Stewarding Our Mission in Our Space

By Erica Baron

The image reads 'Guest Families Staying Temporarily at UUA Headquarters Need the Following Items: Diapers (disposable, multiple sizes); Baby wipes; Baby bottles (new); Baby gear: clothing, including warm clothing (new only please, sizes 0-3) and high chairs' with the URL UUA.org/New-England/News/Safety-Net-Shelter on a maroon and purple background next to a picture of 24 Farnsworth.

The practice of Tending Our Tradition asks us to be stewards of Unitarian Universalism by bringing forward what remains liberatory and life-giving from our past while addressing the harms that have also been part of our story. Stewardship of our tradition includes many intangible things, but it also includes our physical property, including our buildings.

When the American Unitarian Association sold the building they had occupied at 25 Beacon Street in Boston in 1925 and moved across and up the street to what had been 32 Beacon Street, they changed the address of this new building so they could bring their address with them. The new building was right next door to the Massachusetts State House, and shared a wall with the Massachusetts Mayor’s Residence. 25 Beacon Street became the headquarters of the UUA when the Unitarians and Universalists merged in 1961.

In 2013 the UUA sold the building at 25 Beacon Street along with three other Beacon Hill properties to buy a new space at 24 Farnsworth Street. This move required some significant discernment, as the prior building’s history and symbolism were dear to many UUs. The UUA board ultimately decided that the Beacon Hill properties were not serving the UUA’s mission, and a new building with a smaller environmental impact and more space for collaboration would serve better. For some UUs, letting go of the privilege that allowed the AUA to renumber addresses on Beacon Street by moving to a new location was also an act of faithful stewardship of our values.

Now we are once again tending our tradition by using our building in alignment with our mission and values. For several years the top floor of 24 Farnsworth Street has been empty. The UUA has recently turned this space into temporary emergency housing and support to approximately 25 families with children who have an urgent and immediate need for shelter in Boston.

In the midst of an ongoing housing crisis in and around Boston, many people who are eligible for the state’s Emergency Assistance family shelter program have not been housed due to lack of available space. What better way to use empty commercial space than to help people who need a warm place to sleep?

The UUA staff and Board exist because of the covenant between UU congregations to practice our Principles together, and to work together for our common good. The UUA staff and Board can do some of the work of tending our tradition, but ultimately it is all UU congregations together who steward our tangible and intangible resources.

We are inviting all of our congregations to help us support the families we are housing:

  • For those in and around Boston, the families we are serving are in need of disposable diapers of various sizes, baby wipes, new baby bottles, and new baby gear including warm clothing. Details about how to donate are here, and we will keep this list updated.
  • If your congregation would like to be a drop-off site for donations, please email newengland@uua.org.
  • If you are farther away, consider finding a shelter in your area to support. You can also financially support the shelter 24 Farnsworth by giving to the United Way of Massachusetts Bay.

Through time, our tradition tells us that when we come together to use our resources of space, money, minds, hearts, and commitment in service of our values, we can accomplish great things. Let us be good stewards by continuing this tradition now and bringing it into the future.

About the Author

Erica Baron

Rev. Erica Baron joined the New England region staff in 2019, focusing on helping congregations live into their missions and develop their gifts for spiritual leadership. Before joining the Congregational Life staff, she served as parish minister for the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of the...

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