F1 Fifty Years of NSUU – Part I

Note: this and the following chapter describe Northshore Unitarian Universalist Church (NSUU) in Danvers, up through our building’s semicentennial in 2017. The story was created by many hands, so we tell it here in many voices.  See the end of the chapters for the contributors’ names.

Rev. Edwin Lynn, commenting on the 50-year history of our church, wrote,

“Our history is not only made up of many church programs and services, as well as changes made to the building, but most important are the people who have been nourished  by the Northshore UU Church in many ways – the children who have grown up in our affirmative religious education program, the many members who have been supported through difficult times, those members who have shared of their talents in our Sunday services, and others who have shared their joyous celebrations with us. We honor all those who have been a part of our church community during these years, and we welcome into our community the many new members who will be a part of creating our next 50 years.”

Continuity

At the Celebration of our Locust Street building’s 50thanniversary on November 5, 2017, Bob Bullivant remarked: ” We have had only 4 settled ministers and 3 of them are here today.”[1]

[1] Rev. Charles Wilson was to die unexpectedly only five months after this anniversary celebration.

Rev. Charles Wilson, Rev. Julie Lombard, and Rev. (Em.) Edwin Lynn, at NSUU Semicentennial service in 2017

The NSUU Dedication Service was held in the new building on October 29, 1967, with Rev. Charles Wilson, our first minister, officiating. He became the minister in 1966 while the members were meeting at the Park St. Church in Peabody while waiting for NSUU to open. He served until 1971.

Rev. Edwin Lynn was called here in 1972 and served as our minister for 33 years during the time of our greatest growth. When he retired in 2005, we voted to name him Minister Emeritus (worthy of great honor) and when the fellowship hall was updated in 2002, it was named in his honor.

Rev. Frieda Gillespie was the minister here from 2008 to 2014. She became very ill during her time with us and needed an extended absence to recover her health. Much later, when the board decided we could only afford a half-time minister, she chose to move on.

Our newest and current minister is Rev. Julie Lombard. We met her at a Unitarian Universalist Association seminar in Reading in April, 2015, and talked her into applying for this job even before she became ordained. Her contagious enthusiasm is helping us to grow again.

Worship and Celebration

Rev. Lynn occasionally used slides and visual presentations.  Friday evening candlelight services were unique with music and readings.  Sharing services and Roots services were started in order to provide members with an opportunity to share their concerns and experiences.  In the 90s, summer services and Cares and Celebrations time within services provided more opportunities for sharing.  The Christmas season began an active schedule that included a Christmas Workshop, a Solstice Service, a service of seasonal music, and the most highly attended service of the year — the Christmas Eve candlelight service.

After Ed Lynn’s retirement, a Religious Services committee was formed to coordinate Sunday services and support the minister on Sundays.  Typically one Sunday per month the pulpit would be filled by a guest minister or lay speaker invited by the committee.  Until 2010 or so, it was the custom to suspend services over the summer; but in later years the Religious Services committee recruited church members to present summer services on a topic of their choice.  Some very intriguing and meaningful services have been held during the summers, and some of the services are so successful that there is a request to repeat them during the regular church year.

Sunday service at Northshore Unitarian Universalist Church, Danvers, 2017

Music

Judy Putnam, our esteemed Music Director, has been making magic on the NSUU piano for the past 50 years.[1]  She played at the Dedication Service in 1967 and has been leading choirs and arranging our hymns ever since.

The bell choir was begun under Judy’s leadership[2].  The recorded music, often used in the 70’s, evolved into an active program of using guest musicians in services.  Best known musicians were Bonnie Anderson, now a member, and Eliot Markow.  Members Beth and Ed Bowerman left a financial bequest to the church to allow the tradition of guest soloists to continue.

In 2017 we hired Helen Brandt as Choir Director; Helen and Judy created Soul Song, the hospice choir, in 2014, and Helen leads the group of NSUU members and community friends in performing at nursing homes, sickbeds, and hospice facilities.

[1]In fact, much longer than 50 years; the piano was a gift to the Peabody Universalist Church and Judy grew up playing for Sunday School services.
[2]Thanks to a gift of handbells by church members Walter and Arlene Row.

Religious Education

An appealing element of the church was our progressive religious education (RE) program in an attractive woodland setting.  Enrollment peaked at around 90 children and young adults.  In the early years, the program was unique in that it was all-volunteer where members were the teachers and coordinators of the program.  Kate Stuart (Kae Gamble) was the volunteer coordinator for many years and became the first paid RE Director. The program was enhanced by the RE children presenting animated children’s stories during the beginning of special services.

