I am looking out over the Manhattan skyline from a Brooklyn Heights parsonage. I can see where the Staten Island Ferry docks, and where the Brooklyn Bridge enters Manhattan and I can see the Empire State Building further up Manhattan. Beneath the Empire State Building is the location of community church.
I am in New York until the Memorial Service for Marjorie on Saturday.
My New York City visits go back to the early 1960s. I was here when
Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated and I was part of the huge
demonstration the next day, I was here for anti Vietnam war rallies,
and large meetings in solidarity with the overthrown democratically
elected government of
Chile. Most of my New York adventures were on the upper West Side in those days.
Later I lived a few months in Chelsea, and visited friends here
frequently driving from Boston and parking in the space of a friend who
lived in a co-op who had a parking space but no car.
When I meet Marjorie I got to know the East Side a little better, I would come down from Quebec and we would see the city. I remember the trip to Union Theological School for a lecture, it was cold and it involved a lot of transfers. The lecture I have forgotten, but that trip was an adventure. Marjorie travelled all over the city.
I know Boston so much better, but this city has been very much a part of my life. I will consider the next few days as if it were a pilgrimage, reconnecting with so many events over so many years.
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.
I have been in Boston for a week
tomorrow. I have been visiting friends. I have been checking in at
the UUA. I came up to Boston just after the funeral last Saturday.
When I came I was disoriented. Grieving. Tired. Very tired. I was coming down with a cold. The cold lingers. I am less disoriented. I have embraced the grieving, it doesn't possess me like last week. I experience myself owning the grief, and being deliberate about the process. I know I will still find myself overwhelmed and taken by aching sorrow. But right now it is more a sweet sorrow, a contemplative sigh.
Talking to people who knew Marjorie
is good for the soul, good for the grieving. Thanks to all who gave of
their time. One good friend observed that those I meet with, knew
Marjorie as well, and that the sharing of stories with me was part of
their grieving as well. She asked if that was difficult for me. I
answered no. I find being alone more difficult, talking with others
about Marjorie is healing.
I lived in Boston and its vicinity for most of my adult life. Being here, trying to navigate by rapid transit and bus, walking from the bus to this church, and that headquarters building has been a revelation. My body has become accustomed to a warmer, dryer winter than Boston presents. This is a warm day for Boston, but it is too cold and damp for me.
My soul loves Boston, but my body wants to be in LA. I think I will schedule my Boston visits for the warmer times in the future.