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Saturday Morning Worship, General Assembly 2011

What They Dreamed Is Ours to Do

Begin your day with uplifting worship. Grateful for all who have walked before and beside us, we joyfully take up this work of living and sharing Unitarian Universalism. What future will we create together? Lifelong Unitarian Universalist (UU) Rev. Claire Feingold Thoryn and her mentors reflect on “Legacy.”




AUDIENCE: Good morning.

REV. CLAIRE FEINGOLD THORYN: My name is Reverend Claire Feingold Thoryn. I'm the Associate Minister of First Parish in Lincoln, Massachusetts and I have a little GA-itis. Now would probably be a good time to silence you cellphones. I am honored to lead you in worship today with two of my beloved mentors by my side. Reverend Roberta Nelson, Minister Emerita of my childhood church, Cedar Lane UU Church of Bethesda, Maryland, and Reverend Vanessa Southern, my internship supervisor and Senior Minister of the Unitarian Church in Summit, New Jersey.

We're also very lucky to welcome Kellie Walker, who will lead us in song, and Emma's Revolution, who will play Swimming to the Other Side, this morning. We gather to celebrate Unitarian Universalism, the faith that surprises us, questions us, forgives us, and now invites us to worship together. All are worthy and all are welcome. Come. Let's wake ourselves up within a hymn.

Opening Hymn: “Hail the Glorious Golden City”

[Words by Felix Adler; Music by Rowland Hugh Prichard; Lyrics and Music in Public Domain; Hymn tune: HYFRYDOL]

KELLIE WALKER: The tune for “Hail the Glorious Golden City,” by Rowland Hugh Prichard in 1830, is such a popular melody that we have three different text versions of it in Singing the Living Tradition. Words are by Felix Adler, founder of the American Ethical Culture Society. I invite you to rise in body or spirit and sing with me.


Chalice Lighting

REV. ROBERTA NELSON: We light this chalice, symbol of our free faith, in honor and memory of those mentors and guides who have illumined dark and uncertain paths on our journey to faithful service and deepest reflection.

In this space, made holy by what we do here together, may we be awakened to wonder, appreciation, expectation, that they all will open our lives to wisdom, compassion, and hope. In the words of Israel Zangwill, come into the circle of love and justice. Come into this community of mercy, holiness, and health. Come and you shall know peace and joy.

Reading: “The Secret of Life” by Ellen Goldsmith

REV. VANESSA SOUTHERN: Our reading this morning is called "The Secret of Life," by Ellen Goldsmith. I grabbed the streetcar from fisherman's wharf to the ferry building to save my feet for later. My dollar bill, wrinkled and worn, resisted disappearing into the slot. I stuffed the transfer into my pocket without looking. As the street car rounded the Embarcadero, I called my mother-in-law with Mother's Day wishes, imagined the conversation I'd have with mine if she were alive. On exiting, I asked the conductor how long the transfer would last. I gave you extra time, he said. Just show it. Hardly anyone. Looks. It's good until it's taken away.

Song: emma’s revolution, “Swimming to the Other Side”

[Pat Humphries and Sandy O. (emma’s revolution)]

Homily: “Legacy”

REV. CLAIRE FEINGOLD THORYN: Thank you so much. The poet heard the bus driver tell her the secret of life: "I gave you extra time, he said. Just show it. Hardly anyone looks. It's good until it's taken away." A great teacher once said, "either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad, for the tree is known by its fruit." [Matthew 12:33] What will be our fruit?

One of my favorite hymns that we sang on Thursday night charges us to carry forward the work of our ancestors, "What they Dreamed is Ours to Do." [1] I love that hymn, although I don't agree with everything it says. We're not just here to carry out the dreams of those who have gone before us. What are your dreams? How has our world changed? How must we change even as we respect the past?

The church that I serve in Lincoln, Massachusetts, has a legacy of peaceful dissent and thoughtful compromise. It was originally planted in the 1700's. But in the 1830's, part of the congregation became intrigued by this new, Unitarian, theology they had been hearing about. They broke off and built a new church a stone's throw away.

Now the American Unitarian Association archives has this story from soon after the church's split. There was a certain excellence and prominence lady of the town, who was particularly opposed to the Unitarian church. One Sunday after service at her own church, she was getting into her horse drawn carriage, and the horse took off running before she was able to take the reins. This story could have ended badly. But suddenly, as the horse reached the Unitarian church, he slowed down, turned, and came up to the front door. The Unitarian minister caught up the horse's reigns. And as he handed them to his flustered neighbor, he remarked, well Mrs. Ferrer, who would have thought you would turn in here to be saved? [2]

The rift between the two congregations was deep. Yet, as time went on, there was a growing realization. We can worship this ground we walk on, cherishing the beings that we live beside. We're all swimming to the other side. And so, 100 years after Mrs. Ferrer's wild ride, the church is reunited.

