Sixty years ago this year, emulating Ralph Waldo Emerson, I drove out Route 2 from Cambridge to begin my teaching career at the Peter Bulkley Junior High School on Stow Street. Peter Bulkley was the first minister of First Parish, then more a Calvinist den of retribution—crime and Puritan punishment—than a UU gathering place.
Carolyn and I have lived in Carlisle for almost all of those years, about half of which as members of First Parish. Our neighbor Eunice Knight told us that we had to hear this preacher named Gary Smith. We came. We listened. An hour later we signed the book.
First Parish is our theological, spiritual, and often our social home. We UU’s are not trinitarians, which is to say we do not recognize in our liturgy the divinity of Jesus. We are just what the word says, Unitarians, smack in the Jewish tradition of one God: “Sh’ma Yisra’eil Adonai Eloheinu Adonai echad. Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.” Take apart the Hebrew words for Yom Kippur, the holiest day in the Jewish calendar, the Day of Atonement, and we have the day of at one ment. We are right at home here, true to the tradition we came with, and only a short walk from that old school building. Einstein said that there are no coincidences.
At First Parish we feel at one with dozens of our fellow parishioners and, if you will, with God. We are all in this together. Remember what Howard did even before we paid him a cent? He turned around and wrote us back a check. What an example of giving, of recognizing that, as Jenny used to remind us, this place is not a charity. If we come here regardless of the venue or the reasons we must dedicate our resources to not only its maintenance and health but also to its very existence.
Our family gives half of our annual charitable contributions to First Parish, which is to say that to this one institution we give as much each year as we do to the two or three dozen other places on our list. Once or twice we have had to borrow money to honor the request and now our habit of a little more every year. First Parish is in our will.
Finally, check out once again our benediction, which is why First Parish first gathered in 1635—imagine just a few years after the Pilgrims found Plymouth—and has survived fire and flood to still be here going out into the world, having courage, holding on to what is good and treating all beings as what they are: creatures of this marvelous creation called life and world.
As William Faulkner said in his Nobel Prize Acceptance Speech, we will do more than merely survive. First Parish will prevail. When we signed the book we agreed to support this institution which runs partly on faith, but faith does not pay the bills. Amen.