Another feature of religious education was a spring trimester of classes where members taught and shared their special interests and skills.   An active youth group was formed and the Coming of Age program begun. We also offer our youth participation in the Our Whole Lives (OWL) program.  The Unitarian Universalist Association and the United Church of Christ developed OWL in the 1990’sas a sex education program designed for congregations.

Small Group Ministry

Around 2008 we instituted the practice of “Small Group Ministries”, a way for members to explore their spirituality together in a more intimate setting than Sunday services.

Groups of 8-10 NSUU members meet regularly and take turns leading the discussion, according to a standard format, with a different topic for each meeting.  The groups have persisted, or dissolved and reformed, for the last decade.  Small Group Ministry has meant many different things to its various members; for example, two comments on this practice are as follows:

I have found my experience of Small Group Ministry to be one of the most rewarding in the recent years of my life.  The aspect that makes it work so well is the rule that when one person is speaking everyone else must remain silent.  It has not only made it easier more and comfortable for me to speak when it is my turn to share, but also it has made me a better listener.  Over the years I feel that this sharing has brought us a closer and more intimate connection with each other.

and

I asked to join a Small Group a couple of years ago, when I thought it fitted into my caregiving schedule.  I wanted a forum where I could have discussions on some serious topics with people outside my family.  It worked out very well that the Small Group has served me as emotional support as well, through the bumpy spots of the last couple of years.  Also, I have enjoyed developing friendships further through the SGM sharing process.

Practicalities

During the past 50 years, the church has had a tight budget, but always balanced. The income from Early Discoveries Daycare, fundraisers, and most recently, the cell tower have provided substantial income. The church has had amazing continuity in its office staff for the past 50 years; for example, Winnie Woodward served as secretary from 1966, followed by Nancy Paskowski, who began in 1993 as church administrator.  (Nancy had attended the Danvers Community Church as a child.)

Over the years the building has been constantly improved. The interior’s plain block walls were painted, an additional parking lot added, a brick courtyard built, the memorial bell relocated, and a new Locust Street sign was added.

A major change to the building took place in 2001; the fellowship hall was added and named for Rev. Edwin Lynn upon his retirement.

The initial idea for the project came from a couple in the church—Laura Frankenstein and Mark Mengel.  Mark became co-chair or of the fund drive with David Bertelli.  The building committee, which was chaired by Jennifer Revill, interviewed eight architectural firms and selected Luna Architects in Lynnfield.  The fund-raising committee raised over $400,000.

Before we added the Fellowship Hall, the church had a small entry approximately 15 feet wide that led to crowding on Sundays.  The initial plans called for some major changes to the Meeting Room, including moving the exit door and adding more windows, but the bids for the project came in at over $600,000.  Luna Architects were reluctant to make substantial changes to their plans in order to reduce the costs.  Fortunately, architect Thad Siemasko, who was a member of the church, felt that the Luna firm had unnecessarily designed the Fellowship Hall with a steel structure; he felt the Hall could be code-compliant and built of wood at a substantial saving.

Ken Savoie, also an architect in the congregation, agreed to redesign the building using wood and making other cost saving changes.  The project was sent out for bids again and came in at a little over $400,000.  The final project included the Fellowship Hall, a skylight, repaired and painted walls in the sanctuary, a new fire detection system and a handicap-accessible toilet.

Eva Turner, a member of the Peabody Universalist Church, and later the Park Street Church and finally of NSUU,had made many important contributions of her talent over her lifetime.  Upon her death she left her house to NSUU, and this allowed us, after nearly 45 years, to fully repave the parking lots and the drive, which we named “Eva Turner Way.”

A Sociable Community

The Ferry Beach weekend became a very popular church retreat in the ’70’s, with attendance reaching the high point of 150 adults and children.  This was held at the Unitarian Universalist retreat center at Ferry Beach in Saco, Maine. We joined together in cooking our own meals. Jim Lynch was often the lead cook.  In recent years, with changing demographics, recreation and socialization habits, and church membership, we have often joined with another UU congregation to enjoy Ferry Beach together.

NSUU families gather on Quillen Porch at Ferry Beach, 1985

We have been privileged to participate in a wide variety of member-organized social events – for example, Circle Dinners, comedy nights, game nights, and (in our younger days) record hops.

Two of our members, Leonard Swanson and Judy Putnam, spent a year in Warwick, England in 1990-91 as part of a Fulbright teaching exchange for Leonard.  Two enthusiastically received social events grew out of this trip.  As their English friends had done, Leonard and Judy organized impromptu groups for “Rambles” following church services. These were social walks attended by as many as 20 members, with different locations around the North Shore providing interesting variety.  In addition, we started exchange visits with home stays between Northshore Unitarian Universalist Church and Warwick Chapel (which Judy and Leonard had attended). In all, there were about four visits here or there over the next 18 years.

