Final Merger, and A New Building
Hosanna, I build an house!
It shall be strong, it shall be good,
And it shall be beautiful.
It shall be your house,
It shall be my house.
It shall be our house.
It shall be a house for all who wish to visit it.
It shall be built with stone and brick and wood.
It shall be built with people.
It shall be built with love.
Hosanna! I build an house!
The Northshore Unitarian Universalist Church (NSUU) choir sang this anthem, written by Eleanor Edwards (the daughter of long-time church members Ruth and Roger Edwards and music teacher) for the dedication of their new church building held on October 29, 1967, Rev. Charles L. Wilson presiding.
Ode to The Bell
Bell of silent wisdom,
Quietly standing guard at the edge of the forest,
Did you signal to other gatherings,
At another clearing,
In another time?
Did you ring loudly from the top of a steeple?
But now you are
Quietly standing guard
With tall silent trees as your fellow sentries.
Active noisier times do return.
Loud laughing children climb all over you
As they would a wise indulgent grandfather.
Always you are
Quietly standing guard at the edge of the forest.
(presumably delivered at the dedication of the bell in the 1970s)
Unitarian Universalists in Peabody and Danvers had worked hard for this day—first, to officially unite their respective congregations into one, and second, to secure land for a new building, hire an architect and contractors, and get it done.
Until the new church building could be occupied, NSUU met at the Park Street Church in Peabody. (Eventually, NSUU sold this building, and it is now condominiums.)
As one long-time NSUU member, who was originally from the Park Street Church, recalled during a recent conversation with self-described “old-timers,” it was with “mixed emotions” that the Peabody UUs left their church behind. But the congregation had been dwindling for many years, and a feasibility study conducted by Boston University had confirmed what they already knew: Peabody was not a community where a UU Church could thrive.
But where to locate the new church building?
Members from Topsfield and Boxford were not interested in driving to Peabody. Instead, the congregation agreed that a location convenient to all members—a regional approach—would be best. As former board chair Edna M. McCoubrey tells us in her Narrative History of the North Shore Unitarian Church, Danvers, Massachusetts, from 1958 to 1967, the congregation elected a Building Study Committee that soon divided itself into two groups: “one to investigate the financial possibilities … and the other group investigated the problem of determining location, availability and cost of land.”
The site committee determined that land between Danvers and Topsfield was the central location for church members, and they began to focus on Locust Street, or Route 35. McCoubrey recalls, “The committee was meeting weekly and an intense search [for land] was underway. Most of these meetings were held in the home of committee member Virginia Brown, and we shall always remember the good fellowship that we enjoyed with Virginia in her home as we worked together as a team on what we felt was the beginning of an exciting future for the church.”
In typical small-town New England fashion, Edna McCoubrey had a conversation one day with the owner of a vegetable stand on Route 35, a Mr. Connors, about the church’s search for land. He directed her to a home that bordered his farm land. The owners had heard of a developer “who had a 10-acre parcel of wooded land on Locust Street.” The developer, who had approvals from the Town of Danvers to build eight houses on the site, told McCoubrey that one-acre parcels were available on either side of his. As she explained, “After contacting the owners of the other two parcels of land and arriving at a total price for the three parcels, contacting the Zoning Board and our legal counsel, the Building Study Committee voted to recommend immediate purchase of the land to the membership.” The Danvers congregation voted YES—enthusiastically.
In 1965, until the new building was finished, the Danvers congregation worshiped with the Peabody congregation at Park Street Church in Peabody, “to physically implement the merger and to facilitate the immediate sale of the Danvers Church to pay for architectural and contractors fees.” The two churches appointed a new Building Study Committee, which arrived at the same conclusion as the earlier Study Committee: the wooded land on Locust Street in Danvers was beautiful, and an ideal location.
Members from each congregation appointed a Joint Steering Committee to make final decisions about the land and new building, although each congregation retained its own governing board. Edna McCoubrey notes, “The inability of each board to relinquish its autonomy continued to plague the venture until the Massachusetts State Legislature legalized the merger in May, 1966 and a single Board of Directors was elected by the combined congregation.”
In November, 1965, the architect for the building, John Pierce of Topsfield (who had designed the Episcopal Church in that town), presented a model of the new church to the congregation. The congregation had requested a liberal use of glass to let the sunshine in; a multi-purpose sanctuary with a slate floor; chairs, not pews; and no organ. Pierce heard them, and he also decided to include wall paneling from the Park Street Church in the lounge area. Pierce’s design was approved, and work commenced.
Meanwhile, the two congregations had elected a Pulpit Committee “to select a minister who would be the choice of both congregations,” McCoubrey tells us. “Rev. William Budd of the Peabody Church chose to go into college teaching as a profession and Rev. Rutledge, who was then serving both churches, was leaving for a ministry in St. Paul, Minnesota … The Pulpit Committee worked closely with Rev. Theodore Webb, Director of the Ministry [at the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA)], who guided us through the process of selecting from a group of twelve very able and enthusiastic candidates from various parts of the country. Rev. Charles Wilson and his wife, Hilda, were unanimously selected and they joined the church in July, 1966.”
During that year’s annual meeting, Edna M. McCoubrey was elected the first Chairperson of the Northshore Unitarian Universalist Church.
McCoubrey describes the groundbreaking for the new building in October, 1966, as “an ideal fall day with the trees in vivid color, which was symbolic to many of us of the bright future ahead for the new meetinghouse and the community of fellowship which we were creating.” As the building developed and the interior furnishings could be addressed, members of the congregation made sure to include objects inherited from the Unitarian/Universalist churches in Peabody and Danvers. The Memorial Bell that sits proudly on the grounds was moved from Park Street Church.
