It was a beautiful day. Dry. Cool, but not cold. Twenty-six of us boarded the bus in Westport to set out for our great adventure-our pilgrimage to Boston.
I’ve made the trip many times, of course. But, as Zorba said, “Each time is the first time.” I felt the excitement, the sense of anticipation, and a level of anxiety I compare to the tension on the strings of a cello. I love to watch Carlyn tuning her instrument before beginning another Bach piece. You can’t play the tune without the right tension on each of the four strings.
As we pulled out of the church driveway I stood up to talk about where we were going and what we’d do when we got there. One thing led to another and I launched into what they later referred to as my two and a half hour sermon.
Actually I read what I consider the most cogent passages of Channing’s Baltimore sermon, Unitarian Christianity, which launched the Unitarian movement in America in 1819. He said, “We object to the doctrine of the Trinity, that, whilst acknowledging in words, it subverts in effect, the unity of God.”
Then people started asking wonderful questions, which led me to summarize Theodore Parker’s famous sermon, The Transient and Permanent in Christianity, which caused a storm of religious controversy among Unitarians in 1841. The only reason Parker wasn’t excommunicated from the Unitarian Ministers Association was the ministers’ fear that they would be establishing a theological test for Unitarians, and they didn’t want to do that. So they simply, but cruelly, shunned Parker.
Before we knew it the bus was going through the last toll on the Mass Pike, with my alma mater, Boston University School of Theology, in sight. That’s when the bus slowed to a stop. Pat, the driver, pulled into the right lane, then began backing up a hundred yards to get off the highway. As he backed up I saw a big puddle of oil (which turned out to be transmission fluid) on the ground.
We were ten minutes ahead of schedule, but I saw the handwriting on the wall. “You are going to be hours behind before you even begin,” I thought. That’s when Mike pulled up with an empty bus and stopped in front of us. Pat and Mike talked, Mike called his dispatcher, and the next thing we knew we were on Mike’s bus headed for Arlington Street Church, our first stop. We didn’t need a bus for eight hours, since we do a walking tour of Boston’s Unitarian sites.
I thanked Mike profusely and he said, rather casually, “Hey, I couldn’t drive past you guys with an empty bus. I don’t have to be at South Station until one o’clock. I’m early. I’m going right by the place you guys are going-I know that church, it’s on the corner of Boylston across from the Boston Public Gardens.”
Why couldn’t Mike just drive by? He had no ulterior motive in stopping. We were on a religious pilgrimage, to get at our Unitarian roots. We were treated to a perfect example of the roots of what we call the religious ingredient that is in all of us, potentially. That was our forebears’ point.