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Unitarian Universalist Meeting House of Pittsfield, Maine

(formerly First Universalist Church)

What We Call Ourselves Now

October 4, 2017

 

On Sunday, October 1, 2017 at the Annual Meeting of the First Universalist Church of Pittsfield, members voted unanimously in support of a Formal Resolution to Change Name, changing the name of our congregation to “Unitarian Universalist Meeting House”. The text of the resolution follows:

Because we are affiliated with the Unitarian Universalist Association, have been since 1963, and pay full share dues each year; and

 

Because we consider our congregation a safe and welcoming space for Sunday services and community-centered activities and events including but not limited to the Welcome Table, the Mid-Maine Community Forum, Central Maine Action Group and other community groups, cultural events, and meetings; and

 

Because the name “Meeting House” has historical significance: The “East Pittsfield Union Meeting House” was the site’s non-denominational meeting house in 1857 and “First Universalist Meeting House Society” was established in 1867; and

 

WHEREAS current members met and discussed the idea of name change, collaboratively proposed options, and publicized the options over the course of several months, followed by a congregational vote in which no votes were cast to keep the current name and an overwhelming majority voted to change the name to “Unitarian Universalist Meeting House;” and 

 

WHEREAS the space has regional significance as a gathering place for the surrounding communities of Newport, Troy, Unity, Burnham, Detroit, St. Albans, Hartland, Canaan, and Palmyra; and

 

WHEREAS the structure has both statewide and national historic significance; and

 

WHEREAS the structure is in need of ongoing maintenance, restoration, and major renovation; and

 

WHEREAS pledges and collections from Sunday services and building use rental income have not sustained the church financially since 1988; 

 

THEREFORE, be it resolved that it is the sense of this meeting that our space is underutilized; and 

 

BE IT further resolved that the name "First Universalist Church" is not as inclusive, nor as representative as it could be; and

 

BE IT finally resolved that the name “Unitarian Universalist Meeting House” of Pittsfield is more inclusive and representative of the function, activities, and future of this congregation.

The Journey Begins: Doing Things Differently in Challenging Times

June 9, 2017

It’s been said that work is thus named because it is not play, not rest, not vacation. Our work here at this great big church with no resident minister, a small council, low attendance in a great big, aging building is a tremendous challenge.

 

I am reminded of Wendell Berry’s poem The Real Work and his insight that “…when we no longer know what to do,” we’ve “come to our real work,” “the real journey.” 

 

A few months back, I found myself drawn into the history of the church discovering to my great delight two timelines dating back to our beginnings as the First Universalist Society. Then I started talking with people who have nothing to do with our church, people with skill sets we lack, but that have no tie to our building, faith tradition, or future. The more people I engaged, the clearer it became what an incredible resource our building is - not just to those of us who call ourselves members, but to the Town, the region, and even the state. Further, we’re fortunate to have this small, but determined congregation with a can-do attitude and a willingness to try new things, to fall, and to get back up again. 

 

We can do this. We can sustain our church. But we cannot do it alone.

 

There’s no map or set of directions for how to do this, and there is no guaranteed outcome, but if there’s ever a place for hope and faith, it is here. If ever we needed time to think, to forgive, to make mistakes, to redeem ourselves, it is now. Ours is a place where “we keep idea and possibility alive” as Krista Tippett put it on a recent episode of On Being called “Thinking and Friendship in Dark Times: Hannah Arendt for Now”. 

 

Ours is a place where we take care of one another and hold one another in community, and we do so without absolutes. Ours is an unpredictable future, but one I hope you will join us in as we consider what German Jew and American philosopher Hannah Arendt wrote about and studied: neighborly love. Not the love of desire, or of one’s kin. The kind of love critical for us today is the kind “that says, ‘I want you to be.’” Neighborly love amidst a political and national climate that would have us divided based on difference - color, race, gender, the happenstance of where you were born, political party, you name it. When we hold our space sacred for the acts that make it so, when we think, when we risk becoming, we have possibility and we have a future for which we will work our hearts out.

 

There was a time when this space and everything required to restore and renovate it was, perhaps, too overwhelming to consider. But that time has passed. We’ve begun talking with architects, structural engineers, historic preservation officers, and we’ve begun the process of discovering financial resources. We are stewards of an incredible place, and we’ve inherited that fortunate burden. Despite the work it will take, this is our work now.

