Longer than there has been a town called Norwell, the institution now known as the First Parish of Norwell has been a prominent feature of the community and region.
Celebrating its 375th anniversary this week, First Parish has a storied past, integrally tied to the history of the town it calls home.
Though the parish is among the oldest institutions in town, from its inception the parish members have prided themselves on their social liberalism. Over the course of the church's history, its pastors and congregation have led the charge on issues from abolition to women's rights to LGBT rights.
In 1642, following a disagreement with the pastor of the First Parish of Scituate over whether it was appropriate to perform baptisms through full immersion in the North River, rather than simply by the sprinkling of water, a group of parishioners split off and founded the Second Parish of Scituate.
This congregation would become the First Parish of South Scituate when the towns separated in 1849, and finally the First Parish of Norwell when the town's name was changed to Norwell in 1888.
The current meetinghouse on River Street, built in 1830, is the fifth structure the parish has called home, and was built for $4,650 using funds generated by the sale of the pews that still fill the space.
First Parish has been a significant presence in the community since its founding, often in official ways. Until the 1930s, the Town of Norwell paid a portion of the minister's salary, and until the 1970s the James Library, still owned by the parish, was the town's public library.
The Unitarian Universalist congregation began celebrating its anniversary in October with numerous events, starting with an organ concert featuring Heinrich Christensen, the music director of King's Chapel in Boston.
The church also welcomed the community to an old-fashioned harvest picnic in October, a holiday fair in November, and a Jingle Mingle social on Christmas Eve.
This Sunday, Feb. 5, First Parish will officially celebrate the 375th anniversary with a service and reception.
In March a re-enactor from Plimouth Plantation will share what it was like to be a woman in New England around the time of the parish's founding with "A Visitor from Plimouth Plantation, 1624."
The year-long celebration will conclude in May with a "Taste of 1642" dinner.
Reverend Lise Adams Sherry, First Parish's minister, has previously worked in Illinois and Oregon. For her, there's been many surprises that have come with serving a church with such a long history.
"When we came for the interview, my husband and I got to go look at the parsonage," she said. "What still sticks out for me is when they took us down into the old basement, which was made with these large stones. The fact that this parsonage was built 10 years before the American Revolution -- both my husband and I were in awe to be living in a house that was created before we were the United States of America. We tell our friends that back in Oregon, and their jaws drop to the floor."
Another aspect of this historic church that came as a surprise to her: the pews.
"All of the other congregations I've served, they don't have pews," she said. "They have chairs that you can link together and are easily movable."
While the traditional structure of this New England meetinghouse might not fit the norm of a Unitarian Universalist Church, with rigid pews complete with doors and an ornate pulpit, Sherry sees that mix as a highlight.
"The sense of history and tradition is really cool, and how to mix that with some new things has been really interesting too--to see what the congregation is willing to do and what they're not willing to do," she said. Some of the things she's tried out since arriving at the parish in 2015? Dancing in the aisles and holding hands during the final benediction, holdovers from her more laidback days in previous parishes.
Continuing to maintain a presence in the community, even while officially separated from the town, is a matter of priority for Sherry and her congregation, whether by holding their various 375th anniversary celebrations, all open to the public, or by co-hosting events with other faith communities in the town, like the recent vigil for gun violence, or an annual service on Sept. 11 honoring first responders.
Dexter Robinson, the church clerk, said being an active part of the community is vital to the parish's future success.
"One big challenge, not just for this church but churches in general, church memberships are declining," he said. "Trying to get the word out in terms of what we do, in terms of the community and the support system and the family and a spiritual center is one of our challenges, and how to grow the membership."
"Unitarian Universalists aren't very evangelical, because of their intellectual bent at times," Sherry said. "We're not always very good at tooting our horn, but that's one of the things we're trying to be better about."
Proudly displayed in the meetinghouse is a rainbow flag, showcasing the parish's commitment to being a welcoming community. Unitarian Universalists have been conducting services of union for gay and lesbian couples since 1984.
