You are here

Moments and Circumstances: Unclean Spirits, Following Jesus and the State of the Church

Rev. Nancy S. Taylor
Feb 1 2015


Five years ago, the members of this church gathered for a special meeting to consider and vote upon the proposed Vision for the 21st Century.

The Vision—a substantial and aspirational document forged over months and years of listening, praying, discerning. Finally, our prayer-bathed Vision for the 21sth Century was adopted without dissent.

In adopting the Vision, we agreed together first and foremost that this old 1875 vessel, this venerable ship of faith (moored here on the corner of Boylston and Dartmouth) while not sea-worthy in 2010, while in need of massive repairs, was nevertheless our vessel of choice … that it was our single most visible and useful platform and springboard for our progressive Christian witness. And therefore, we would undertake to make it shipshape for 21st century ministries.

And so it was, under the brilliant leadership of the Trustees and Council, with special thanks to Phil Stern and Mark Schueppert, to Brigitte Fletcher, Tom Grant, Dan Bergstresser, Debby Kuenstner, and David Vogan, money was procured, and this old vessel was winched into dry dock. Under the leadership of Paul Kuenstner and Roger Burke and Helen McCrady, massive repairs were made, most below the water line.

Today, free of deferred maintenance and with the plans and means to keep up with costs, this ship sails.

And, as the ship was being repaired in dry dock we readied ourselves. Under the leadership of Karen Hand and the Two Ministers Search Committee, we called John Edgerton and Anthony Livolsi to help us get underway.

Through the Christian Education Committee,—especially Maren Batalden, Kim Nichols and Anthony Livolsi—we took on board, for the first-time in living memory, a full-time, seminary trained Director of Children and Family Ministries, Kate Nintcheu.

To accommodate our burgeoning population of children and youth, we launched a magnificent, experiential, Bible-based curriculum and doubled our children’s music program. We launched Community Hour, an intergenerational, experiential platform for Christian formation … bridging First and Festival Worship … bringing those two congregations into relationship.

This ship sails.

Since the Vision for the 21st Century was launched, our Theologian in the City, along with leaders like Vard Johnson, Ruth Purtilo, and Deb Washington, have carried us into prison ministries and forced us to face and grapple with the New Jim Crow, solitary confinement, mass incarceration, and more.

Meanwhile, Lorry Spitzer, Ted Wade, Ruth Purtilo, and Jim Brown have forced us to face the specter of environmental injustice, the warming of God’s beautiful and fragile creation, the catastrophic melting of the planet’s ice and the diminishment of livable habits.

This ship sails.

Recently, under John Edgerton’s leadership, no less than 175 of you have engaged in small group conversations about what matters most deeply in your lives. From these conversations will be shaped new ministries, informed by real-time problems.

Our Outreach Committee, led by Ruth Ricker, has rearranged the Outreach deck. In the past year, we raised more volunteers, provided more material support, participated in more public policy advocacy, wrote more postcards … and made more of a difference in Christ’s name, than ever before.

This ship sails.

Diane Gaucher and Marilyn Jackson Adams dreamt up and delivered the Marathon Scarf Project … challenging a homemade bomb with knitting needles by converting violence into yarn, and hatred into comfort … involving persons from nearly every state in the nation and many countries … and wrapping over 7000 of last year’s runners in scarves, each one stitched with love and courage. This was the second most read and commented on story in the UCC in 2014.

The comfort of the Marathon Scarf Project has been matched and supplemented by the tenderness and reach of Caroline Murray’s Congregational Care and Support team: a multitude of care givers, card writers, ride givers and food deliverers.

This ship sails.

They say that a rising tide lifts all boats. But, the hard fact is that the tide is not rising for the poorest among us. And, what is more, many of poor do not even have a dinghy to call their own. So, when an act of the City of Boston wrenched 750 of Boston’s most vulnerable people from Long Island’s shelters and services, dumping them on the mainland in the midst of a bitter Boston winter … dumping them in a parking lot in the dark, without having planned for their accommodations: you rose to the challenge.

Three weeks ago, with the help of more of you than we can count, we opened the first Boston Warm Day Center. Within days of announcing this venture, 193 members of this church had signed up to volunteer. From the moment of its opening, our Day Center has been full to capacity, serving a desperate need. And our guests—the poorest of the poor, the illest of the ill, the most forlorn of the forlorn—have expressed nothing but profound gratitude.

David Albaugh and Rebecca Bowler, our Day Center Administrators, both members of Old South Church, if you could see them in action … if you could see them conversing with, comforting, and assisting the Long Island Refugees, it would make you weep for pride and joy.

