Barbara Harrison

What I gained from being raised at FPUU

I was raised in this church – I was raised by this church. While my biological family was spread across the world, here at First Parish I had grandparents and cousins, aunts and uncles. I had big kids to look up to and younger kids to mentor. Our community was large enough to feel grand but small enough that no one was forgotten. Barbara Monaghan, Sally Adams, Dot Kane, and Kay Buchanan were my “Medfield Grandmothers” and on their laps I learned to string popcorn and cranberries for Christmas garlands, to tailor custom clothing for my dolls, and to age with grace, dignity, and even enthusiasm. In turn I took the Luttman, Bible, and Teichman children onto my own lap to teach them cats cradle and sing them to sleep.

Inspired the way the Parish Committee rallied the whole congregation to participate in church clean up days, my UU cousins and I would climb down the walls into Baker’s Pond – in our Sunday best – during coffee hour to retrieve trash and take care of the world we loved. In this church I learned that the connections of community transcend generations and I adopted the stories of horseshoes bringing hope and steeples crashing down as a part of my personal history. Do all of you know why the shoe on that door is crooked or realize that the tip of the spire that pierced the roof in 1938 still hangs in the rafters above my head? As I broke safety rules to ride the bell ropes, I imagined that it was carriages, not cars, coursing down North Street outside that window and I felt connected to all of those who had ever listened to the great bell clamor.

Before we had a chalice, we lit twin tapers for peace, for loved ones, for the environment – and when I, on my 4th birthday, was allowed to light the candles by myself I lit those candles for my doll Molly. You see, in this church I was taught that the most valuable thing you can speak is your personal truth. In Sunday School we learned fables, Greek myths, Native American creation stories, and modern religious doctrines with equal reverence and were empowered to find inspiration in each. After services some of our parents engaged in passionate debates at lay-led “talk backs” while others kibitzed over coffee. I wore my coming of age chalice continuously for nearly a decade as a reminder of the profoundly unique and inclusive family that raised me.

This world is full of divisive labels: religious v. atheist, progressive v. traditional, democrat v. republican. On a daily basis media and social pressures demand that we take a side, that we defend it adamantly, and that we scorn or pity the narrow minded people who stand on the other side of the line in the sand… What I learned from growing up as a member of First Parish was that being an individual and being a part of a community are not mutually exclusive; That strength of a community is equal parts shared values and disparate viewpoints. What I gained from growing up in this church was to feel compassion and connectedness across those lines and to appreciate the variety and flavor that independence brings to our shared human experience. In this church I learned to love mankind.