"There is more emphasis on social action, because people really want what they're coming here for to be relevant," Sherry said. "Especially for Unitarian Universalists, there's a whole big instigation to make the world a better place. It's not just coming and listening about scripture."Read the Full article on Norwell Mariner
By Kaila Braley Wicked Local,
Posted Sep. 12, 2015 at 7:52 AM
Reverend Lise Adams Sherry is the newest minister at a church with a long history. The First Parish Unitarian Universalist Church in Norwell was founded in 1642, and has had a history of being religiously open and socially progressive.
From 1836 to 1842 wealthy parishioners bought pews to sit in church, but preacher Samuel May spoke about civil rights and how it was unethical to force poor people or black people to sit in the balcony because they couldn't afford to buy pews, Sherry said.
Almost 200 years later, Sherry's own first sermon was about the Black Lives Matter movement earlier this year. She discussed the anniversary of the incidents in Ferguson last year.
The church, which was founded as Congregationalist, like most Unitarian Universalist churches were, had always been welcoming to people of varied religions, Sherry said. Members of Unitarian Universalist churches often have different belief systems, she said. Some may align their beliefs with Christianity, some with Buddhism, and some with Paganism, among many others—but they all worship together, she said. "It's based on the promises we make each other, rather than a shared belief system. We believe we all have the right to our own life-affirming beliefs," she said. "We promise to walk with each other and to be on this journey together in a way that matters."
Sherry, who moved from Oregon to take this job in Norwell, said while she is new to New England, she feels comfortable at First Parish because it has the same attitude of openness and progress that she has experienced at the other churches where she has worked. "I really like being part of a denomination that takes its truth from many places, and is forward thinking ethically and socially," she said.
The church has been performing same-sex services of union since the early 70s, Sherry said, and some of the issues the parishioners may be focusing on going forward are rights for immigrants and transgender people, she said.
It was important to find a minister who would be flexible and aware of the varying belief systems in the congregation, Search Committee Co-Chairman Bernie Gardner said. The search process took over a year and included a large survey and open forums with parishioners to figure out what everyone wanted the new minister to be like, he said. The survey showed that the congregation was looking for a minister who would offer interesting and well-researched sermons, provide topics to talk about after the sermon and be active in the community.
Sherry said churches and ministers look for each other online, "like Match.com."
The church then narrows its choices down to three of four candidates, who are invited to give a practice sermon on a weekend, but not at the church itself, Sherry said. One candidate is then chosen to come visit the church for a week, from Sunday to Sunday, so he or she can give two sermons and get to know parishioners during the week, Gardner said. After the second sermon, the members of the church vote to decide whether they want to hire the minister, he said. Sherry was voted in almost unanimously.
Gardner said she matched all of the criteria the congregation was looking for, and is warm and personable as well. This is Sherry's first job as a minister, and she did not always know she wanted to be a minister. In fact, she majored in theater arts and almost completed her master's degree in dance in Oregon before she became a stay-at-home mom with two sons, now 21 and 17.
She first felt a calling to the ministry when she was in her 30s, when both of her parents died. "I asked myself, ‘What do I want to be doing? What's important,'" she said. She then got her master's in divinity from Meadville Lombard Theological School in Chicago before working as an interim minister at Unitarian Universalist Church of Elgin in Illinois, and then as an assistant minister and director of religious education at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Salem, Oregon.
This past August she moved with her husband to Norwell to be the latest in a long line of ministers at First Parish. On Sunday, Sept. 13, the congregation will hold its first big service after the summer, which is a slow time for the church, she said. It will be an in-gathering service, which is when everyone brings a little bit of water represents something important to them and pours it in a communal bowl, she said. "It's symbolic of how we're all different, and how we come together and one community," Sherry said.
Sunday services are held at 10 a.m. at the church in Norwell.
