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Sunday, October 13, 2013

Finding Identities in our Founding

Presented by Rev. Diane Teichert with Bettie Young, Worship Associate


Finding our Identity in our Founding

A sermon preached by the Reverend Diane Teichert

Paint Branch Unitarian Universalist Church

October 13, 2013

 

Two weeks ago, as you may recall, I swapped pulpits with the minister of First Unitarian Church of Baltimore. It was my idea. I’ve arranged another swap for March when we again have five Sundays. I think it’s good for congregations to meet the other UU ministers in the vicinity, and vice versa. I’ve chosen colleagues who I like and respect and who are in some matter of identity different than myself.  It’s also a way for us to get to re-use our favorite sermons!

Well, I had a good time in Baltimore, and I hear you enjoyed him. And, the swap served as a reminder of how I am so glad to be your minister, here in this lovely woodland and modern setting, with our Worship Associates, our Music Director, and with a grand piano and a grand choir!

However, the match between a minister and a congregation is about more than just mere preferences. It is about identity. And, so, in honor of the first Sunday service - on October 17, 1954 - of our predecessor congregation, which met that day and for the next eleven years in barrack-like one-storey buildings on the University of Maryland campus, let’s explore our identity from those early days on.  And then let us wonder about what we want to be like and do a year from now, on the occasion of our Sixtieth Birthday. 

What we know now as PBUUC is one of eight suburban DC congregations spawned between 1943 and 1959 by the fast-growing Unitarian church downtown, All Souls Unitarian. Members from the Takoma Park/Silver Spring/College Park area who wanted to start a church near where they lived were recruited for a Committee on Management with All Soul’s dynamic minister, A. Powell Davies, and other staff and a Board member serving ex officio. The University offered space for Sunday services and the School of Religion (for children and youth) and so we began as the College Park Unitarian Center, with a Board of Trustees independent of All Souls elected the following year. The support from All Soul’s included the telephone-line for receiving and speakers for broadcasting their Sunday services in the College Park location, initial funding, a portable organ, and matching funding when in 1957 they were ready to call their first minister. The congregation was quickly self-sufficient.

On October 17, 1954 there were more children (79) than adults (75) – can you imagine? The baby boom was on!

From the start, the congregation was committed to providing an excellent program for its children and youth – a key identity that is ours still. By winter, there were 98 children and youth; only 22 of them were transplants from All Souls – that’s how quickly the congregation grew. This commitment to providing for children and youth was also expressed ten years later in the design of the first building on this property, which we call the Religious Exploration Building. Many congregations build a sanctuary first and then add religious education classrooms, but our forebears first built adequate space for children, youth, and special programming whereas the worship space (now called the Kelley Room) was already too small when it opened in March 1965, so they held two services and two RE programs every Sunday.

From the start, the arts were an identity for us. With the loan of the organ, the congregation could make its own music rather than just rely on All Soul’s music that came from the speakers. A choir was organized within two years; instrumental talents emerged too. Drama began somewhat later, and in 1960-61, members interested in modern dance first came together, dancing in people’s homes; the rented space was too small to allow for liturgical performances. After the RE Building opened, the art displays in the worship space began (and continue to this day) and studio space was provided in the first ten years, the choir, instrumental music, and dancing strengthened.  

Social issues were of concern from our early days, another identity.  In 1957, the College Park Unitarian Center started a Fellowship for Social Action with the stated purpose being “To provide a fellowship for united action against all forms of social injustice, and to enable its members and friends to sustain one another the application of their religious ideals to the needs of the day.”  Among its early successful projects was the desegregation of the nursery at Prince George’s General Hospital. And they joined with others to eliminate racial segregation in housing. Forty members and the first minister participated in the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom; and in 1965 he and ten members traveled to Montgomery, Alabama to be in the Unitarian Universalist contingent in the Freedom March.

There are two other identities I want to mention that can be, I think, traced to the beginning of this congregation.

