AN OPPORTUNITY FOR SERVICE

MAY 28, 2000
R.M. FEWKES


In April 1984, Helen L. Fogg, longtime member of First Parish in Norwell, and retired director of International Programs for the UU Service Committee, died suddenly at age 80 while working on her memoirs. Helen came from a wealthy family, her father was the founder of the Rockland Trust Co., but she never let her material resources stand in the way of her desire to be of service to others. As a young woman she worked as a volunteer in the Grenfell Mission in Labrador, similar to the Schweitzer mission in Africa. The experience changed her life and she resolved to use her talents to help those less fortunate than herself. She taught at the Shady Hill School in Cambridge for a number of years and then went on to work as a Teacher Volunteer for the Red Cross in the South Pacific during the Second World War. After the war she offered her services to the Unitarian Service Committee to aid refugee children in Germany and Czechoslovakia. Thus began a 20-year career with the UU Service Committee in which she established orphanages, and set up social worker education programs in such places as Jamaica, Greece, South Korea, and Cambodia.

Helen was tall, stately, of regal bearing, bright and intelligent, articulate, and able to move audiences large and small from raucous laughter to the verge of tears with her poignant human-interest stories of children struggling to make it in a difficult world. She cared what happened to these children and she made you care. That was her great gift. When she died Helen left half of her estate to the First Parish Church in Norwell, including 4 _ acres out behind the parsonage, and the other half to the New England Baptist Hospital in Boston. Because of her generosity we were able to build a lovely and practical addition to our Parish house. At the time the parish did some long-term goal setting. One of the things we said was that sometime in the future we wanted to use a portion of Helen’s generous legacy of land and financial resources to be of service to others. One of the things we did was to pledge $100,000 to the UU Service Committee’s Capital Campaign in memory of Helen. We are still paying on that pledge.

The parish also visualized the possibility of a senior citizens housing project with a portion set aside for affordable units. We began with a modest proposal to build four to eight units out behind the Kent House, but when we realized that the project would not be able to be self-supporting the proposal was put on the shelf. For the past two or three years the Parish Committee has been talking about the need for some kind of local service project that could energize the membership and enable our young people and adults to become involved in a common endeavor. We could never quite agree what that project should be, but the wish was still there.

It was then that we heard about the needs of the Friendship Home project and their need to find a site for a respite home for mentally challenged youth and young adults. We agreed to meet with their leaders and consider what we might do. One of the things proposed was that we might lease a portion of our land for the project, not on Helen’s land, but perhaps on the triangle of land, some 3-plus acres, across from the church, next to the First Parish Cemetery. This certainly was a worthy project for consideration, but one that would require some time and energy to bring to fruition and a lot of questions remained to be answered.

Unfortunately, your church leadership was in the midst of carrying through the plans and programs for the retirement of your minister and they simply did not feel ready to take action on such a proposal. The timing was ever so difficult and so the Parish Committee took no action and tabled it for the time being. An ad-hoc committee was formed to study the project further and to perhaps make a recommendation at a later date. Frank Callahan, Paul Bourque, Bob Detwiler, and Ellen Frank are some of the members on this Study Committee. They would welcome the in-put and suggestions of any others who might be interested. They are hoping to present a more detailed proposal for your consideration sometime next fall. I hope you will give their suggestions a fair hearing.

I confess that I felt badly that the situation of my retirement was partial cause for postponing action on this matter. I deeply regret that I will not be able to be present and to support any future service project that might yet be considered. One of the things I wanted to say to the parish before I left was please do not let the fact of my leaving be cause for not considering an opportunity for service. Nothing would please me more than to be invited back someday to bless a project for service on our church property that we as a congregation have made possible.

I am reminded of a dream I had some eight years ago in which I was walking in the First Parish Cemetery and observing that a bulldozer had exposed a couple of graves on a small hillside. They could well have been the tombs in the hillside in the triangle of land across the street from the church. A marble slab lies on top of one of the graves. It is the grave of a former minister. The slab is removed revealing two bodies within--the minister and his young wife, who is dressed in her bridal gown, and holding a baby in her arms. The bodies are not decomposed, but still intact. The bride has dark hair and is very beautiful. The sunlight shines on her closed eyelids and she begins to squint. I notice that she is breathing very slowly. Perhaps she thinks it is time for the resurrection. I draw near to her, take her hand in mine, and speak softly in her ear, "Are you awake?" I ask.

I would like to think that my dream might be emblematic of the possibility of the parish someday using a portion of its land that has housed the dead to also serve the living. Perhaps it is time for the resurrection. Are we awake to the possibility of that fact? I cannot help but be cognizant that Helen Fogg’s grave is not far from the possible site of a future Friendship Home, a place that might serve the needs of mentally challenged children and young adults. What might Helen say to us if she could? I could imagine her perhaps rising up out of her grave, looking young and full of life again, holding a child in her arms, and saying, "If you mean what you say when you declare that service is our prayer then let your service begin here on a hillside that has housed the dead for a hundred or more years. The best way to honor the dead is to serve the living."

With the Friendship Home proposal we would be serving the community. Though it would not produce any income to the parish, it would not cost us a penny in terms of any financial support. It could become an opportunity for service across ecumenical and interfaith lines, as people from other churches and from the community would be moved to participate in various volunteer projects in connection with Friendship Home. We could take pride in the fact that we helped make it possible and that we took seriously the challenge of our covenant to make service our prayer.

In closing, I want to say to you that we are indeed a responsive and caring congregation. You have proven that to me many times in my 31years of service as your minister. And I believe we are mature enough, tolerant enough, and sufficiently wise, to be able to study, explore and consider various proposals and viewpoints about service and outreach and maintain our mutual respect for one another. I encourage you and urge you to do so. It is time for the resurrection. And let us remember that Helen Fogg made it possible for us to provide wonderful new spaces for worship and education and outreach for generations to come. We never could have done it without her generous legacy. But let us not forget that her legacy was one of service. Can we do any less? "Love is the doctrine of this church, the quest of truth is its sacrament, and service is its prayer." Amen.