Ironicschmoozer’s Weblog

Day 2 — UU Heritage Trip to Boston

Lights out at 1 AM–no exceptions!  That was last night, after an all-day flight.  Even though it was only 10 PM in our bodies, all 5 of us guys slept quite well in 2 sets of bunk beds plus one twin bed in a 12 x 12 room.  I assume it was roomier for the ladies, since there were only 3 of them.  Everybody got up by 7:30, cleaned up and headed down to the youth hostel’s kitchen to make ourselves bagels and fruit loops.  None of the kids drank any coffee, which makes it more amazing that they followed me all over and listened to me drone on about the history of the place.  We strolled Boston Common (the oldest public park in the US, originally where Puritans grazed their cattle and hanged Quakers and other heretics), the Public Garden (adjacent to the Common but established 2 centuries later with gorgeous landscaping:  trees, blooming flowers, a lagoon with swan paddle boat rides and real swans too, and monuments to famous Unitarians like Edward Everett Hale and other notable Americans, to the protestors who died in the 1770 Boston Massacre (all five of them), to those with family or other Massachusetts connections who perished on Sept. 11, 2001, on one of the planes that took off from here or from their crashes in NYC and DC).

On Beacon Hill we visited the main building of UUA Headquarters at 25 Beacon Street, right next to  the gold-domed State House (where I pointed out bronzes of Daniel Webster, President Kennedy, Unitarian Horace Mann).  In the UUA we saw the William Ellery Channing landing and his portrait, among those of other 19th century notables) and the Dana McLean Greely library, commemorating the 1st president of the newly merged UUA (1961 to 1968, spanning the most violent and triumphant years of the Civil Rights Movement), and the Eliot Chapel, where a bronze relief commemorated Jimmy Lee Jackson, a young black civil rights worker killed by police in Selma during a march while trying to protect his grandmother; Viola Liuzzo, a white Unitarian from Detroit who transported black men in her car between Selma and Montgomery and was murdered by the KKK, and the Rev. James Reeb, a young Boston minister who went down to Selma for the Voting Rights March to Montgomery with other UU clergy–the night before the march they were attacked by whites after dining in a black restaurant, and Reeb died from the blows.

We met  some young staffers–one from the UUA Office of Bisexual, Lesbian, Gay and Transgender Concerns, who spoke to us about the Welcoming Congregation program, which our congregation had entered several years ago, and two college-age interns from the UUA Youth Programs Office.  The highlight of the day (at least for the 3 adults) was to attend the UUA staff chapel, which happens every Tuesday at 11:30 AM.  Today’s preacher with the Rev. William Sinkford, giving his farewell homily to the staff as he looks forward to leaving office next week when we elect a new president at General Assembly.  Bill completes two 4-year terms.  It was an emotional time for him and many colleagues in the room and those field staff who were watching and participating by phone and internet through Persony (they even sent Joys and Sorrows for the Boston colleagues to hear and light a candle).

We had lunch at a deli and wandered by the old City Hall which originally was the site of the Boston Latin School (which Ben Franklin dropped out of at age 11).  Now it holds several eateries, stores and offices.  After lunch I took them down to the plaza which faces the Old South Meeting House, where Sam Adams and 5,000 other colonists began protesting the British Crown’s tax on tea imports to America and effectively began the Revolution in 1773.  But the striking thing was a memorial to the victims of The Great Hunger, which is what Irish called the potato famine of 1845-50.  Of 8.5 million in Ireland, 1 million starved to death and 2 million fled across the sea to America, but many of them died at sea in crowded and unworthy ships.  Why the famine?  A fungal infestation of crops, English colonial control and absentee landlords in England, who demanded and received rental payment in grain while the peasants died of hunger.  In Boston the early immigrants lived in damp, dirty, crowded conditions near the waterfront and where many infant and other lives were lost.  Help Wanted signs in store windows said Irish Need Not Apply.  The memorial bronze sculptures depict three haggard and agonizing peasants on one side and a group of proud, upstanding Irish Americans, having finally attained inclusion and power.  President Kennedy was descended from refugees from the Great Hunger.

After a gift-shop and Starbucks stop, we went back to the Garden and rested till our 90 minute tour at Arlington Street Church, across from which stands a bronze statue of its founding minister, William Ellery Channing, the “father of American Unitarianism.”  The church is based on an Anglican church design and features family pew boxes with doors throughout the sanctuary main floor (paid pew boxes were originally passed down the generations of a family but eventually democratized by church leaders (not without controversy), becoming first-come, first-served pew boxes).  Louis Comfort Tiffany’s factory made about 13 gorgeous, green-blue-and-white stained glass windows (featuring New Testament scenes but none of the miracles of Christ.  This was in the late 1800s  but the glassmakers went out of business before finishing the job, according to our guide.  (But he also said that Channing’s famous Baltimore Sermon was 2 decades later than it was, so I’m not sure.)  This politically conservative but spiritually radical church did also become a politically radical one in the 1900s:  Civil Rights, Women’s Rights, Reproductive Rights, El Salvadoran political-refugee sanctuary programs, GLBT Rights.  Notable was the Vietnam-era ceremony inviting young men to burn their draft cards together in protest, after which the church gave them extended sanctuary so they could avoid arrest, our guide told us.  Openly lesbian minister KIm Crawford Harvie, known for her charismatic preaching, has been serving ASC 20 years.

This is all build-up to the highlights of the day, and I don’t mean dinner at the bar made famous by the Cheers TV series in the 1980s-90s, which the youth liked even though they had never heard of it and didn’t know the names of any of the stars.

No…our ASC guide took us to the organ and choir loft, where Nate tried his hand at the powerful pipe organ’s keyboard, improvising nicely, after which Jessica played Fur Elise.  They were only briefly perplexed by the many pedals beneath their feet, since organ pedals play notes, unlike the two piano pedals (or so I think).   The youth also got to stand in the enormous high pulpit of Dr. Channing (moved from the original church building when the congregation moved to this one).

Surely the highlight was the trip up the creaky steps (ladders nailed down, really) up into the steeple, stopping in the bell tower.  About 14 ropes came through pulleys and were fastened to a board with numbers.  Each rope, when pulled hard, would ring a bell with a particular note, in a room up higher in the tower.  He took us up to see the bells themselves but a bout of vertigo caused me to stop half way and descend tremblingly back to the room with the ropes.  The others came down after enjoying the priceless views and the youth randomly rang different bell ropes, causing a cacophony that must have had the upscale neighbors scratching or shaking their heads.  Then each of us was told to grab a numbered rope.  The guide called out a series of numbers and we pulled as we heard ours.  The tune was Morning Has Broken, but the numbers came too slowly for it to sound familiar.  Then Tina took over and read us our numbers fast enough so that Cat Stevens or any self-respecting Welsh person walking down Boylston Street would have recognized it.

After the Cheers pub food, this crowd of pilgrims with weary limbs and aching feet made its way back to this bunk-bed United Nations of youth.  It’s 12:30 AM and I am the oldest of all the reading, typing, surfing and chattering lodgers in this kitchen (except for Larry King on the TV set), and I am going to turn in.


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