And what can I say of Ted Wade and Bill Adams, who rented U-Hauls and drove all over New England procuring the secure storage lockers that are so important to those who not only have no place to lay their heads … but no means to unburden their backs from all their worldly possessions?

And, what can I say of Deacons Debbie Leonard, Russ Gregg, and Lauren Burke, and Trustees Tom Wetherald and Phil Stern, or Mercedes and Saroja, who sweated and labored in the foulest filth and mildew, who swabbed and scrapped, to prepare the Day Center for its new ministry?

This ship sails.

Under the leadership of Harry Huff and Shawn Fiedler, we launched our fourth weekly worship service: Evening Worship. The average age of the Evening Worship congregation? Twenty something.

This ship sails.

When the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson MO became the straw that broke the nation’s racist back, we gathered up our 1000 hand folded paper cranes. Paper cranes hand delivered to us after the Marathon bombings by the UCC ministers in Newtown CT … Paper cranes that travel from one epicenter of human violence to another as a plea for and a witness to peace … When the death of Michael Brown revealed the wounds of racism—fresh and raw these wounds—we lowered a skiff from this great ship of faith.

Piloted by our young seminarian, Kate Rogers, she navigated her skiff to Ferguson and delivered the cranes in person to the UCC church there … a church at the epicenter of that violence. Its pastor, the Rev. Traci Blackmon was quoted in the Boston Globe saying: “It’s absolutely phenomenal … a constant, tangible reminder that there are others that are praying with you, and you are not alone.”

We have followed this event with searching conversations on White Privilege led by Nancy Richardson.

This ship sails.

This past year alone, this pulpit was graced by the like of His Excellency, Deval Patrick, Mayor Marty Walsh, Bishop Tom Shaw (may he rest in peace), and the courageous Rev. Frank Schaeffer.

This ship sails.

Is our influence felt? Our progressive Christian voice heard? Does our Open Door matter? You bet.

Old South is regularly turned to by the media for comments. The stories we live are reported in the news.

Old South members serve throughout the wider church:

Vard Johnson, Board of Directors, MACUCC / John Edgerton: UCC’s Daily Devotional, Chair of MBA Committee on Ministry, a go-to leader in GBIO / Kate Leahy, Treasurer, Metropolitan Boston Association of the Massachusetts Conference of the UCC while June Cooper serves on the Council / Ted Wade represents us on Cooperative Metropolitan Ministries/ Brad Swing represents us on the board of City Mission Society / on the board of the Congregational Library are Roger Burke and Wayne Grant / Bill Ghormley is a trustees and the treasurer of the Benjamin Franklin School of Technology / Tracy Keene is a delegate to this summer’s General Synod of the UCC.

I serve on Dean’s Advisory Council at Yale Divinity School and was recently appointed to chair a little task with a big title: the Revitalization of Christianity. (The Dean appears to have great confidence in me.)

In the end, when you consider our Vision for the 21st Century, maybe it is preparing us to care more about the storms raging inside damaged human minds ... than any nor’easter, hurricane or blizzard.

Maybe, in the end, our Vision for the 21st Century is not so much about providing the hungry with food … although that is necessary. Maybe it is about how God is calling us, together and as individuals, to the work of nursing both our planet and our fellow human beings back from hell.

Maybe our Vision for the 21st Century is teaching us that, while some of the tangled people who are drawn to our Open Door appear for all the world to be ruined …. Maybe such ruined human beings can be saved … and maybe all those storm-tossed souls, those foundering souls, those souls listing precariously … maybe even these souls can be righted.

Old South Church: Our vessel is seaworthy and outfitted for this 21st Century voyage.

Our crew is trained, eager, faithful, and highly skilled.

We are a cathedral church of the United Church of Christ, a strong example of a thriving ministry … proof that you can be a follower of Jesus and progressive, profoundly faithful and radically welcoming, biblical and enlightened … that you can be Christian without claiming to possess the whole truth (about God or anything else for that matter).

Today, at the half-way point of the Vision for the 2st Century, we are asking: How do we bring the Vision home? Where will our next voyage take us?

If you are new and hearing all this for the first time, it is not too late to come aboard.

If you have been around for a while, if you have your sea legs, reach out and pull aboard new crew.

The Church of Benjamin Franklin … the church of the first anti-slave tract on this soil …the church of Phillis Wheately and the Boston Tea Party …. we are 345 years young.

And this ship sails!