The first service held in the new building took place in September 1967. The following month, on October 29, the congregation dedicated their new church building. Edna McCoubrey had moved to California with her family and was unable to attend, but she sent a taped message to the congregation and wrote her history of the years 1958 to 1967 a short time later. In the conclusion of this history, she wrote:
The dedication and cooperation on the part of everyone who supported the church community with their pledges, gifts, opinions, votes, the high quality of the services and classes against great odds, the refreshments, fairs, special events, outings, etc. was remarkable. I feel very fortunate to have been a part of the dynamic church community that it is today.
Building Dedication: October 29, 1967
In addition to the Anthem that appears at the beginning of this essay, the order of service for the dedication included a Prelude, Processional Hymn (Light of Ages and of Nations), Call to Worship and Response (Rev. Charles L. Wilson), Reading to Think Upon (Rev. G. William Budd), Address (Dialogue at Generation Gap by Rev. Jack Mendelsohn, Minister of the Arlington Street Church in Boston), a second Hymn (Prayer for This House), and the Act of Dedication as follows:
Act of Dedication
With the congregation standing, and led by Rev. Wilson, they recited the following words.
To the sense of values:
To the attitude of treasuring the whole of existence
Without the need to possess it.
WE DEDICATE THIS HOUSE.
To the respect for persons:
To civil and human rights,
To responsible personal freedom,
To democracy as the political expression of the
Principle of self-determination,
To justice administered equally without regard to
Race, color or religion,
To a world at peace:
WE DEDICATE THIS HOUSE.
To the pursuit of truths:
To the inclusion of all inspired thought from every
source as the revelation of insight,
To the unrestricted search for unknown truths,
To the incorporation of these truths responsibly
Into the human enterprise:
WE DEDICATE THIS HOUSE.
To the service of mankind:
To the assistance of people in need,
To the defense of persons wrongfully attacked or accused.
To enlightenment through education:
WE DEDICATE THIS HOUSE.
To helpful companionship of its members:
To extending solace in times of sorrow,
Misfortune, and death:
To celebrating the milestones of our lives, of the seasons,
And of our larger civil bodies:
WE DEDICATE THIS HOUSE.
THUS DO WE DEDICATE THIS HOUSE AS A SYMBOL OF OUR FAITH AND FREEDOM. IT WILL BE STRONG AS WE LEND IT STRENGTH, AND AS WE GIVE SACRIFICIALLY OF HEART AND HAND AND MIND, SO SHALL WE EACH RECEIVE. HERE LET NO MAN BE A STRANGER, BUT LET ALL BE LINKED IN LOVE.
Next in the service came a Dedication Prayer (Rev. Fred A. Rutledge), a Piano Meditation (Andrew Matthews), Words of Challenge (Rev. Theodore A. Webb), the Recessional Hymn (Rank by Rank Again We Stand), Closing Words and Response (Rev. Wilson), and the Postlude.
The selections by Dietrich Buxtehude for the Prelude and Postlude featured recorded music by William Kraft on the organ of the Marienkirche in Lubeck, Germany—the same instrument used by Buxtehude himself.
Fellowship and refreshments, provided by The Unity Guild, followed the dedication service. It was a wonderful celebration, and the congregation made a point of recognizing and thanking the hard working committee members who oversaw the building and landscaping of the new church. They included:
Duane Eichholz (Chair, 1964-1965)
Robert Koenig (Chair, 1965-1967)
Edith Letourneau Ratté
Decorating and Landscaping Committee
Ruth Edwards (Chair)
Mary Jo Eichholz
Contributing to the success of the dedication service were:
Mrs. G. William Budd
Mrs. Ivan Churchill
Carol Jean Levenson
Mrs. Mark Rand
Dorothy Koenig (Director)
In 1975, the church modified its 1966 By-laws and Constitution “primarily with the intention of neutralizing the gender-based language,” according to Heidi Kuehn’s 2004 history of the church. The words read:
Section 1: Our purpose is to join together in a cooperative quest for religious and ethical values through the development of character, the enrichment of the spirit, and service to others.
Section 2: Our basic underlying conviction is that each individual has an inherent dignity and the right to freedom of belief unfettered by any prescribed creed.
Kuehn concludes her history by writing:
The faith history of the NSUUC is in many ways the faith history of the UUA. With roots in the Christian faith of Calvinism, the church has moved ever more insistently toward a broader definition of what it means to be a religious community. Today the church is home to people of many different faiths, and to those with no articulated faith. Carefully balancing respect for the individual with the desire for community, the congregation joins together in the following covenant of faith:
You are warmly welcome here
Whatever your race,
Whatever your origins,
Whatever your challenge,
Whatever your religious background, or absence of one,
Whatever your lifestyle or sexual orientation.
We hold women and men in equal dignity, we value young and old, and we believe that community can be achieved without conformity of thought.
Our religious community is based on individual freedom, tolerance, and a mutual search for truth.
We welcome you as you pursue your journey.
Please join us on Sunday mornings at 10:30!
Narrative History of the North Shore Unitarian Church, Danvers, Massachusetts, from 1958 to 1967 by Edna M. McCoubrey (church files, 1974).
Order of Service: Dedication of Church Building, October 29, 1967 (church records).
History of the Northshore Unitarian-Universalist Church Explored through the Faith Statements of the Church (1815-2004) by Heidi Kuehn (church records, 13 April 2004).
Conversation held 15 December 2014 at the Northshore Unitarian Universalist Church with Rev. Charles Wilson, Rev. Edwin Lynn, Edith (Mickey Aiken) Ratte, Linda Budd, Peter VanDeBogert, Judy Putnam, Barbara Haight, and Iain Goddard.