Boston's Arlington Street was not my
first church experience. I didn't begin to attend Arlington Street
until I was nineteen. I had been part of at least four Unitarian
churches before that, not counting the one I was christened in. But in
those churches I was always Clyde and May's son Clyde Elliot.
Arlington Street was a place where no one knew my parents, and I was one of the young people. Jack Mendelson was minister then. I was not a loyalist. I went to King's Chapel, First Church and Charles Street Meeting House. When I went to San Francisco to finish to college, I went to the Bay area UU churches. When I came back to Massachusetts in 1965 to go Crane Theological School I did my student ministry at Second Church of Boston up in the Fenway.
But I always came back to Arlington Street when I had to think about my life. I first made the decision to go into the ministry there sitting in a pew. It was sitting in that same pew that i decided to leave theological school in 1966 and throw myself into trying to stop the Vietnam war. When I became disillusioned with the leadership of the Unitarian Universalist Association during the Black Empowerment Struggle in 1969 and 1970, I found folks at Arlington Street who agreed with me, and was able to "keep the faith" despite my anger with those who we had designated to lead us. For years I travelled as an organizer, kept myself busy as a justice advocate, and experienced that Arlington Street was there when I had a free Sunday, when I needed to touch base with that childhood faith that kept calling me home.
Finally it was at Arlington Street all most twenty years ago now that I again felt the call to become a Unitarian Universalist minister. At the time, I had so many commitments and it seemed totally out of the question, so many people depended on me. But I was yearning for a way to combine my commitment to social justice and peace with a spiritual understanding. I read for a few years, trying to reconnect with the theological and religious studies that I had given up as irrelevant in the late 60s when the realities of war and racism confronted my liberal faith and found it wanting. Over the next years I began to reconstruct a theology, Unitarian in ancient simplicity — bring God's beloved community to realization, it is present and among us, but we do not see it.
It was at Arlington Street where I was ordained. And I have returned at least once a year.
During this last week I have been there three times, twice for public worship and once for a conversation with my home church's minister. Kim Crawford Hardie and I shared stories of Marjorie. I experience myself as a congregant with her, a colleague and peer to be sure, but she is still my minister. It was good to go home.