popular sing-along songbook Rise Up Singing published and popularized.

    So I remember Pete Seeger, not as a songwriter or performer, but as someone who urged us all to sing. For that gift, I can forgive him his sanctimoniousness, and I can forgive him all the sublimo-slipshod songs he wrote. He was a genius at getting us to sing. And singing, for Seeger, was a way for us to make the world a better place; to energize us so we could do the work that needs to be done; to nurture and grow a community founded on harmony and love.

    Happy hundredth birthday to Pete Seeger.

    More on Multimedia Era curriculum kits

    I’ve been trying to figure out why I’ve grown so interested in the multimedia curriculum kits produced by the Unitarian Universalist Association from 1964 to about 1990. I was first attracted by the integration of texts, audio recordings, and visual materials. But I realized I am also attracted by the existential educational philosophy. And I am attracted by the experimental nature of many of the curriculum kits.

    First, some historical background: Continue reading “More on Multimedia Era curriculum kits”

    Ron Hargis, an obscure religious educator

    The story of Ron Hargis, the minister of religious education at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Palo Alto (then called the Palo Alto Unitarian Church) from 1971-1977, offers an interesting insight into the changes facing congregations in the 1970s, particularly the decline in the number of children, and the emergence of new educational approaches.

    Ronald Irving Hargis was born on May 26, 1924, in Battle Creek, Michigan. His father was Gerald C. Hargis (b. Aug. 18, 1896 in Des Moines, Iowa), and his mother was Marian Adelle Howard (b. Mar. 25, 1893 in Newark, New Jersey). I know little about his childhood except that he apparently was raised a Seventh Day Baptist; this denomination observes the sabbath on Saturday.

    Hargis received an A.B. from Western Michigan University. He then moved to Connecticut, where he received a B.D. (1949) and an M.A. (1950) from Hartford Seminary Foundation. He did a student pastorate from 1948-1950 in Waterford, Conn. This congregation was founded in 1784, according to the Seventh Day Baptist General Conference Web site [ accessed 12 June 2013 13:25 PDT] Then from 1950-1952, Hargis served as the Executive Secretary in Religious Education of the Seventh Day Baptist denomination. Continue reading “Ron Hargis, an obscure religious educator”