Every year we take the Coming of Age class on a pilgrimage. We call it ‘the Boston trip.’
It’s not only one of the highlights of the year, for me, but it is a source of inspiration and renewal.
We want our young people to learn about our roots and to appreciate our heritage – it’s a great privilege for me to be part of that process. I wish you had been with us last weekend, but you weren’t, so let me tell you a little about what we did this year.
First of all, we got the weather we wanted, and that makes a big difference. Boston and Lexington and Concord were a little on the cool side – just right for walking, and we do a lot of it.
As usual, we began with a brown-bag lunch on Boston Public Gardens, then walked to the statue of William Ellery Channing, often referred to as ‘the father of Unitarianism in America.’ Standing in front of Channing, who I like to point out was five feet two, I read some key lines from his famous sermon, Unitarian Christianity, delivered in 1819, in which he set forth basic Unitarian ideas about the nature of God, Jesus, and the Bible:
“We believe in the doctrine of God’s UNITY,” he said, as distinguished from the doctrine of the Trinity, which makes God ‘three distinct persons.’ “Each of these persons, as described by theologians, has his own particular consciousness, will, and perceptions.”
“We complain of the doctrine of the Trinity, that, not satisfied with making God three beings, it makes Jesus Christ two beings, and thus introduces infinite confusion into our conception of his character.”
He said, “The Bible is a book written for men (sic) in the language of men, and that its meaning is to be sought in the same manner as that of other books (and) requires the constant exercise of reason.”
Then we go into the church Channing served for 39 years, now called Arlington Street Church. This year we were greeted by the music director, Miguel Felipe who talked about the Tiffany stained glass, inviting the group to walk around to each of the sixteen windows, then he gave a wonderful organ demonstration, pulling out all the stops, as he said. To top it off, he took our group up the sixteen-story steeple and bell tower where he invited them to play the bells.
I was reminded of the old adage: “I hear and I forget, I see and I remember, I experience and I understand.” We go to our roots so they can experience, hoping to increase their understanding.
From there we walk across the Public Gardens, cross over to Boston Common, and climb Beacon Hill to the headquarters of our Unitarian Universalist Association, or ’25,’ as it’s called because it is located at 25 Beacon Street. “I see and I remember.”
On our way to King’s Chapel I point out the Robert Gould Shaw memorial, a sculpture depicting the Unitarian, Shaw, leading the 54th Massachusetts Regiment during the Civil War – the 54th was the first Black regiment in the Union Army. Shaw, 25, died with 270 of his men at Fort Wagner, South Carolina. William Carney was the first African-American to receive the Congressional Medal of Honor, awarded posthumously in 1900.
From there it’s off to King’s Chapel, the most traditional Unitarian congregation in America which boasts the oldest pulpit in continuous use on the same site in the United States. In 1785 King’s Chapel became the first church in America to adopt a Unitarian theology, removing all references to the Trinity, but otherwise maintaining the Book of Common Prayer to this day.
The guide took us down to the crypt that contains dozens of human remains where she told some ghost stories, asserting that many people believe the basement is haunted by a friendly ghost.
The next stop is the New England Holocaust Memorial next to Faneuil Hall. The six glass towers, erected in 1995, are engraved with six million numbers to symbolize the six million Jews killed in the Holocaust. Each tower symbolizes a different camp and together symbolize the menorah.
Then our Coming of Agers have some free time at Quincy Market where they have a wide choice of food for dinner and snacks as well as getting a feel for Boston with its street performers.
We gather at the statue of Sam Adams to go to the retreat center for the night. This year we had a speaker from the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee, Nichole Cirillo, talk about the work of the UUSC, engaging them in a game about the economics of poverty.
After a late-night youth-led worship service it’s lights out, then up early to begin the Lexington and Concord leg of the tour, starting at Follen Church, named for its first minister, Charles Follen, who never got to see the building he designed since the ship on which he was crossing the Long Island Sound from New York to Connecticut caught fire and sank. Like most of the passengers, Follen went down with the ship.
Emerson preached the dedication sermon at Follen Church and filled the pulpit many times as he made the transition from parish minister at Second Church in Boston to full-time lecturer. It’s my favorite stop – a homecoming – since I served Follen Church for 2 ½ of my three years at Boston University School of Theology, living in the parsonage next to the sanctuary.
While the Coming of Age class sits in the pews designed by Follen, in which folks before them listened to Emerson, I introduce them to the religious teaching of our most well-known minister, Ralph Waldo Emerson, using passages from his Divinity School Address.
My favorite lines include the following: “Who does a good deed is instantly ennobled. Who does a mean deed is by the act itself contracted. If a man (sic) dissemble, deceive, he deceives himself, and goes out of acquaintance with his own being.”
“Jesus said in his jubilee of sublime emotion ‘I am divine. Through me, God acts; through me, speaks. Would you see God, see me; or, see thee, when thou thinkest as I now think.’”
Next we visit the graves of Emerson and Thoreau at Sleepy Hollow Cemetery in Concord, where each member of the class reads a quote from Emerson. We go from there to Walden Pond, where we stand together in the replica of Thoreau’s little cabin which he built himself spending $28.12 ½.
We hike to the site of Thoreau’s cabin where we share quotes from him and review the trip.