The First Parish Blog

Sixty Years of Change

By , Published on June 15, 2017

Carl Scovel, celebrating the 60th year of his ordination, (mine too, May 12, 1957) presented a paper to UU ministers on the major changes that have happened in our ministry and churches in those sixty years.  

He gave an advance copy of his paper to Megan Lynes  (daughter of First Parish members Phil and Caroline Lynes) ordained nine years ago and minister in Bedford, Mass., asking her to respond with a paper on the changes.  She did an excellent presentation.

I wrote a response to Carl’s question and Rev. Catie asked me to share it with you.  I see three things that are very different than they were sixty years ago:

(1) The UU merger in 1961.  Initially dubious, I feared the smaller, weaker, less well-organized Universalists would be a drag.  My mentor, Jacob Trapp was skeptical and that had an influence on me.  I was wrong.  In the end I voted for it and I think we are much more effective as a result of the merger.

(2) Technology.  From mimeograph and stencils to copy machines; from typewriters to computers; from Ma Bell to cell/smart phones, etc.—the whole electronic revolution.

I began by hammering out sermons on my Royal portable typewriter.  The last before a computer was two IBM Selectrics sitting side-by-side.  If Al Gore can claim to have invented the Internet I can claim to have invented “cut and paste”!  I would write the sermon on one, but when a thought came that I wished to use later I jumped over to type it on the other Selectric because I didn’t want to lose it.  Then I cut them up and Scotch taped them together in the sequence I wanted.  That saved me from having to retype the whole sermon.  In my files of those sermons there are a lot of cut and taped sermons.

(3) Women in ministry; the most important change.  When we were ordained there were very few—often religious educators, not parish ministers—and those who did become parish ministers did so by emulating the male model of ministry denying the authenticity of women ministers as women, denying the unique gifts which they brought to the church as women.

I was on the campaign committee of the first two women to run for the UUA presidency in 1985 and 1993.  Both lost.  I did a homily on women in ministry in 2000 when about half of our active ministers were women.  Now, 17 years later, we are about to elect our first woman president of the UUA.  (All three candidates are women.)   Numbers are important, but the significant change is the wholeness women in ministry bring to our ministry.  Men and women are different—vive la dif·fé·rence—and bring different gifts as ministers to our communities of faith.  Defining the differences is risky because it is less an either/or and more of a both/and quality.  With an emphasis on relationship, women have moved the church to reshape the very structure of the institution, to make it more nurturing, more pastoral.

Metaphors abound:  an organizational chart based on a circle rather than a pyramid with one person at the top; decisions by group consensus rather than a linear chain of command; even such a simple thing as chairs in circles rather than rows.  

Can you imagine excluding one gender from membership in our congregations?  Yet for years we virtually excluded one gender from our ministry.  Think about it.


2 responses to “Sixty Years of Change”

  1. Jeanne Gerber says:

    Thanks for your historical insight.

  2. Jeanne Gerber says:

    Thanks for the historical insight.