    

We are beginning a journey forward, but that journey will look different from anything that’s come before. In order to hold our Unitarian Universalist community together, we have to think differently and do differently. We have to open our doors wider, toot our horns, and welcome people in - people who need space, and time, and quiet, and respite, and motivation, and uplift, and action.

 

All kinds of people.

 

All kinds of welcome.

 

Let’s give it a try.

 

Sunday, June 18, we will hold a congregational meeting at which point we will discuss and vote on financial commitments, building maintenance, and our name. Your input is critical. 

 

This is our journey now; come along.

 

Holly Zadra

Council Moderator

The Spirit of Place

May 28, 2017

There are some readers out there who don’t make it to church too often. Some don’t come at all, and yet, through the grapevine, we’ve heard your curiosity about the health of the church and its future. Gossip is a prayer, and it works in ways we don’t always understand even as we speak it. Like a prayer, these whispered feelings find their way into the genii locorum of our church. 

Yes, I just wrote “genii locorum.” That’s the plural of the noun “genius loci,” a term that architects use to describe the spirit or ambiance of a place often the result of the way light plays on a structure or landscape. But in ancient Rome, the term described a protective spirit within or surrounding a particular landmark or landscape - a kind of guardian angel of place.

It is that genii locorum that speaks to us when we're in the church. It helps, also, to be reading our history and thinking about what it must have been like to see the Universalist Meeting Hall stripped of its steeple and turned 90 degrees; to envision, raise the funds, and then build the sanctuary; to watch the bell be hoisted into place; to see the drapery glass installed panel by panel; to commission paintings by world-famous muralist Harry Hayman Cochrane; to hear the organ played for the first time.

In 1967, the church celebrated its 100th anniversary and, at the time, was inspired for the next 100. Right now, we’ve just begun our sesquicentennial: we’ll celebrate 150 years in 2017. But if we want to continue to celebrate our UU values and principles in that building with those genii locorum, we have to take action.

We recently visited with a structural engineer, architects, and in a week, we'll begin working with Maine Preservation to assess the building inside and out, up to the rafters and down to the basement. We're discussing water penetration and the structural issues as well as the aesthetics of plaster and paint, tapestries and windows. We are stewards of an incredible place and we must address the bones and the skin of our beloved church. We all know this. We’ve been talking about it for years. So we'll begin with assessments, then prioritize, budget, and plan. Then we raise money. We fix the bones, then the skin, then get to work on restoration and usefulness. 

The genii locorum are calling.

If you are interested in history, this church matters: the people who founded Pittsfield also built this church. The Vickerys, Lanceys, Mansons, Parks, and Hathorns are just some of the families who helped establish first the meeting house and then the “First Universalist Society of Pittsfield” with the aim of promoting “liberal Christianity.” This particular church was created by the self-same people that created the wider community of our town. Its founders were the people who made the church what it is today and who also generously bestowed upon us a great responsibility.

If you care about art, this church matters: its architecture, its paintings, its stained glass windows, and the organ that sits at the center of it all are exquisite the likes of which we only occasionally have the opportunity to see in Central Maine.  And this, all in one place, in Pittsfield, Maine, a showcase of what master builders were capable of without cranes and heavy equipment. This church is a gem worthy of our attention. It is a gem with significance to the State of Maine and the history of Unitarian Universalism in the United States.

If you care about Unitarian Universalism, this is the place where we gather to remind ourselves of those values, the place where we join together as a community to reach out to others and practice that vision in the world. It is a place for the faithful and atheists alike, for the hopeful and active, the old and the young. It is place that welcomes all because we are all spiritual seekers navigating an increasingly divisive world. It is sanctuary.

Yes, it will take a lot of money. 

Yes, we will need more than our small congregation to do this. We will need the larger community of Pittsfield, we’ll need statewide resources, and we’ll need help from national organizations, foundations, and philanthropists. 

It’s a big goal, yes. But one I hope you’ll join us in undertaking. 

The genii locorum are calling. Will you answer?


Holly Zadra
Council Moderator

What Do Unitarian Universalists Believe?

Unitarian Universalism affirms and promotes seven Principles, grounded in the humanistic teachings of the world's religions. Our spirituality is unbounded, drawing from scripture and science, nature and philosophy, personal experience and ancient tradition as described in our six sources

The Seven Principles are:

  1. The inherent worth and dignity of every person;
  2. Justice, equity and compassion in human relations;
  3. Acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations;
  4. A free and responsible search for truth and meaning;
  5. The right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large;
  6. The goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all;
  7. Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.

 

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