Doing the Works

March 8, 2009
Susan Robinson

Our minister emeritus, Dick Fewkes, once said of parishioner Helen Fogg - "She demonstrated her deep faith in God and human nature by doing the works which her faith demanded of her, and, in the doing she inspired others to do likewise." What more could be asked of any of us than to live out our faith in action and thus be a role model to others? Certainly those who were privileged to know Helen were motivated by her example to examine their own lives and actions. 

My own acquaintance with Helen began shortly after my husband and I joined First Parish in 1973.  Mutual interests – music, international volunteer work, and the joy of ripe brie and sherry in the late afternoon – led to many delightful hours of conversation and admiration on my part. It took several years, however, for me to discover the depth of involvement and commitment this lovely lady with the distinguished Brahmin accent had – involvement and commitment to First Parish, to the Unitarian Universalist Association and Service Committee, and to the world at large. At 70 years of age, she truly enjoyed sharing the stories of her life and, thanks to the efforts of our own Ruth Bailey, her adventures were published.  Where in the World was completed posthumously in 1989, four years after Helen's death.

Helen – a direct descendant of this church's first minister, William Witherell – had an impact not just on this Parish and the town of Norwell, but also the wider world. She was the sole surviving child of Horace and Isabella Fogg. Helen's brother Faulkner, a paraplegic, had died at age 13 – an event that Helen said was the end of her own childhood – at age 14. Helen's father was a banker and a banker's son – and was known to be in command not only of his bank (the current Rockland Trust) but also his church, the town businesses and politics, and his own family. Helen was certainly not being groomed to take over the bank management and the atmosphere at home did not allow for a great deal of exploration into what she might do.

So, following her 1924 graduation from Smith College and subsequent Masters from Radcliffe, Helen was faced with a dilemma – what did she wish to do with an English Literature degree and her future?  She says of that moment:  "I had no idea what I wanted from life except to live it to the fullest…There were few careers open to women of my time and none of them beckoned me. Many girls were graduating straight into marriage, but the boys I knew didn't seem to be candidates for marriage. What WAS I to do?"

Well, what she did was to join a group of medical students, nurses and teachers to volunteer a summer in a rural village of Labrador.  Her job description – which she assumed could easily be accomplished – asked her to teach the children, reform the dietary habits, conduct church services and demonstrate any number of useful skills from gardening to sewing. She began the summer as an idealist with, as she put it "more than a vague desire to do something for those who were ‘less fortunate' …as well as an undefined yearning for adventure." What I believe she ended the summer with was a realization that education and training could motivate and change people and their living conditions. Certainly the Peace Corps experience my husband and I volunteered for right out of college – and only days after marrying – brought a similar realization and paralleled Helen's experiences of naiveté and high confidence slowly giving way to pragmatic realism. But - how it changed our view of the world – from a sheltered, self-centeredness to seeing ourselves reflected in another culture and recognizing the connectedness and common ground of humanity.

Following her Labrador summer, Helen spent some restless months and years – still not having found her place in the world. She was trying to find what "works" she would do. In time, she began a career of teaching fourth grade at Shady Hill School in Cambridge. Helen describes those years as "stimulating, exasperating, exciting, boring and utterly challenging" – a fairly apt description of most good teaching careers I think! 

The onset of World War II again presented a challenge for Helen. She joined the Red Cross working in the Pacific theater. Helen was neither a nurse nor a social worker and was somewhat unsure what she should do at her assigned hospital. "I was to do something about morale as nearly as I could make out," She says. "I fell back on my usual defense of humor and laughter…carrying a ditty bag of razor blades, chewing gum, cigarettes, paper, pencils, etc" frequently helping patients write letters to loved ones. 

Upon her return to the US, Helen faced the aftermath of WWII – it was at this time that she first volunteered with the fledgling Unitarian Service Committee that had formed to rescue the victims of Nazism and fascism.  Initially in Prague, then in villages in Spain, she worked with the resettlement of European children who were orphaned by the war. Through skills honed in those years, Helen came back to became an administrator of overseas programs for the UUSC. For more than 20 years, she developed and implemented projects around the world including Cambodia, Jamaica, and Greece.  During her lifetime Smith College, the U.S. Army, and the governments of Cambodia and of Greece honored her. 

Retiring at age 65 she remained active with this church serving on the Service Committee, the Music Committee, and the Parish Committee. It was at this time, during the 70's that I first joined our Service Committee, then known as the Social Concerns Committee and began working with Helen. Our group brought issues of social justice to the awareness of the congregation, solicited support for Amnesty International prisoners, guided the Guest at Your Table project for UUSC, and expended a small budget for local and national charities. Helen would frequently bring her influence to bear on the type of projects we were funding. She had a three-pronged focus that grew from her years of volunteer experience throughout the world and from her Unitarian Universalist faith – one, to recognize the dignity, the worth, the potentiality of every human being; two, to work with people not for them; and three, to multiply efforts by building upon the professional leadership already existing in a community. Helen often retold the Chinese proverb I shared with the children today. She was an advocate of this "multiplier effect" – local talent and leadership spreading their knowledge and skills to others – and she served as a role model for it.