We have a saying at our church, I'll sing your hymn and you'll sing mine There is room for all of us and all of who we are. In the words of the psalmist, "behold how good and pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity." [Psalm 133:1]

We craft our legacy in the choices we make every day. Today, do you choose to be bold or fearful, forgiving or resentful, peaceful or a persnickety? Those of us gathered here right now make up a group of people that may never be recreated in exactly this way ever again. Please look around you. Who is here? What leaps of faith can we take together today?

I have this nickname that I like to use for the holy. It's just a little personal nickname. I call it, God. I don't mind if you use the same nickname. I actually didn't think it up. I'm not sure who did. And the song that God sings in my heart reminds me, we are all swimming to the other side.

Sometimes we confuse what it means to be cautious with what it means to be fearful. Cautious is making sure we can swim before we jump in the river. Fearful is never going near the river at all. I am a lifelong Unitarian Universalist. This faith is as much a part of me as my breath. And yet, sometimes I worry that our legacy will be one of slow decline, of bickering and reminiscing. We spend too much time worshiping our history and our heroes instead of worshipping the God who moves in us, through us, and all around us.

We're all swimming to the other side. Or maybe, like the poet, we're on the bus headed for the docks, remembering the women and men whose love made us who we are, and wondering about our destination. And then we're handed this precious gift. It shines there in your hand. The bus driver, or God, says to us, I gave you extra time. Just show it. Hardly anyone looks. It's good until it's taken away.

I gave you extra time, he said. What will we do with the time we have been given? What will the Unitarian Universalists of 100 or 1000 years from now say about us? I'll tell you what they will not say. They will not say that we did not care. They will not say that we starved our religion to death with our stinginess and our narrow-mindedness. No, they will not.

They will say we dreamed big. They will say we were bold. They will speak of our legacy with voices like drums and eyes like the horizon. We are the ones who give them extra time. Just show it. Hardly anyone looks.

Look around you. We are the legacy. It is up to you to keep this faith alive. Don't close your eyes. Open your eyes. Open your hearts. And what your minister really wants to say to you, open your wallets. Make your faith tangible. Just show it. Hardly anyone looks. It's good until it's taken away.

This world is good and its people are good. But God knows we make mistakes and break hearts and turn aside. None of us can know how long we have until our life is taken away. What will people say about you when you are gone? Our bodies must pass on but our faith will not. It must not. No one can take it from us but us. It's good until it's taken away.

I stand here with my two most beloved mentors. And how humbling it is to know, I am one small part of their legacy. Bobbie, your earliest gift to me was showing me, as a little girl, that women could be ministers too. You taught me all the words to all the hymns. And you showed me that stewardship is something that children can do too. You lit my flame. Thank you.

Vanessa. You taught me how to preach, how to pray, how to try harder, and how to stand tall, even if I never stand as tall as you. I carry your light. Thank you.

Each and every one of you here today has a legacy, financial or emotional, large or small. What shall we create together? I pray that we move forward with our senses open. I pray we cherish the beings that we live beside. May we listen with humility to the wisdom of our ancestors. May we act with boldness on the dreams of a new day. The tree is known by its fruit. We have been given extra time. It's good until it's taken away. Let's use it. Let's go. Amen.

Closing Hymn: “Blue Boat Home”

KELLIE WALKER: Blue Boat Home is based on the same tune we sang earlier, only really envisioned by Peter Mayer. One of my favorites, I hope we'll feel that sea underneath us a little bit while we sing. Please rise in body or spirit. Blue Boat Home.

“Blue Boat Home”

[Words by Peter Mayer; Music by Roland Hugh Prichard, adapt. by Peter Mayer; Lyrics printed with permission.]



REV. ROBERTA NELSON: We are builders of the city. All our lives are building stones.

REV. VANESSA SOUTHERN: Whether humbled or exalted, we are called to task divine. All must aid, alike, to carry forward the sublime design. [3]

REV. CLAIRE FEINGOLD THORYN: That design is ours now, to imagine and create. Go forth to make it true. Amen.

REV. VANESSA SOUTHERN: Please join us in this time of transition, sharing a few moments of silent appreciation for some of the UU stewards who made special donations in honor of the 50th anniversary and for the future of our faith.



  1. Rank by Rank
  2. Quoted/paraphrased from Rev. Charles Styron’s The First Parish in Lincoln: History of the Church, 1747-1942.
  3. Lyrics from “Hail the Glorious Golden City.”

Saturday Morning Worship is General Assembly 2011 event number 4002.