Between 1836 and 1842, when wealthy parishioners bought their pews to sit in at church, Samuel May, the uncle of "Little Women" author Louisa May Alcott, preached about civil rights and how it was unethical to force poor people or black people to sit in the balcony because they couldn't afford to buy pews, Sherry said. Almost 200 years later, Sherry's first sermon this summer, as the church's newest minister, was about the Black Lives Matter movement, discussing the anniversary of the incidents in Ferguson last year.
Duncan is organizing an Empty Bowls social justice project for the Unitarian Universalist Association's 2014 General Assembly, June 25–29 in Providence, R.I.
It's pretty simple. Duncan, a retired art librarian from Brown University, is asking people to send her handcrafted (or simply handpainted) bowls for sale at GA to raise money for two Rhode Island organizations that work on issues of hunger and homelessness.
Housing First R.I. operates permanent housing for more than 200 formerly homeless people and their families, and provides outreach to hundreds more. McAuley House provides meals and other services for people who are homeless or struggling to get by, including those who live with addiction, mental illness, and poverty. It provides a hot lunch five days a week and offers arts and crafts activities and other programming.
Both organizations are directed by members of First Unitarian Church of Providence. The Rev. Mary Margaret Earl, a community minister with First Unitarian, is associate director of McAuley Ministries. Daniel Kubas-Meyer is executive director of Riverwood Mental Health Services, the agency that created Housing First R.I.
Duncan hopes to raise thousands of dollars for these two organizations through the 2014 GA social justice project. Much of that money will come from the Sunday morning collection at GA. But the bowls are an important part of fundraising for these groups as well.
Duncan hopes to have several hundred bowls to sell in the Empty Bowls booth in the GA exhibition hall. But first she needs the bowls. "We want bowls from anyone who wants to donate them," she said. "They don't even have to come to GA. We'd love it if individuals would make bowls and send them. And we're hoping that groups of people will get together and make bowls." The bowls, which can be made of anything—ceramics, wood, metal, paper—symbolize a lack of adequate food for many people.
Already she has a few dozen bowls. Some are ceramic and others are more unusual. "I have several that are knitted, as well as some papier-mâché ones," she said. "Whatever material people want to use is fine." The bowls should be about the size of a soup or cereal bowl, she said. "Otherwise people will have trouble taking them home from GA."
She said she's willing to travel 50 miles from Providence to pick up bowls. "I recently picked up 30, mostly decorated by children."
And if people don't want to make bowls themselves, they can patronize an artist, she said, or get them from a ceramic studio and decorate them. The bowls will be sold for a suggested donation. Many will be professional quality, she said. There will probably also be a raffle for a grand prize bowl.
She hopes people will see beyond the beauty of a particular bowl they might buy. "We want people to look at the bowl and think about homelessness and hunger and what the solutions to them might be."
Duncan says she took on the Empty Bowls project because, "I like the challenge of explaining the project. And the fact that it's something a whole lot of people can participate in, and something that will make a difference in the world. We're also really looking forward to talking to people at our booth."
Ann Boyd of Bristol, R.I., a member of First Unitarian of Providence, wanted to make bowls for the project, but had never worked in ceramics. Then her sister sent her a recipe for papier-mâché. She tried it. "The results were really beautiful," she said. Now she has gotten her church women's group involved. "We're producing bowls like crazy. Working with other people is energizing. At the same time we feel a sense of social justice."
John Hartom, an art teacher in Bloomfield Hills, Mich., developed the Empty Bowls idea with his wife, Lisa Blackburn, in 1990 as a fundraiser for a local food drive. It has since spread internationally. Three UUA General Assemblies have included Empty Bowl events, in 1997, 1998, and 2002.
Wicked Local Norwell
By Mark Burridge
Date: Posted Decemer 27, 2012
NORWELL - The First Parish Unitarian Church in Norwell combined economy and environmental awareness with what the church stands for most in its recent acquisition of solar panels for the roof of the building.
“Our theology really calls for us to be stewards of the earth,” said The Rev. Victoria Weinstein, minister of the church.
On Sunday the church scheduled a portion of its service to dedicate and celebrate the new solar panels to the faith of the church and the spirit the panels represent.