A NSUU Ramble, probably early 1990’s

Fundraisers, covered in the next chapter, are often even more effective for the social interactions among congregation members than they are for helping our budget.

Growth

Northshore Unitarian Universalist Church began to grow in size in the 1980s. A number of community events, such as films and lectures, expanded knowledge of the church in the Danvers area. A wide variety of weekly programs added to the appeal of the church, including book discussions, Sunday morning forums, Friday night programs, and small group ministries. The church was the fastest growing UU church north of Boston for some years.

After Rev. Lynn retired in 2005, following his 33-year ministry to NSUU, we entered a period of challenge.  Several members were so tied to his ministry that they just left with him.  How does a church go from 33 years of care by a minister who knew, inspired, pastored, and created all aspects of a church to a church under new leadership? This was not an easy undertaking. Three years of interim ministers, a search committee, a new minister, a second search committee, a year with no minister, and finally another minister later, NSUU came through as a newly invigorated church. That process does not sound easy and it wasn’t. It is hard to go back and tease out the nitty gritty of those years between Ed Lynn and Julie Lombard. But what can be pieced together is our process of growth.

When one looks back at those years with interim ministers and search committees, there is one constant – our congregation. We had spiritual leadership though our interim ministers – Rev. Rosemarie Smurzynski and Rev. Jeanne Nieuwejaar – but much of the running of the church began to turn over to our congregation through committees. Our Membership Committee held our loss in members at bay, our Services Committee kept our services inspiring, and our Social Action committee and small group ministries kept our members interested in common goals. Of course Judy and our music groups continue to be a strong constant presence for us.

Our search committees did thorough work in defining who we are by surveying our members. We did get a new minister in Frieda Gillespie in 2008. However, almost immediately she became seriously ill. Her term with NSUU was relatively short and did require times of more interim ministers. Ultimately, Frieda resigned after five years and once again, our congregation was thrown into being fully responsible for our church.

For the next year, our congregation ran every aspect of our church from services to music, to ministering to our sick and dying. We searched for and found our new minister Julie Lombard in 2015, with our church having a strong foundation of participation due to these transitional years.

With Julie, we have arrived at being a wholly different church than during our time with Ed Lynn. Ed gave us our foundation and took care of us for all those years. We were able to weather the long transition to a new sitting minister because we loved our church and community. We knew we wanted to work hard to secure its future and we did. We knew what we wanted in a new minister and we knew that we wanted to continue to have ownership overour church. We believe we have arrived at that balance with Julie.

Jubilee!

Along with selecting Julie Lombard as our minister in 2015, we realized that it was a special time for another reason.  For many years our Annual Report had carried the motto, “Thinking, Questioning, and Worshiping Since 1815,” in recognition of the year the Danvers Universalists established their church – our first ancestor.  We decided to hold several events that would commemorate our founding in 1815, through to the dedication of our Locust Street church building in 1967.

We began our celebrations on November 8, 2015, with our Bicentennial Anniversary service. The service was conducted by our first minister, Rev. Charles Wilson, by our new minister, Julie Lombard, and our minister emeritus, Rev. Edwin Lynn.  Music was provided by the NSUU singing group, the handbell choir, and the NSUU Children Singers.  Rev. Lynn spoke on, “The Ax Handle, the Life Raft, and Us:  celebrating our 200 years.”

Many events followed over the next two years, including a commemorative Bicentennial T-shirt, a new sign at our Locust Street entrance, the installation of Rev. Julie Lombard as our fourth settled minister, and a 50thanniversary coffee mug.  And, of course, the work of compiling this history.

On November 5, 2017, we held a church service recognizing the 50thanniversary of dedicating our present church building, built in 1967 as a home to the newly merged Danvers and Peabody churches.  The service opened with the ringing of our bell, installed in the Peabody Unitarian (Park Street) Church in 1887 and brought to our new building in 1970. Again the service was conducted by Reverends Wilson, Lynn, and Lombard.  The Singing Group and Handbell Choir were again featured.  Judy Putnam and Andrea Kaiser played on our heirloom Steinway piano, which was donated to the Peabody Universalist Church Sunday School in 1914. The service closed with the group benediction which we had come to love during Rev. Lynn’s 33 years of service:

“May Love surround us,

May Joy gladden us,

May Peace lie deep within;

And may our lives,

and the lives of all those we touch,

Go Well.”

NSUU members, past and present, gathered for the Semicentennial celebration, November 5, 2017

Sources

from notes and memories of:

Bob Bullivant
Iain Goddard
Marty Langlois
Jim Lynch
Ed Lynn
Lois Markham
Brian Orr
Jennifer Revill

and many more