Love is the spirit of this church,
And service its gift.
This is our great covenant:
To dwell together in peace,
To seek the truth in love,
And to help one another.
—the ASC covenant, circa 1990
The Arlington Street Church building at the corner of Arlington and Boylston Streets in Boston, with its original Tiffany stained glass windows and honest-to-God hand-rung church bells in the steeple, has been home to this congregation since 1861. The congregation itself, though, goes back to 1729 and the Church of the Presbyterian Strangers, and, at least in my eyes, its history is the history of all that's right with America: a struggle for independence and liberty and justice for all. Some historic highlights:
- broke with the Presbyterian Synod in favor of Congregationalism; hosted the Convention at which Massachusetts ratified the The Constitution of the United States of America; petitioned the General Court of Massachusetts for the abolition of slavery
- led the founding of the Unitarian Christian movement under William Ellery Channing and Ezra Stiles Gannett
- merged with the Second Universalist Church some decades before Unitarian Universalism formally came into existence
Throughout its history, the church has stood for civil rights, peace, and justice: member James Reeb died marching with his fellows in Selma, draft cards were burned there during the Vietnam War, various dissidents have been granted sanctuary, and people of all sexualities have been embraced there since they first started coming out of hiding.
Morning has broken,
like the first morning.
Blackbird has spoken
like the first bird.
Praise for the singing,
Praise for the morning,
Praise for them springing
fresh from the Word.
When I was six years old, I resented being pulled away from watching Transformers to hear Victor Carpenter (and later Farley Wheelwright) lead the service at ASC. When I was fourteen, I declined membership in the congregation, resentful of organized social activity on principle and eager to get my Sundays back. Now, at 24, I find myself missing the place, remembering Kim's moving sermons (Victor's and Farley's were too long ago for the sieve that is my mind) and the subtle ecstasy of raising my voice in song beside my parents (who had sung me to sleep with hymns and protest songs not so long ago) and a few hundred friendly others, wondering if fellowship is sufficient to fill the void in my soul where faith can't go and true love wanders all too rarely. Any day now, I imagine, I will return.
Here, as much as with my parents, I learned the virtues of compassion, tolerance, honesty, and curiosity. I remember the flaming chalice with the Sterno can inside, putting sugar cubes from the coffee table in my grape juice, learning to my horror that the hot dogs in the parish hall were made of meat; and I remember hanging out with YRUU and playing The Lifeboat Game with Kim and my fellows, the unutterable awkwardness of AYS that prepared me so well to understand my own changes and those of others during adolescence, and the colors and smells of centuries of thought, kindness, and growth.
http://www.ascboston.org/ is the source for anything I couldn't recall offhand.