“It was just a celebration of the way the solar panels express our values,” she said. “We wanted to worshipfully express that.”
Bernie Gardner, parishioner of the church, led the charge to have the panels installed. He said the panels not only go along with the theological integrity of the parish, but also makes sense economically.
“You never know how much it will save the church until they are running,” he said. “But it is estimated to provide 100 percent of the electricity the church needs.”
He said the church should be able to eliminate any form of purchases from National Grid with the move. However, it wasn’t a fast process getting them installed.
“We started trying to get them up in the fall of 2010,” Gardner said. “It takes time. You have to work through the organizations in the church.”
Gardner said the panels were installed on the church roof about the end of November and aren’t operational yet. He said the panels should be running by the start of the new year.
The Patriot Ledger
Sue Scheible email@example.com
Date: Posted May 29, 2012
NORWELL -- It dates back to the 19th century and still has a certain "old fashioned" touch. The Alliance of First Parish Unitarian Church also is trying to point the way into the future – "to evolve rather than dying," as their pastor, the Rev. Victoria Weinstein, puts it. You want them to succeed because they are so gracious, generous, smart and talented.
"The Ladies Aid Alliance," as it was once called, was started in 1846 as a church sewing circle. Members made clothing for the town's "worthy poor." It's a phrase that today is enough to make Phyllis Buell say, "You'll choke on this one," before she tells you. It was, indeed, a different era.
They held harvest bazaars and fairs, and for 33 years have had a holiday concert by the Broad Cove Chorale and the Unicorn Singers. In 1949, the Alliance started a preschool that is still at the church. Peg O'Connor, a younger Alliance member, is the school's treasurer.
Today, with members aging, the need for additional younger members like O'Connor is keen. Shirley Bunnell, 79, membership chairwoman, noted that the group's former guiding lights moved into their 90s and it is now 70- and 80-somethings who have moved up to take the reins. They know that can't last forever.
On May 2, I attended the Alliance's annual meeting and luncheon, with homemade casseroles, wine, salad and fresh flowers from members' gardens. It was lovely. Much of the program was devoted to remembering Barbara Meacham, the Alliance president for 18 years, who passed away Feb. 4 at age 92. She was a church member for 65 years.
"Barbara didn't want any funeral service and her family honored that," President Helen Keeler, 80, of Marshfield said. "This was our first chance as a group to pay tribute to her and it meant a lot. You need that chance to say goodbye."
Meacham, an energetic mother of four sons, helped start the Norwell Food Pantry in 1992, and it remained one of her favorite charities. Alliance members brought food items to the luncheon to donate to the pantry and told funny stories about Meacham's no-nonsense ways at the pantry, as well as the Alliance, where she ran the meetings her way or the highway.
The Alliance meets monthly from September to May. "They still are going quite strong and have a very rich calendar of programs," the Rev. Weinstein said. "Unfortunately, the women's groups are a tradition that is dying out, but in this case, I hope, evolving.
"I have had such rich, deep theological conversations with them – about 19th-century sermons, feminist history and theology – and I came away amazed. They are so well read, it was inspiring. I thought, ‘What a treasure trove.'"
That same week, Muriel Savoy Moloney, a member of the Newcomers Club in Weymouth, emailed: "The club is celebrating 60 years in June and one of our members is putting a book together with histories of some of the members, why they became involved in the club and stayed all these years," she wrote. "We have been so lucky to have this club, but I don't think the women coming behind us have the time to make these kind of friendships, and that is sad."
Is it true? I suspect younger women today get together online, through all the social media, and it is true that each generation does its own thing.
But there must be some women in their 40s and 50s who also see the value of keeping the old traditions going and might step forward to lend support, even if they can't make the daytime monthly meetings.
To contact the Alliance, call 781-659-7122. You can also write First Parish Church, 24 River St., Box 152, Norwell, MA 02061 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Reach Sue Scheible at email@example.com, 617-786-7044, or The Patriot Ledger, Box 699159, Quincy 02269-9159.