One is the appreciation for its ministers. Likely stemming from the respect they felt for the Alls Souls minister, A. Powell Davies, the College Park Unitarians moved very quickly to call their first minister, which they did in 1957, and to build a parsonage for him, which they did a year later, even though they still met on Sundays in the rented space on the campus. In turn, ministers have served for longer than the average seven-year stay, and seem to have felt good about their ministries with the congregation. I too have felt appreciated and trusted, and am very glad of that.  

Another early identity is more difficult to pinpoint, but I think Bettie’s summation at the end of her Chalice Reflection today characterizes it well:  “good people doing good things.” This has never been a congregation of high-income people able to do very fine costly things. And so the congregation has waited and labored for its achievements, with sweat equity and cost-saving decisions. For example, it rented its Sunday space, yet continued to grow in membership and vitality, for ten years before it built its first building on the land it owned for seven or so years already, for example.  Every accomplishment is more of a struggle when the funds are hard to come by, yet the good people here persevere.

A good example of this is the major refurbishment of the deck this past summer, after two decades of volunteer labor and patchwork-hired jobs. We will celebrate this success immediately after the service today with Theresa Myrdon’s homemade cake and by thanking the former members whose gift to the church financed the project, Kenneth Jenkins and Mary Ellen Martinez, and the current members who were the brains behind the work, especially Lowell Owens who figured out in detail what exactly had to be done, Lee Dudek who managed the planning process as past-chair of the Buildings and Grounds Committee, and Donald Mitchell, Board liaison to the project who oversaw the work of the contractor. It’s good to party after a job well-done!

I gleaned most of the historical information I have shared today from a booklet “The First Twenty-five Years of Paint Branch Unitarian Church” written by church members late Walker and Emily Dawson. But now I’d like to turn to some of you.

I’d like to ask those who were members of the congregation in the first ten years to stand. I’d like to bring the microphone over to you and ask you a few questions. So you can think of what to say while I’m coming over, the first question will be:  how would you characterize the College Park Unitarians at the time you first attended? What nouns, adjectives, adverbs, or verbs describe the congregation you remember from that time? Who did you find here? What did you become and do together?

[Due to time constraints, the following two paragraphs were deleted. Instead, people were asked to stand according to the decade in which they first attended PBUUC, but were not interviewed about their recollections.

Now, what about those of you who first attended in the first decade in the RE Building, between 1964 and 1973? What adjectives and nouns, adverbs and verbs describe the congregation you remember from that time? Who did you find here? What did you become and do together?

1974 to 1983?  1984 to 1993, which was the decade leading up to the construction of this beautiful Meeting House that opened in 1991?   1994 to 2003, which ended with the fire that closed the RE Building for six months? 2004 to 2013?]

As we look toward our sixtieth anniversary in 2014, what adjectives and nouns, adverbs and verbs will describe us at that time?

As your minister, I hope that our worship will be increasingly deep and increasingly vibrant, and my sermons less-dependent on text, with a house band and amazing adult, youth and children’s choirs regularly, young people and men of any age in the Chalice Dancers.

I hope for new volunteers in RE, the Membership Team, and Buildings and Grounds Committee, We Care, and plenty of help in all the other essential aspects of congregational life.

I hope we will have sought congregational input, and developed a fundraising strategy, for site improvements like a new parking lot, new playground and a memorial garden as phase one… toward phase two, a building expansion that will connect our two buildings, provide a larger foyer and more bathrooms, with an elevator and handicapped exit to the lower level, dell and woods behind.

I hope we will have become more active as a multigenerational community, launched our tutoring program, revitalized the Spirit of Life Center, helped pass the Transgender Rights bill, and be growing in vitality and in members and increasingly engaged with and representative of the communities surrounding us.

And, I hope everyone will be back to work and loving their jobs…!, with universal health care, really great public schools in low-income communities, no more school to prison pipeline, lots of bike lanes, a huge reduction in carbon emissions, no more gerrymandering, election reform, increased taxes on the top 1%...

 

Oops, that’s a lot for only 52 weeks… I got carried away!

As we celebrate our birthday, our identity, and our accomplishments, may our hopes continue to fire our commitment. Amen.

Song #1028 in the teal songbook, The Fire of Commitment.

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Paint Branch Unitarian Universalist Church • 3215 Powder Mill Road • Adelphi, Maryland 20783-1097
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