In April of 1984, Helen succumbed to her weak heart. As the sole heir to her family's estate, she had generously left her entire worth – without restrictions – to be equally shared by First Parish Church and New England Baptist Hospital. For the past 25 years the Helen Fogg trust has made a yearly distribution to the two benefactors. This year, First Parish and New England Baptist will receive the corpus of the trust and the responsibilities for its future. Many members of this congregation have spent many hours over many years preparing for the financial legacy Helen bestowed upon us. Without their expertise and guidance, we would be sorely unprepared to take on these responsibilities.

The social justice legacy of Helen's work is equally important to the financial legacy – and has been accepted with equal passion. Initially, after the Fogg Trust was established, First Parish voted a set of guidelines that reflected all we knew and loved about Helen and established the Helen Fogg Endowment Committee. In part, these guidelines state that the funds shall be used in a manner that recognizes Helen's diversified interests and contributions in life and establish a memorial in the Fogg name.  It also states the intention that the funds be utilized in a manner that would not dilute the financial commitment of Parish members and the level of annual giving - and that it should be used in part to expand the Parish's permanent funds.

What have we done over the years to meet these guidelines? Initially, the Fogg funds provided the seed money (supported by member's contributions) to build the addition to our parish house, nursery school and church offices – including the Fogg Parlor – a beautiful memorial to a lovely lady. Take some time during coffee hour to visit the Parlor and see Helen's memorabilia. In addition to funding this building project, the Helen Fogg Endowment Committee asked the congregation to make a donation to the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee for the furnishing of the Helen Fogg International Room at their Cambridge offices. The Fogg committee established the Fogg Lecture series and Fogg Scholarships for graduating seniors – and funded many outreach projects over the years in addition to our local Service Committee budget. Also, the Fogg Funds were used to underwrite student minister stipends, youth directors, and other positions and projects. 

Such an endowment frequently puts a heavy burden upon a church to "not dilute the commitment of Parish members and the level of annual giving." Yet, on the whole, we – as a congregation – work hard to keep in mind Helen's legacy and how it should be used. 

In time, the work of the Fogg Endowment Committee and the work of the Service Committee began to merge. In 2008, it was agreed these two groups should join as one – a marriage of both convenience and focus – and one that would have Helen vigorously nodding her approval. She was never one to spend time in committee, but rather to be doing the works that needed doing. And to have two groups attending to the outreach goals of the congregation would indeed seem redundant to her!  

And so, beginning this year, the Helen Fogg Service Committee was formed.  With membership from both original committees, we have shared our past, dreamed our future and modified our current works.  The plans are to continue basing our work upon the four goals that have guided the Service committee for many years. On behalf of the congregation we will contribute to local, national and international causes and crisis; we will promote volunteerism within the congregation; we will continue to raise awareness about worthy causes; and we will urge support of the work of the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee.

Specifically we will continue with our Second Sunday collections in which the open plate is given to a worthy cause - "rounding up" your generous donations with a contribution from our budget before sending it on its way to do your good works. We also will focus, yearly, on the congregation's ongoing outreach projects – our partner church in Kadacs, Romania; our prison ministry; our Welcoming Congregation commitment; our food pantry; and our Holiday gift-giving project. These are the programs where you are "doing the works" – they should be supported vigorously! The Fogg Lecture series will be continued and we welcome your input as we discuss the focus these once or twice yearly lectures should have. Beginning this coming year, the Religious Education committee will oversee the Fogg scholarships. We will continue to present the Guest at Your Table project during the holidays as well as support Justice Sunday and other UUSC initiatives. Wheeh….quite an agenda!

Many of you put your faith into action in many ways and with many causes – some within initiatives I've just described, others in charities and projects beyond our congregation. You are putting into action – you are "doing the works" – your faith demands. I know that I have always been strongly drawn to initiating and supporting outreach on behalf of my faith community here at First Parish. Having Helen as a mentor and Dick Fewkes and Vicki Weinstein as supportive pastors has added to my determination to see my faith grow into action. And being a part of a religious movement that gave rise to the UUSC continues to inspire me. 

Sixty years ago, when Helen was just connecting with the Unitarian Service Committee, the nations of the world were struggling with appalling abuses of human rights. It was in 1949 that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was proclaimed. At the conclusion of the service you are welcome to take a copy from the worship table. The Declaration clearly states the inherent value and rights of every human being, recognizing the importance of civil liberties – those universal rights and freedoms that protect individual citizens from abuse by government power. While the world has made significant advances, there is still much to do. Guided by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the seven Unitarian Universalist principles that affirm the worth, dignity, and human rights of every person, we can all work toward a more just, a more humane society for all.

Your Helen Fogg Service Committee asks you to continue Helen's legacy by recognizing the dignity of every human being, by helping others to help themselves and by protecting human rights worldwide.  As Dr. Schultz said in the reading Stuart shared:  "At the end of the day, the reason any one of us cares about human rights is because we feel sick at heart at the sight of misery." Go out and do the works of our faith. 

"Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you help him feed himself for a lifetime."